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Theme Party

Monday, Apr. 11, 2011

Michelle is looking through Facebook after class and notices that her good friend Anthony has a new album uploaded on his profile entitled “FOBs R Us.” Michelle looks through the photos and video clips and sees that both white students and students of color are depicting stereotypes of immigrants from Asia. There are people speaking in fake accents, wearing pointed farmer’s hats and ethnic garb, bowing to each other, posing in mock martial arts positions, and carrying around chopsticks in their pockets.

Michelle knows that most of the photos were taken at a “Fresh Off the Boat” party Anthony held the weekend before. Michelle was invited but made up an excuse not to go because the whole idea made her uncomfortable. Now that she sees the photos, she’s even more uncomfortable, but she notices that a lot of her friends have “liked” pictures from the album. Is there something wrong with Michelle’s sense of humor, or is there something wrong with the FOBs R Us?

Here are some resources that might be helpful:

Racist Theme Parties: Freedom of Speech or Freedom to Hate 

Discussion of UCSD "Compton Cookout" by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

A Framework for Ethical Decision Making

Photo by Swamibu available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial License.

Comments Comments

Alicia Rangel said on Apr 12, 2011
I think it's very reasonable of Michelle to feel offended by "FOBs R Us." This kind of theme party takes steps backwards when it comes to the journey of meeting new people and being open to a variety of cultures. These stereotypes partition people off from each other. I've seen similar parties happen on my campus, as well as racially motivated costumes at Halloween events, and they always create divisions. Sometimes we see our friends do things we don't agree with and are disappointed. I think Michelle should express her concerns about the pictures to her friends and explain how they made her feel and why. If these are true friends, they should value Michelles opinion enough to listen. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Miriam Schulman said on Apr 13, 2011
Some people seem to have the mistaken notion that "funny" is synonymous with ethically permissible. If it makes you laugh, it must be okay. As a woman, I can say honestly that I've heard a lot of humor based on out and out misogyny, and I understand why some of the jokes are funny--it's the consequences that aren't. Some humor chips away at the dignity of its targets. It makes it harder to really see the groups who are the butt of the joke, to take their concerns and experiences seriously when it's important to do that. I think the FOB pictures and party are in that category. The students who participated probably didn't intend to be disrespectful, but at some level, they were showing that they don't care to get beneath the stereotypes Americans have about Asians. In contrast, I'd point to the way Dave Chappelle deals with race in his comedy. He gestures toward the stereotypes we all have, but he uses them to make a broader point about the place of race in our society. And he's hilarious. (Check out "The Racial Draft.") When I was a kid, there was a comedian named Bill Dana, who used to do a character named Jose Jimenez. "Jose" was a dim-witted Hispanic guy whose jobs ranged from Santa Claus instructor to astronaut. Audiences loved him. Over time, though, Dana began to hear protests that his character was having a negative impact on the way people viewed Hispanics. He was a big enough person to really listen to these criticisms, and, at a Mexican American cultural pride festival in 1970, in front of thousands of attendees, he announced that Jose Jimenez was dead. If Michelle were my daughter, I'd advise her to talk to her friends honestly about her discomfort with FOBs R Us. Maybe she'll convince them that, funny or not, this kind of humor needs to go the way of Jose Jimenez. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Alejandro Pineda said on Apr 13, 2011
There is nothing "wrong" with either Michelle or the FOBs R Us. Michelle is just more aware of the implications of said stereotypes. The students who attended the party are products of their environment; they have not seen what such ignorance can bring. It is not a matter of right and wrong. It is a matter of subject and object. Michelle (subject) observes the students at the party (objects) and sees the potential for racism, division, and hate. The students are objects: they are acting without thought of consequence, or foresight. To prevent such ignorance, our society must get better at producing subjects--individuals who can observe and understand. - Like - 1 person likes this.
David DeCosse said on Apr 20, 2011
I remember well the day in a poor neighborhood in West Baltimore when, having come from the wealthy suburbs, I looked out the city bus window and saw a young African-American woman and realized: She must want the same things that I want in life but she must see these choices through such different eyes, in the face of such different practical challenges. I recall that moment when I think of Michelle's quandary. The golden rule  "do unto others as you would have them do unto you"  is one of the oldest and most widespread of all ethical maxims. But there are some built-in assumptions in the golden rule that under pressure of, say, the imperative to have fun at a big college party, can be quickly overridden. One of those assumptions is that we all pretty much share a common humanity: In other words, that it makes sense to treat others as you would like to be treated because others are pretty much like you. They share your sense of what it means to seek a good life, even if their experience of such seeking is very different from your own. It's the absence of a sense of a shared humanity that gives a theme party like the one Michelle wisely chose to pass up its objectionable nature. These parties presume that mockery is humor. But, in doing so, they fail the test of common humanity, which holds that great humor arises from recognizing foibles that are common to all but not from laughing in derision at the frailty of others. Michelles got a fine sense of humor. Her friends who "liked" the theme party dont. - Like - 1 person likes this.
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Tags: diversity, ethics, race, stereotypes, theme party