Racism Review: #JeSuisCharlie? Maybe if you’re white!

by , under Raul Perez

Raul Perez

Now that some of the dust has settled following the shooting of 12 cartoonists from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, the numbers are in.

According to a recent Pew survey  (n=1,003), 3 in 4 Americans heard about the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and 60% supported the magazine’s depiction of the Prophet Mohammed, echoing the rallying call “#IAmCharlie” that took the internet by storm in the days following this tragic incident. In fact, #IAmCharlie became one of the most tweeted hashtags in Twitter history.
Je Suis Charlie protest in France

(Image source)

Among those who defended the cartoons as acceptable, the study finds two things were key among supporters. 70% cited “freedom of the press” to defend their positions, and roughly 1 in 10 defended the magazine as an “equal opportunity offender” that took jabs at all groups, not just Muslims. But a closer look at the numbers reveals a significant gap between whites and non-whites and their approval of the cartoons. While 70% of whites believed it was “Okay” for the magazine to publish insulting cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, only 37% of non-whites believed they were acceptable.

In other words, if you tweeted #IAmCharlie in the days following the incident, it’s safe to say you were probably white—and male (67% of males and 52% of females thought the cartoons were “Okay”). Even among liberals we can see a clear racial divide on this issue. Among liberals, 66% of whites supported the cartoons, while only 39% of non-whites did.

What this survey reveals is that beliefs in notions like “free speech” and “the sense of humor” are colored by race. Moreover, it illustrates that a “white racial frame” was at play for individuals making sense of this tragic incident. According to sociologist Joe Feagin, a white racial frame is a dominant ideological perspective that allows whites (and often non-whites) to interpret discriminatory and oppressive events and information in ways that defend and accentuate white actions as righteous. From this perspective, the insulting cartoons of the Prophet may be “tasteless,” but they were merely an exercise in “free speech,” a core Western value after all. Moreover, a white racial frame suggests the magazine was vulgar and offensive in a “responsible way”—it mocked everyone, even the Pope! Therefore, the real problem is Islam, not the cartoons.

While some have tried to defend this kind of humor on grounds that the tradition of satire has always been to “punch everyone,” my research on racial humor suggests that an “equal opportunity offender” strategy is a more recent phenomenon. For instance, in the U.S. it was only after communities of color publically challenged the decades long use of racial ridicule by whites (e.g., blackface minstrelsy) during the civil rights movement that white humorists began to diversify their targets to avoid being labeled “racist.” Moreover, countless examples illustrate that “satire” works most effectively when it “punches up” not down the social hierarchy. That is, when it challenges the prevailing power structure (Richard Pryor and George Carlin come to mind. See Hari Kondabolu, Aamer Rahman, and John Oliver for more recent examples). Otherwise, such “humor” is little more than taunting and bullying and only works to confirm existing power relations.

Yes, we should all condemn the killing of the cartoonists. But, in the wake of the routine shooting of black and brown bodies by police officers, the ongoing “war on terror” that targets Arab-Americans as suspect, and let’s not forget the ongoing wars in the Middle East, historic levels of incarceration of blacks and [email protected], and the mass deportation of [email protected], it’s no surprise that for people of color in the U.S. it’s was kind of hard to #IAmCharlie.

In the end, the attacks on Charlie Hebdo will work to strengthen a white racial frame if we do not work to challenge it. This incident will be used to highlight Muslim extremism and violence as the rule, rather than the exception, and further justify racial profiling. It is worth pointing out that the reverse does not make sense through this powerful racial frame. White shooters are not viewed as terrorists, and their actions are not reflected upon all whites. And therein lays the danger of this dominant racial frame in reinforcing a system of racial inequality.

~ Guest blogger Raúl Nguyen-Pérez is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at University of California at Irvine

The post #JeSuisCharlie? Maybe if you’re white! appeared first on racismreview.com.

Read original blog entry here.

This piece was reprinted by Migrant Tales with permission.

  1. Yossie

    Muticulturalism never works. Diversity doesn’t work. This blog of your proves it quite well. If you can’t condemn a mass murder without buts and killing justifications, then there is no way people can agree with each other on less critical matters either.

    You seem so keen on victimizing whites for something like “white racial frame”. Now let me ask you, do you have a same kind of racial frame yourself? Immigrant racial frame? anti-white racial frame? Because to me your blog looks very much like:

    Immigrant racial frame is a dominant ideological perspective that allows immigrants (and often whites) to interpret discriminatory and oppressive events and information in ways that defend and accentuate immigrant actions as righteous.

    Isn’t this what happen with the death threats too? You were defending the ones against PS with how they more or less deserved them but the ones against you were very condemnable. Same thing with all these terrorist attacks. You find a way to defend the killing by non whites.

    • Enrique Tessieri

      Yossie, no matter how much you cry and whine, cultural diversity is here to stay. Stop bringing toxic attitudes and be more social. What I’d, and many of us, would be interested in knowing is how you plan to REDUCE cultural diversity.

    • Yossie

      How about you answer some of my questions for a change. Why do you have double standards for death threats? Is immigrant racial frame in play with your writings in this blog?

    • Enrique Tessieri

      One thing that surprises me about people like yourself is that you have no idea what violence is or living under a dictatorship. For you to ask me such a dumb question shows you that you understand little what violence never mind what terrorism is. As far as I’m concerned, those types of questions reveal a moral flaw like cowardice. In English we call it bravado.

    • Yossie

      What exactly makes you say this? Maybe you want to explain this a bit more. Now for me this looks like you absolutely refuse to answer my questions and just end up insulting me because you don’t want to answer.

      If I ask you about your double standards, it is cowardice?

    • Enrique Tessieri

      Using catchwords, again? Multiculturalism, or cultural diversity, is here and now. You can whine and bitch all you want but nothing will change it. What’s the solution? Maybe you should move to the most rural parts of Etelä-Savo or Pohjois Karjala. Maybe there you can bask in your imagined “monoculturalism.” You are only whining, Yossie.

    • Yossie

      Still you refuse to give an answer. You blame whites for having a white racial frame. I ask you if you too have similar racial frame where you fail to see nothing wrong in action of the group you associate yourself? Also so I ask you why you seem to have double standards when it comes to death threats? Because of the said racial frame?

      Instead of answering my questions in a proper discussion, you just throw insults to me. What does it tell about you?

    • Enrique Tessieri

      You mean white privilege? What’s there to add?

      What is the group I represent? I’d be interested in hearing that one from you.

    • Yossie

      Let’s call it immigrant/minority racial frame:

      Immigrant racial frame is a dominant ideological perspective that allows immigrants (and often whites) to interpret discriminatory and oppressive events and information in ways that defend and accentuate immigrants actions as righteous.

      Like when Soini gets death threats, while immigrant racial frame suggest they are condemnable, the real problem is whatever Soini has done or not done and that he deserved them.

      Or when Islamists kill cartoonist over their feeling of getting offended, the real problem is not the killers but cartoonists, whites or americans.

      Don’t you have that kind of racial frame? Don’t you have double standards when it comes to death threats?

    • Enrique Tessieri

      Yossie or Boack, what wrong with your argument? For one, no one ever condoned any terrorist act. Likewise, we don’t condone European colonialism, invasions and interventions in other countries’ affairs like Iraq.

      The term “racial frame” is alien to me. You mean white privilege, right?

    • Yossie

      huh? You don’t even read the stuff you post in here?!?

      Also, you have done this couple of times, Called me “Yossie or Boack”. I have no idea what or who is Boack.