I’m half Chinese. The other day I was talking to a friend about the difference in perception of racist jokes depending on the target race. For instance, a racist joke against a black person might be met with, “Whoa dude, not cool.” Whereas a joke about an Asian person might be laughed at and not thought twice about. Part of this is because of the dark history of racial oppression and slavery against blacks in the United States. However, there is an equally dark though not often mentioned racial history concerning Asians in this country, going back to the treatment of Chinese workers while building the railroads to the Japanese internment camps during WWII. So, is it any more acceptable to make a joke at an Asian person’s expense than it is to make one at a black person’s? Of course not.
Last night during a game in Detroit (correction, the game was in London, Ontario) versus the Redwings, Philadelphia Flyers player Wayne Simmonds had a banana peel thrown at him during the shootout. While the person who threw the banana peel was not caught and the intent is not certain, the point of throwing a banana peel at an African-Canadian player is quite arguably racially motivated.
I’m not going to pretend I’ve never laughed at a racist joke. I’m not going to pretend I’ve never told a racist joke. I’m not even going to say that racist jokes can’t be funny at the right time or place. After all, we have all laughed at Dave Chappelle. Indian-Canadian comedian Russell Peters routine is almost entirely racial and he’s very funny. Why then do these men, both of different ethnic backgrounds tell these jokes? Much like the black community’s attempted appropriation of the “N” word, they use racist jokes as an attempt to steal their power. I use the word “attempt” because it has not been completely successful. Racist jokes still hurt. The “N” word still hurts.
There are many cultural and racial differences in this incredibly diverse world of ours. Those cultural differences makes for a rich wealth of variety in art, food, customs, etc. At times those differences can be shocking, disturbing, and yes, even amusing. However, targeting an individual with a racist joke or racial antagonism singles them out. It says, “You’re different than us. You don’t belong. This isn’t your place.” Believe it or not, no matter how small or benign a racial joke is, it still plucks at that heartstring.
This year, the United Stated erected a monument to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington D.C. The monument itself was designed by a Chinese artist. Someone suggested that it was sad that a black artist was not chosen to design the monument to the greatest black figure in our nation’s history. However, one journalist pointed out that Dr. King advocated racial equality for everyone and that it was the most fitting thing of all for a non-black artist to design the monument. It shouldn’t be about one race getting recognition or special treatment over another. It’s about accepting everyone for who they are, aside from the color of their skin.
While the NHL is largely a white dominated sport, as the years pass it becomes more and more racially diverse. It’s not uncommon to see Wayne Simmonds, or Jordin Tootoo, or Nazem Kadri, or Devin Setoguchi. I’d like to think that the NHL has one of the most accepting communities as well. There is a certain honor and respect that NHL players and NHL fans uphold toward the game and toward each other. Let’s not mar the game and disrespect its people, regardless of their race.
We’re better than that. All of us.
About the Author
Written by Eric Cooney
Eric Cooney was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina, and lives in Los Angeles, CA. He shares his thoughts on the NHL as one man who is a northerner, southerner, east coaster, and west coaster. Follow him on Twitter @EricCooney