Nothing to Laugh About

It’s no secret we’re an inherently intolerant society and the community at the University of Vermont is really no different.

Many operate under the assumption that racism and intolerance is a trait associated with ignorance, and that if we as a society were more educated about racial diversity, we would eliminate derogatory stereotypes and bigoted practices.

Despite brighter crops of incoming freshmen and comprehensive diversity requirements, intolerance remains rampant on campus.

I’m not accusing the students at this institution of the proactive racism that was pervasive in places like Mississippi prior to the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. I’m speaking specifically to the hateful discourse that has infiltrated our everyday vernacular.

For instance, you’ve all heard someone (probably recently) refer to someone they were upset with as a “faggot.”

Let’s clear a few things up once and for all, your buddy who wants his sweatshirt back after you thought they gave it to you is a jerk, not an “Indian giver.”

If your Sunday morning ride to the mountain got drunk Saturday night, slept in, and forgot to pick you up, they are not “gay,” they are just a flake.

Why do all young adults feel the need to constantly quote blatantly racist and hurtful passages from Chappelle’s Show, South Park and comedy movies?

The artists and performers who create this satire do it with the intention of presenting such discourse as absurd and archaic rhetoric. The legions of fans that incessantly regurgitate these words of hate are not demonstrating their sensitivity, but simply reentrenching hate speech into our everyday language.

Ultimately people have lost sight of the golden rule of language: If you wouldn’t say it to the subject’s face, don’t say it at all.

Your drunken friend may find your Cartman anti-Jewish impression hilarious at a kegger while surrounded by all your anglicized friends, but if it would get you thrown out of the Synagogue, keep it to yourself.

When we allow, tolerate and privilege this discourse at our keg parties in college, what stops it from spilling over to our professional lives and our future water cooler conversations?

It’s time that we start asking these questions because I’m not sure what was more unsettling; the racism that Sasha Baron Cohen exposed in Americans during “Borat,” or the raucous laughter he was drawing from audiences (full of college students) with every bigoted remark that he made or coaxed out of his interviewees.

We as Americans are under the impression that we can laugh at racism, but the reality is we have not earned that right. Those who laugh at satirical racism do it under the premise that it is not a part of their world, they are not racist and that its performative irony transforms the racism into a critique of an old problem that few adhere to in the status quo. In reality, it is not something that we have overcome as a society; racism and intolerance fester in every facet of our world.

If all we do is laugh at a problem, it will never be solved. It is time for everyone to start taking socialized intolerance seriously, rather then turning it into a perpetual punch line.