Taking a second look at the southern racism editorial

When I first read Mr. Johnson’s piece on racism in the South, I assumed that it was what it appeared to be: an opinion article that hypocritically attacked open racism by using the techniques and arguments presented by racists in order to justify their actions. The piece is antagonistic, even hateful, and does not directly address the issues that are the root cause of racism nor identify them. I then took a second look at the piece and realized that its construction could be intentional — perhaps, then, the criticism I have is that it does not go far enough. The piece is so much like the arguments it may seek to mock that it is nearly indistinguishable from them, making it extremely difficult to determine whether it is hypocritical or satirical.

Assuming that the piece is satirical, it does an excellent job of mimicking the sort of culture it mocks. It contains anecdotal evidence, folksy appeal, reduction of complex problems and willful ignorance of underlying or root causes of the issue it tirades against. The piece seems to seek to demonize a specific race based on this evidence, much like the “BLACK-ON-BLACK CRIME” Facebook posts mentioned in the article. For example, at one point, the piece argues that racism towards whites cannot exist because white people are not oppressed, reducing the idea of racism to a simplistic view convenient to the piece then goes on to mention how the aforementioned Facebook posts use a specific view of an issue to justify their cause instead of looking at it analytically. The comparison is obvious, given time to reflect, but is perhaps too subtle to notice at first glance — which, given the nature of the piece, could cause readers to form a knee-jerk opinion of the piece which does not consider it as satirical, as I did.

The opinion piece deserves a good bit of praise for how it captures the issue of racism in a satirical framework. The piece builds up to full-blown racism against whites, wrapped in the issue of open racism, a beautiful analogy for open racism wrapped, respectively, in the issue of crime within the African-American community. The major issue with this, of course, is the notion that sufficiently advanced parody is indistinguishable from the real thing. The piece seems openly racist because it is, in essence, openly racist. It maintains that white people cannot understand nor form valid opinions on diversity, and that they, for some reason, intentionally perpetrate racism despite knowledge of its existence. This is done in the pursuit, I presume, of mocking similar “BLACK-ON-BLACK CRIME” Facebook posts, but it is perhaps a bit too sincere in its parody. By nature of replicating its source material, it is antagonistic and self-serving, which could cause some readers to disengage before realizing the connection. Perhaps this is valuable in its own right, as it could mimic the reaction many have to the Facebook posts, but I would argue that the broader appeal comes from being more obviously satirical. To put it another way, the Facebook posts breed antagonism, so the likelihood of a piece intentionally replicating those posts breeding antagonism is very high.

None of this is to say that the piece is not intelligently written. It is, as I have argued, an excellently written parody of antagonistic, racist, reductionist articles that circulate on websites like Facebook. The inherent problem is that the article replicates these too well. It is more likely to breed antagonism than to cause reflection on the broader debate of open racism and is obfuscated well enough that I still have doubts as to whether this is a satirical or merely hypocritical piece. I hope that, at the very least, this letter causes some to take a second look at the piece and possibly draw some different conclusions about its nature and intent.