Sunday, April 19, 2009

A quick post about email-circulated racism

So, I received this email yesterday, and it troubled me. For one, it was sent to me by someone I knew from my high school. He used to work in the library, and we've stayed in touch since I've graduated. The subject of the email was "Inner City Math Quiz." My high school, which was in Southfield, a city right next to Detroit, was (and probably still is--I've moved since graduating six years ago) predominately comprised of black students. So perhaps you can understand my surprise at receiving an email from a white guy who used to work with these students--my friends and peers.

I'm not going to reproduce the email entirely, so here's an excerpt:

Schools are finally starting to teach practical math that these kids can use in real-world situations! It's about time!

1. Ramon has an AK-47 with a 200-round clip. He usually misses 6 of every 10 shots and he uses 13 rounds per drive-by shootin. How many mofos can Ramon ice on a drive-by before he gotta reload?

2. Leroy has 2 ounces of cocaine. If he sells an 8 ball to Antonio for $320 and 2 grams to Juan for $85 per gram, what be the street value of the rest of his shit?

3. Dwayne pimps 3 ho's. If the price is $85 per trick, how many tricks per day must each ho turn to support Dwayne's $800 per day Crack habit?

4. Raul wants to cut the pound of cocaine he bought for $40,000 to make 20% profit. How many ounce bags will he need to make to gets the 20% upside?

5. Desmond gets $2000 for a stolen BMW, $1500 for stealing a Corvette, and $1000 for a 4 x 4. If he steals 1 BMW, 2 Corvettes and 3 4x4's, how many more Corvettes must he steal to make the 10k for his brother's bail?

6. Pedro got 6 years for murder. He also got $10,000 for the hit. If his common-law wife spends $100 of his hit money per month, how much money will be left when he gets out?
It did not escape my notice that none of the subjects in these "math" problems have names like "David," "Jeff," or "Doug." Which makes it racist, since it assumes that there are no white kids attending inner-city schools, and also assumes that none of these crimes could be committed by a white person.

Also, the language itself is problematic. Not only is the "math" supposed to be "practical," but the language used is written in a "dumbed-down" sort of way--as if this is the only way to speak to POC in inner cities, otherwise you might as well be speaking another language. So now we're being racist and condescending. Great.

What really bothers me is that this is supposed to be funny because we think there's truth in that--this is what we expect poor POC to engage in. See? It's practical because we think that young POC will only amount to thugs, pimps, and hookers. If they're committing crimes, they might as well be good at math, right? This is just perpetuating negative images on youth. Instead of investing in education in poor areas, we make it a joke because we have this stupid ideal that we are all presented with the same opportunities and expectations, and if someone doesn't pick him or herself up by his or her bootstraps, then that's their problem that they've become an email joke. Ha ha ha.

This is just another one of those things that white people send to each other, feeling safe to express what I think is muted racism--something that is thought to be a joke, but is really just racist. I'm bothered that someone sent it to me, thinking that I, as a fellow white person, would find it as hilarious as they did. I did not.


M. said...

this one is a touchy subject because isn't directly come out and say that each participant isn't white. Anyone of these people could be white, although they could be of other race as well. This message is quite the double edged sword, becuase a name is a name not a color.

just sayin.


FilthyGrandeur said...

yes, they COULD be, but since it's "funny" based on prior connotations and stereotypes, how many of the subjects did you picture as white? and there's this presupposition that almost anyone you meet in an inner city will be a POC, thanks to white flight, which also plays into how it's supposed to be funny.

just sayin.

kiss my black ads said...

Whoa! Sometimes I'm very happy to not be on certain email loop circuits.

smadin said...

Ugh. It's not even original — I saw that circulating years ago.

M. said...

honestly i picture ramon and dwayne as white guys.
but i understand your point.
and it probably more truthful than mine.


Gnatalby said...

Urgh. I have a friend sends me crap like that all the time I never know what to respond. Like, we've hashed out our differences on the PC front for fifteen years and haven't decided it's worth not being friends, but it still makes me uncomfortable.

On a totally separate note, we are from the same neck of the woods.

FilthyGrandeur said...

thanks for the comment. i find it troubling that there are actually a number of white people comfortable with sending me emails like this. i've also met white people who feel comfortable using the n-word among other whites, and i've had to call them out on their racism because they think it's safe to be racist among other white people, but i find it offensive that they think i would be okay with it.

and on the separate note, where do you hail from?

JordanBaker said...

I'm from Utica, but I went to school in Birmingham.

Gnatalby said...

Er, that last comment was me if that wasn't obvious. Login fail.

tanglethis said...

Wandered in from Shakesville. I see M's point about the supposed unracedness of some of the names, but I think your criticism still holds.

Possible response - ask the friend why he thought this Email was funny. Discussing humor is often tricky - my students always want to stop at "it's entertainment!" but if you press, he may have to confront the assumptions he's holding that made this (rather boring!) Email appear funny enough to send.