Racist Jokes

During a late-night talk show on Russian television, Russian Tennis Federation President Shamil Tarpischev jokingly — according to himself — referred to Venus Williams and her sister Serena as “the Williams brothers” because of their muscular physiques.

It was correctly criticized as both “sexist” and “racist.” Tarpischev was banned from the Women’s Tennis Association for one year and fined $25,000. He would never have made such a condescending and insulting remark about white tennis players, and certainly never about white female Russian tennis players.

It will take generations for relations between blacks and whites to ever become “normal.” That also goes for relations between heterosexuals and homosexuals, as well as between males and females, to name just two other categories. The list goes on and on.

It will be a long time before a white person can tell a joke about a black person. A joke is nothing more than derogatory if it is done at the expense of those who are socially marginalized and oppressed; if it doesn’t seriously address the inequalities in society but merely perpetuates them through repetition as entertainment; if it probes into old wounds.

Tarpischev complained to the TASS news agency that he was being asked to apologize because the Williams sisters didn’t get his joke, but under a storm of protest, he finally issued a half-hearted apology saying he didn’t mean it that way.

But Tarpischev didn’t make a joke; he consciously ridiculed the Williams sisters just because they had muscular arms and legs, and also because they were black. Nor did Serena and Venus Williams over-react to the remark, as some have claimed. They were indignant with good reason because all too often they have personally seen whites ridicule and look down on them because of their skin color. They haven’t just experienced these deep wounds in their own country where racial discrimination legally ended 50 years ago; it has happened in many places across the globe.

Barack Obama, America’s first black president, mentioned these experiences a good year ago when a white security guard in Florida was set free after shooting and killing a 17-year-old black youth for acting suspiciously. The verdict caused many to take to the streets in protest — as happened recently in Ferguson, Missouri, when a white police officer shot a black youth to death.

What Obama said in July of 2013 about the Florida shooting applied to the United States., but it also applies to the rest of the world:

“There are very few African-American men in this country who have not had the experience of being followed when they are shopping at a department store. That includes me. There are very few African Americans who have not had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had the chance to get off. That happens often.”

Obama notes that even today, he is judged by double standards. Many look at him differently than they look at a white president. Many reject him not only because his opinions differ from theirs, but also because his skin color does too. Like no other politician, he is actually despised by many of his opponents, and not only in his own country.

Nevertheless, a considerable majority of Americans elected him twice to the presidency, despite any reservations they may have had. That in itself is social progress and a sign of a vital and mature democracy. Anyone expressing racist sentiments loses his office and his dignity whether he is head of a sports organization or is running for political office.

In Russia, on the other hand, the sports federation’s president gets sympathy for his racial prejudices. In addition, Russia also officially sanctions the persecution of gays and lesbians, and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin even makes jokes about them. Except, they’re not really jokes …

About this publication

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply