Takedown: Mario Solves Racism

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:

Picture from http://lolwtfcomics.blogspot.com/.

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.

Picture from http://www.trendyink.net/blog/.

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:

Picture from http://lolwtfcomics.blogspot.com

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.

Published by

Susan

I am old and wise. Perhaps more old than wise, but once you're old, you don't give a shit about details anymore.

21 thoughts on “Takedown: Mario Solves Racism”

  1. This makes me wanna punch and hit people with cartoon-y hammers.

    I am Italian-American and I have a Spanish last name (Spain ruled Sicily from ~1400-1800 FYI). People always ALWAYS seem to think my ethnicity is their business! “[LAST NAME]! What are you Hispanic!?” “Are you Italian? You look Italian?”

    WTF DO ITALIANS LOOK LIKE? Some Italians have blond hair and blue eye; some have olive skin and black hair; Some have brown hair and green eyes (like me). Look at Mario Batali… He has red hair and is Italian-American. Do I look Italian because my skin isn’t ivory, because my nostrils flair? Is that what people are trying to tell me? Because WOW IGNORANT.

    And yes, some Italians (especially those originating from more Southern areas and Sicily) look Hispanic,or Spanish, or Arab or, “Middle Eastern” because they might have Spanish, Moorish, Arab, or North African heritage… But most Italians are still White as far as a census would be concerned.

    Then there are all the questions about whether or not I am a Guido or if my family is in the mob.

    …So these people are “solving racism” by perpetuating stereotypes and ignorance? GOOD ONE.

    (I am not saying I don’t benefit from white privilege. I’m saying that common/popular stereotypes of my ethnicity, assumptions about my name, etc, mitigate that privilege to a small degree. A very obnoxious and annoying, but still very small degree).

  2. Personally, I find it strange that people take Mario seriously enough to try and glean life lessons from it. The entirety of the Mario universe is so utterly nonsensical that even as a kid (playing NES, SNES, and N64), I never saw it as more than a goofy pastime that gave me killer hand-eye coordination.

  3. I find it interesting that English is Mario’s presumed language. I mean, he doesn’t speak at all in the first game. Can we assume that he understands when Toad says, “The princess is in another castle,” since he immediately starts another world? Or is that beyond his control? Maybe he’s just wandering around, confused and angry because he doesn’t know why he has to keep fighting? Or else there’s an opening at the beginning that I’m forgetting …

    … And I may be thinking about this overly hard.

    1. I thought about that myself, and then realized that there are movies and TV shows with the character, and he speaks heavily Italian-accented (to the point of satire) English.  Which is probably how they got their data.

      Or, they didn’t think about it at all.

  4. Two thoughts. One. When I think of racist humor, I automatically think of Dave Chappelle. The thing that made his jokes funny is that we all believed the underlying stereotypes to be true in the first place. The same is true for blatantly sexist jokes. This is problematic. Ugh. It always sneaks up on me at Jazz & Jokes and makes me seem like a total killjoy. Two. The best breakdown I’ve ever heard for racism in the USA was made by my Russian PS1010 teacher. When he was on the plane to America from Russia filling out customs forms, one of his female colleagues was pissed that the USA wanted to know what race she was. She was essentially multi-racial and wasn’t used to being asked about her race on government forms. Interesting paradigm shift.

    Brilliant takedown.

    1. I am interested in your story – was the woman who was on the plane Russian?  The reason that I ask is that under the Soviet system, everybody had to have their “nationality” marked in their passport.  They were all Soviet citizens, but then they were also whatever “nationality” they were by blood – and it was documented.  So you would be Soviet but also Georgian or Tatar or Moldovan or whatever.  If she was Soviet and coming to America, I would assume that she would just write down whatever was in her passport.

      1. Interesting. Yes, she was Russian, but I’m afraid I don’t have any more details. As you note above, I would assume that her nationality was not a “race” option under American standards, although she could have just marked “other.” It has always been my understanding that it was the color aspect of her identity that she felt so awkward about defining, or even being asked to define for statistical reasons.

        1. Sorry – I wasn’t clear – based on my experience with those that lived under the Soviet Union, they were generally comfortable with classifying themselves, and (I think?) nationality isn’t a separate section on the customs forms, so most of the people I know with Soviet passports would have assumed that that lined up with race.

          Although if it were multiple choice (which I guess it probably is) that would definitely have a different feel.

    2. She was essentially multi-racial and wasn’t used to being asked about her race on government forms

      Some of my Irish friends have had this experience in the US and the UK and found it very disconcerting.  Then again, Irish bureaucracy didn’t ask about race/ethnicity until recently because it was just assumed that everyone was white.

      1. Interesting. When I do a quick search for the racial makeup of Ireland, I get a lot of posts about the ethnic makeup and ethnic minorities but no mention of race.

        It will be very interesting to see how America will categorize people in the future with the rise in multiracial births. If more than 50% of people identify as multiracial, would that make this category unnecessary? Just musing, but I’m hoping the increase in multiracial people will be accompanied by an increase in tolerance.

        1. As far as I remember, the 2006 census was the first to ask about ethnic identity as well as nationality, but I can’t find results on that or the 2011 one after a few minutes of digging. Looking at the classification by religion and nationality, though, may give a reasonable picture: about 11% of the population are defined as ‘Non-Irish’, and making assumptions about the most likely ‘race’ of people from those ‘Non-Irish’ regions, about 2% of the population are both non-Irish and non-white.

          http://www.cso.ie/en/statistics/population/populationclassifiedbyreligionandnationality2006/

          (of course there are also people of colour who are Irish, and non-Irish (from the UK, Europe, etc.( but I can’t find a more detailed table so far…)

          The multiracial tolerance theory… I’d like to see it, but it hasn’t happened in e.g.: Brazil.

  5. The other problem, for me as a gamer, is that Mario’s immediate reaction to everyone who looks a certain way is to hit them with a hammer or jump on their head. Video games with simplistic characterizations, things that are these colors are friends, things that are these colors are foes, just make it easier to judge people by the way they look.

  6. But like this I can act like I’m all activisty and caring without breathing harder for a moment! Don’t you understand that because I know of all these nationalities I already am being less racist? Geesh Louis.

    Sometimes it scares  me how easily I can slip into the mind of the narrowed. Here’s hoping that I’m wrong.

Leave a Reply