Stuff white people do: think that racism is ok if you’re being ironic about it

by Guest Contributor Macon Dee, originally published at Stuff White People Do

Do you remember Pauly Shore? I don’t find him especially worth remembering, but I think his new project, a movie called Adopted, deserves attention. Critical attention.

It seems to me that in the trailer below, Shore enacts a common white tendency: acting racist in a way that’s supposed to signal that you know you’re acting racist. And thinking as you do so that because you’re being ironic, you don’t really mean to be racist, so the racism you’re enacting is okay. And kinda cool and funny too.

The film’s official site describes it the following way, with, presumably, a heavy dose of irony. Tongue firmly planted in cheek, as people used to say:

For hundreds of years, Africa has existed in a state of despair. Famine, civil wars and rampant disease have left the continent without hope, but for the efforts of Western do-gooders. At first, they arrived with food, bibles and the magic of penicillin; more recently they have hosted rock concerts and sent plane loads of grain. And in the last decade of the 20th century they arrived and took babies home with them. First there was Angelina, then Madonna, and now…Pauly Shore!

The film builds its comedy foundation on the international interest in Celebrity Adoptions, and the debate that surrounds these transactions on both sides of the Atlantic. Sometimes politically incorrect and never scared to tread on manicured toes.

So only those with manicured toes would feel tread upon by this approach? Really?

It might be fairly easy for some white folks to see where Shore goes wrong here, but I wonder if that would stop many of them from doing similar things. I see this same kind of ironic racism in, for instance, some of those college parties where people put on blackface and tape forties to their hands, or gorge themselves with tacos and tequila while wearing sombreros and fake mustaches.

When these party-goers get called out on their racism, they sometimes respond that of course they know that a lot of what they did could seem racist, but they didn’t really mean for it to be racist, and that makes it all okay. A further defense they often add (one which the producers of Shore’s film also trot out) is that the people who object to their ironic racism are being too sensitive, and too “politically correct.”

Here’s one such partier, Jeremy Pelz, defending his actions in these terms, after being called out for such a gathering at Tarleton University. This was a Martin Luther King Jr. Day party, and it “featured attendees wearing gang apparel and Afro wigs, carrying malt liquor, handguns, and fried chicken, and even one woman dressed as Aunt Jemima”:

Pelz noted that the [annual] party was started a few years earlier “because one of [his] best friends is black or African American, whichever you deem politically correct, to be his day not to dishonor him.” He added, “So I do apologize if you felt any disrespect because none was intended.”

How’s that for a sincere apology? Come to think of it, it might even be an ironic apology.

Have you encountered other instances of this phenomenon, that is, clearly racist actions that are supposed to be okay because the person committing them didn’t mean to be racist? And where it’s all your fault if you think their actions are wrong, because you’re supposedly overlooking what really, really matters more than anything else, which is the supposedly non-racist intentions behind their actions, rather than the racist effects?

[h/t for the video: Angry Black-White Girl]

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Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at

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