Surrendering to racial satire
CHICAGO — “Let’s make fun of white people.”
Are you jarred by that proposition? Or do you feel it is, if not entirely merited, at least worth a laugh?
And can you ever imagine it being socially acceptable for whites to make fun of black people, Asians or Hispanics and it being seen as hip, funny and click-worthy?
Some context: In the last few months I’ve been seeing a lot of what I call “Let’s Make Fun of White People” viral videos.
Last week I ran across one called “If Latinos Said The Stuff White People Say,” produced by BuzzFeed.
In it we see a Hispanic guy and a Hispanic gal approach several situations with the same you-are-an-exotic-species awe and interest that many a minority has felt in a majority-white situation.
“My nanny was white, so I totally get it,” says the young Hispanic woman to a white peer, nodding with the self-satisfied look of having made a cultural connection with an unfamiliar being. “Like, I feel like I’m part-white because of my nanny.”
“You’re white, right?” says the same young Hispanic woman to a young blond woman. “I hooked up with a white guy once, he was craaaa-zeee!”
Yes, the guy has lines, too, but I found the young Hispanic woman’s exclamations particularly amusing.
In flawless, obviously native English she asks her white peer: “How do you say your name again?” The girl responds: “Macy.”
“I love how you pronounce it. One more time?” says the Hispanic girl, with a bug-eyed, smiling expression. “God, I could never say it like that!”
BuzzFeed must like this angle, because other videos on the site explore the same terrain: “If Asians Said The Stuff White People Say” and “If Black People Said The Stuff White People Say.” But BuzzFeed certainly is not alone in its examination of whites’ uncomfortable flailings in a multicultural society.
Flama, a humor site by, for and starring young Latinos, takes things a step further in a different direction.
In a series of videos, “Spanish Words White People Can’t Say,” Flama gets admittedly monolingual Caucasians to try reading words in Spanish. Words like the rolled-r “perro” for “dog” or “idea,” which has the same spelling in both languages but is pronounced differently.
One woman — who said that half of her family is now “Spanish,” though she almost certainly did not mean they were from Spain, and she can’t speak a word of it — is presented with “refrigerador.”
“This is ‘refrigerator,’ and I’m not going to pronounce it the Spanish way,” she says. “Yeah, no.”
So, setting aside that all the Hispanics in these examples are, racially, also white, we have a mainstream media outlet, BuzzFeed, making fun of white people and a Hispanic site making fun of white people.
Is that weirder than, say, “Stuff White People Like,” a site and, eventually, a book written by the self-effacing Christian Lander?
Interestingly, I found the BuzzFeed table-turner hilarious and fun, whereas the Flama gag felt mean and petty. But then, I’m a racially white Hispanic with a white, non-Hispanic husband and two sons who identify as non-Hispanic white. I wouldn’t like to see them skewered for not being able to pronounce Spanish words any more than I’d let someone make fun of my parents’ English, so maybe I’m touchy on this point.
I hold no particular love for BuzzFeed — I’m a little too old to care for their quizzy/feline/listicle-driven content. And I’ve got nothing against Flama, which self-skewers Hispanic cultural quirks to priceless effect.
Yet I still can’t figure out: Is such content a good thing — signifying a sort of fun-poking parity resulting from non-Hispanic-whites’ new role as statistical minority? Or a bad thing — because society as a whole would never sanction white people making fun of minorities (even though it happens all the time in smaller circles)?
Either way, it’s certainly fascinating to see how people react to these types of videos or how they avoid them like the plague.
But we see ourselves and others from very different — and potentially eye-opening — perspectives when we surrender to satire. There is much to be gained from consuming expressions of what life feels like to our counterparts during this moment of our society’s maturation.
Funny or not, these creators are poking at the thin membranes that both unite and divide the races and ethnicities in our country. It is food for thought with which we should consider nourishing ourselves.
Esther Cepeda’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.
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