My late mother-in-law was born and raised in Okinawa and came to the United States as an adult. She didn’t read a lot of English publications, but she swore by Dear Abby. She said read the column because Abby’s advice taught her what it meant to be a good American. I’ve thought about that a lot over the years, and I’ve often wished there were more such commonsense voices of decorum, belief, and behavior in our public discourse—never more so than right now.
Which brings me to the website “Yo, is this racist?” (yoisthisracist.com) by blogger Andrew Ti.
Okay, well, that’s not exactly accurate. I mean, I wouldn’t have put Ti in the “Dear Abby” category on my own. He and his website are often irreverent , sometimes offensive or downright vulgar, and just seem to be having too much fun most of the time. But that’s how Rachel Brahinsky, writing in Antipode described him: “Ti …mocks overt and subtle racism with comedy and brilliance, using a renovation of the old ‘Dear Abby’ format.”
Readers send in questions, and Ti tears them apart, mocks them, and applauds them for their insights. The exchanges range from goofy to deadly serious, and Ti has a tendency to curse a lot and use text-isms like LOL to reach his audience—and the consistency of his critique is highly uneven (sometimes he’s just name-calling, but that usually seems to come after receiving a raft of nasty racist emails from readers; the blog is his outlet).
But there is a lot of brilliance in the blog, and it generally comes at moments when Ti uses the space to redirect a reader’s question from the micro-moments of interpersonal racism to the socio-structural factors that bracket those moments.
I think that Brahinsky’s is a pretty accurate description and assessment, and in fact I had been meaning to write something on the site myself (my son had introduced me to it) ’til she beat me to the punch. I am especially convinced that Ti is at his best when he situates various comments, questions, and episodes in the context of larger racial hierarchies in the U.S. In doing so, he shows that not all comments and quotes are equal—and that things like context, who is speaking, and who is listening are crucial to the racial implications and effects of any given utterance or interaction. I also believe that Brahinsky is precisely on point about the challenges—and necessity—of using humor to get at racism, not only in the classroom but in the culture. Plus, I appreciated the quote from my former advisor George Lipsitz. Thanks, Rachel, for writing this up!