Friday, January 27, 2012

Tough Questions: Are You Allowed To Be Insensitive?

I feel like weighing in on this Jesus and Mo debate, because I think that it is indicative of a larger question that I would like to discuss. While I've seen the cartoon and have decided that I don't think it's inflammatory, racist or insensitive at all, that is my personal opinion and I understand that there are some people that may disagree. I thought it was funny, others might think it was in poor taste, but whatever. Compounded with the fact that the cartoon itself was on the London School of Economics Student Union Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society's Facebook page, not even tacked up all around the university (so if you don't like it, don't go on their facebook page right?) it seems a little ridiculous that the Uni's Student Union would call an emergency meeting over it or have any case to call it "bullying".

But let's put all that aside. Let's say the cartoon was a little more insensitive and racist. Let's say the cartoon was tacked up on campus and not displayed on some Facebook page that many of the people it would be likely to offend would never visit anyway. The issue that is worth discussing is whether or not such things should be allowed. Are you allowed to offend people based on their race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, religion or political opinion? If the answer is no, where do you draw the line between good natured satire and banned offensive language?

I'll give you an example from my own college years. I started college in Dublin in 2005, and as I've told you before I was a bit of a stranger in a strange land, considered by most to be an annoying American girl and didn't really have that many friends. Also remember that Hurricane Katrina had hit only a month before, I had friends there for the cleanup efforts and what happened was just settling in. My first week in college I, along with all the other First Years, got a free copy of the student-run magazine. On the cover was a picture of the University, almost completely under water, and the title was "Fuck America. We're Fucked Here". Wow. Bad fucking taste, not to mention the fact that it made me feel even more self conscious about my accent, and it made me think that people were going to be even more hostile towards me because of it than they turned out to be. I thought it was insensitive, not to mention completely misdirected. If you're upset with the US government's actions why are you making jokes about the poor peoples lives that were lost in a natural disaster, people that were also foresaken by the US government? I thought it was stupid and they should have picked a better cover, especially for the very first issue given out free to the new students.

Here's the thing though, should they have been allowed to publish it? I vote yes. Sure it affected me in some way or another, but I understand that while I reserve the right to be offended, others reserve the right to offend. I don't think that any club should not be allowed to display or say anything about anyone, even if it is racist or whatever. Let public opinion tear them down and let the racists declare themselves. I never bought a copy of that magazine throught my entire college career. If I was part of a club that displayed something that I thought was racist or homophobic I would no longer be a member, and neither would other students such as myself, until the club would only contain other racist people. If that number is large enough for the club to continue at least everyone knows that they are a racist bunch. If it is not the club is cancelled, but not because they were not allowed to express their racist thoughts.

What I am saying is that, even though I don't think the Jesus and Mo cartoon is racist, or bullying, or insensitive, or anything like that, even if it was I would tell the London School of Economics Student Union to grow the fuck up. You're in college now, get rid of the baby blanket and get ready to step into the real world. There are people that you're not going to agree with, and there are people that are going to be extremely vocal about what it is they are not agreeing with you on. Deal with it.

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