This week’s crapdate is showing up in a variety of ways, with a variety of arguments, sometimes with pictures, sometimes not, and garnering lots and lots of “likes.” The idea is that Mario is an antidote to racism, and as far as I can tell, it is usually posted with good intentions.
The basic picture:
The short answer: “Any time you use the phrase “like a [ethnic group/nationality/race],” you are making the problem of racism worse.”
Let’s look at the text and think critically about what it means. “Don’t be racist. Be like Mario. He’a an Italian plumber created by Japanese people, who speaks English and looks like a Mexican.”
The very pretense of the picture is strange. If you’re like Mario (i.e., multicultural), you won’t be racist. That doesn’t even make sense. People who come from multiple cultures (just like libertarians) are not magically immune from racism and sometimes have internalized racism against those cultures that make up their history. The picture’s logic fails from the get-go, even if you don’t have a clear understanding of racism.
Race is a fuzzy concept for a lot of people (full disclosure: I’ve had to do some research here to make sure that I’m not spreading misinformation; it’s not the clearest concept for me, either). Race is not biological, it is not a concept that has existed throughout history, it is not consistent. It is a social construct that groups people together for political purposes. It is a construct. Race is given to a person from somebody else.
Ethnicity and nationality, however, are taken on by the person. Ethnicity groups people according to common traditions, or common language, or common ancestry, and nationality is based on a person’s citizenship. Thus, a Black person (race) may identify as Haitian-American (ethnicity-nationality).
Given that race is a cultural construct, what can be considered a race? Here are the races that are currently used by the U.S. Census: White; Black, African Am., or Negro; American Indian or Alaskan; Asian Indian; Chinese; Filipino; Other Asian; Japanese; Korean; Vietnamese; Native Hawaiian; Guamanian or Chamorro; Samoan; Other Pacific Islander; Some other race.
The crapdate (version 1) includes Italian, Japanese, English-speaking, and Mexican. Japanese is considered a race, and Mexican is generally considered a race (it fits under the “some other race” category). Italian is White. English-speaking is”¦somebody who speaks English. The picture completely glosses over race by assuming that any label applies to race, which glosses over racism itself.
The fact of the matter is that the crapdate unapologetically uses ethnic and racial stereotypes. A stereotype is “a generalization about a group”¦identical characteristics are assigned to virtually all members, regardless of actual variation among the members.”
Mario is an Italian plumber created by somebody who isn’t an Italian plumber to showcase such stereotypes. From the USC School of Cinematic Arts:
“On a daily basis Nintendo teaches gamers (primarily children) that Italians/Italian-Americans:
“¢ talk funny (“I’m-a Mario!” and “I’m-a-Luigi!”);
“¢ only hold blue-collar, manual labor jobs (plumber);
“¢ aggressively pursue blonde, lily-white women; and
“¢ hang out with villainous “Goombas” (and, hmmmm, where did THAT name come from?)
If one replaced the Italian-American stereotypes in Mario with any racial stereotype, there would be a public uproar.”
So the crapdate uses an example of ethnic stereotypes as the antidote to racism. But racism is only able to exist because of the use of stereotypes. Stereotypes allow people to “other” an entire group, by grouping them together and presenting them as nothing more than their race. Once a group has become the other, racism thrives.
And what does it mean to “look like a Mexican”? Is it because he has dark hair? A mustache? Why doesn’t he look like an American? Or an Italian? The crapdate poster is almost certainly not Mexican, and so appearance is further used to “other” the group.
It gets worse.
The original picture has been doctored, and some additional stereotypes were thrown in for good measure.
He jumps like a Black man. And collects coins like a Jew. Because Black people are athletes, and Jewish people are greedy. Get it?
Or this one:
Because an entire continent of people can be grouped together according to their running ability. And now it’s Mexicans that jump.
Some people are posting it as their status update without the picture, sometimes replacing certain words with slurs:
Or replacing one nationality with another:
Because Chinese and Japanese people are the same, amiright?
The fact that the post has become so popular, and that it has been added to and changed, means that it is hitting a chord with people. This chord is the same chord that allows for racism to continue unchecked in society – this belief that if you say you aren’t racist, that takes care of the problem. “Don’t be racist!” somehow forgives anything else that is about to fall out of your mouth. But it doesn’t.
If you’re interested in encouraging people not to be racist, the first thing you should do is examine what you take for granted, and think about what racism really means. The post is ostensibly to make people think about race in a way that’s accessible. Most of us played Super Mario Brothers growing up, and here is an example of a multicultural character that was a part of our childhood. Instead, it amplifies racial and ethnic stereotypes, and contributes to the problem of racism.
So don’t be like Mario. Instead, think critically.