Monday, March 8, 2010

Tennesee + Racism + Obama=Awkward Emails

While I had only heard about these emails in passing, reading this article reminded me that this has happened three times. I’m not certain of the contents of the email regarding so called “white pride” but it could be construed as less than favorable towards the situation of the United States as having a president with African American ancestry since it suggests that whites have to band together on white pride. Although that could be taken as simple racial solidarity, it’s bad wording on the part of whoever started the notion. I do remember reading explicitly about the email that has President Obama’s eyes as the only thing visible in a black background. I believe it had something to do with him hiding (from responsibility?), but I can’t be sure without further research. The conversation is revived with this recent (in fact Sunday morning) article that speaks of a representative of Tennessee hotels and restaurants as well as a CEO of the Tennessee Hospitality Association sending an email to various people, including close friends. The contents involve comparing the First Lady to a chimpanzee, the partner of Tarzan Cheeta if I understand correctly. Now in all fairness this isn’t exactly uncommon emails between close friends who happen to be conservatives and if that was the case, then this wouldn’t be on the news. The fact that this person sends the email to people in the media and local governance sends a message that isn’t going to be changed so quickly in a few days or even weeks.

Tennessee’s notoriety for racism and white pride is not unjustified, but my own personal experience of these things in relation to black people is only representative of what is a medium sized town’s tri-county high school. And prior to starting this rant of sorts, I don’t consider myself a Tennessean proper or an American. These things are relative and I could’ve easily been born elsewhere in the world, so my comments on how these incidents affect Tennessee are more an issue of race relations than stereotypes of the Southeast.

There were many jokes on the bus involving the n-word as well as a common affirmation that the Confederacy was something to idolize, though one doubts if these people necessarily appreciate the Old South for the same reasons historical and literary scholars do. I can’t say this reflects anything beyond a context of ill educated and otherwise impoverished home life in my humble opinion, but with these emails, the notion of Tennessee being as bad as Kentucky or Alabama or even Mississippi in terms of race relations becomes relevant. Sensitivity and consideration are necessary in sending these emails around. I myself don’t do much in the way of passing around chain emails or sending out messages with some humorous/satirical image about a person in the media. But when I do get such emails they’re of a personal nature (and not really making pseudo racist statements about people of color).

When a representative of state government and relations sends out an email and forgets that they’re sending it to people that work in journalism (those in particular) and thinks that it will be fine is not taking things seriously enough. I can get a chuckle out of otherwise offensive jokes within the right context (Family Guy, South Park and the like come to mind) and when the news media isn’t involved, the propagation of internet memes is an intriguing and creative way to spread around culture through the wide expanse of the World Wide Web. But it smacks of brute idiocy or degeneration of empathy to think you can send this email to anyone and they’ll just chuckle about it and not say a thing. Especially if you’re in a position of responsibility to both represent your state’s image (albeit in the form of hotels and restaurants) and also heading an organization promoting hospitality, which doesn’t come across well in sending out such a set of pictures. Aren’t CEOs a bit too busy to use their time in the way a college student or political activist would be doing in the same context? Or maybe it’s easier to do that job than I think. Either way, I doubt this will stop anytime soon and people will be more interested in news involving shootings in churches or other such stories and forget all about this “minor” issue, sweeping the issue under the rug, proverbially speaking. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

(Here's an example of this new satire of Michelle Obama that I found)

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