Sunday, December 9, 2012
Last week, Penn State again made the national news in a less than savory light. The university's Chi Omega sorority chapter is under investigation after a photo with Mexican stereotypes surfaced on the social media site Tumblr. It shows a group of sorority members dressed in ponchos and sombreros and wearing fake mustaches. One woman holds a sign that says: "Will mow lawn for weed + beer." Another sign says: "I don't cut grass. I smoke it."
"Like many people in this country, I was chagrined to see, yet again, what is altogether too common--an "innocently" offensive playing out of what is an unconscious part of the larger socio-cultural landscape of this Republic. A close look at the picture suggests the innocence--the effort to invoke items of clothing associated with the people of the Mexican Republic. It also, however, slaps the viewer with its quite conscious offensive meanness, one rooted in racism and ethnocentrism (even if mindlessly so)--the reference to the willingness of people, whose common denominator appears to be these items of clothing, to exchange thankless menial labor (in which they have traditionally been exploited in the U.S.) for marijuana. The double offense is clear--violators of immigration and drugs laws, a lawless group fit only for humor and expulsion."
He went on:
"The picture struck home to me quite personally. That sort of humor was quite common when I came to this country as a young immigrant from another humorously exploitable nation--Cuba. I well remember the mindlessness with which people of my parents generation would generate "humor", humor that almost invariably crossed from the good natured to the deliberately mean and mean spirited. I watched my peers learn to mimic their parents and to absorb their bad behavior and even more perverse attitudes masked by the "innocence" of humor. But my family and I knew precisely what was going on--and so did these "humorous folks". The young adults in this picture are the heirs to a tradition that continues to sting those of us who came here only a few generations after their own ancestors. We understand the point and "get" the humor. We feel the insult nicely buffered by a smile and a laugh. We continue to feel the way this humor is meant to reinforce and remind some of us of our "real" place in the social and economic (and perhaps even the moral) order of this Republic. We know the "place" reserved for us very well. We are less willing to pay the price of earlier generations who hoped that laughing along with this sort of innocent thing is a "price" that we are expected to pay for getting along and moving up. I am not a probationary member of this country and neither are many of the people who were the object of this humor."
The Chair of the African American Studies Department and other faculty at Penn State also condemned the sorority's actions.
In reporting on the incident, Huffington Post observed that:
"It’s ironic that these college-educated youths choose to stereotype Mexicans as overly indulgent marijuana users. Around 21.5 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds in the United States use the drug, according to a study released last year by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. By contrast, only 1 percent of Mexican adults smoked marijuana in 2008, according the most recent estimate from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime."
It does appear that Penn State's Chi Omega has its supporters. Here is one troubling one.