In my Multicultural Media Representations class this quarter, we have small group presentations where we take a text which can be anything from a music video to an advertisement to a movie clip, and the group applies it to one of the theories we learn in class. Last week, a group shared the clip below. The clip is from a Kiss FM radio show called, “Waiting By The Phone.” The premise of Waiting By The Phone is that you went on a date, you thought it was great, and the guy or gal didn’t call you back. So you call the radio station which calls the guy or gal and you try to figure out why they didn’t call you. Feel free to cringe. When the premise is explained and in the first few minutes of the show, you will probably have a lot of second-hand embarrassment for the girl – Sarah – who calls the show about a guy called Mike. But lo and behold, that will not be the most interesting part of the clip. Anyway, listen to it and we’ll analyze after:
That was something wasn’t it? As the class listened to it, the horror on everyone’s face got increasingly worse. But beyond the academic theories that can completely and utterly rip this clip apart and tear both the show and Mike to bits, let’s analyze this from the context of the liberty to freely express one’s opinions even when those opinions are unpopular. Yes, I know someone will inevitably mention that freedom of speech has boundaries and I am fully aware of many of them in different countries. But much of the reaction to the video was, “Wow. He shouldn’t have said that!” or, “Why would you say that out loud?” But I wonder whether this reaction actually gets to the heart of the matter.
The first controversial thing he said was, “I don’t do Mexicans.” Now while his words were poorly chosen, what he meant was he does not date Hispanics/Latinos. There was a debate in class and there are certainly many debates about whether it is racist to make such remarks. The radio hosts even told him that he “sounds racist.” As a Black African female, I have been in that situation and observed many situations in which someone said something similar about Black people or African people. There has been many a friend offended on my behalf for this. But the truth is I don’t find this problematic or racist to the extent that people are allowed to have preferences. Example: I like tall men. Sure, height and race privilege are not remotely the same but I am placing this in the context of mere preference.
What is more problematic that the statement itself – saying you don’t date in race X – is the hegemonic and racist discourse that often privileges certain races over others in terms of beauty, romantic relationships, and partnerships. Saying you are not attracted to a specific race is to me, more of a testament to the discourse or lack thereof that you were exposed to regarding a specific race. And even then, this is not always the case. Nonetheless, it is for this reason, I always humorously but sincerely call myself an equal opportunity dater in the context of race. I’m fighting the powers friends!
Back to the radio clip. So at this point, I am simply thinking that Mike is suffering from prejudice hegemonic discourse like most people because of racism’s institutional power. But then Mike goes on to say some pretty crass things about Hispanic/Latino culture. My ears stand to grind. Mike is still suffering from racism’s institutional power but he is also making the individual decision to make prejudiced remarks about a group of people – those remarks are unequivocally embedded in racist thinking.
Still, there is plenty to be learned in this video about our own assumptions about race and people. In the first place, we don’t know if Sara is actually Hispanic/Latino which of course is not the point about the racist remarks he made but a point to consider nonetheless. We also don’t know if Mike is White which I, like many others, will probably assume which maybe points out our own prejudices and stereotypes. But perhaps the biggest thing I learned was in the way both the radio station hosts reacted and the way many of us react: It wasn’t that Mike thought these things, it’s that he said them out loud. To most of us, that is what was troubling. And that to me is what is most troubling.
In my final analysis, and as I had mentioned in the class where it was played – I am glad he said it because I know where he stands. I actually think that people should be more blunt about their prejudices because to me one of the major differences between racism in the 50’s and racism now, is that people are simply not saying what they really believe anymore, not solely that people are necessarily thinking differently. For me, it’s a lot easier to get to the heart of racism when we can deconstruct the discourse directly rather than attempt to challenge it in between the lines of political correctness.
Is Mike an ass? Yes. Is what he said racist? Yes. But this is the kind of racism that I like to confront because he’s direct and I can appreciate that. Should he have said it? Well, our society of political correctness would probably say no and so we crucify him, metaphorically speaking of course; he went against the norm. My opinion is maybe he ought to be crucified by us because of what he said, but not because he said it out loud. Sometimes if you ask people their opinion, they just might tell you.