Sunday, May 6, 2018

Meme-ing Racism

Hi there. I’m back after a brutal stomach virus. I was still in a kind of a haze yesterday when this advert on  FB jarred me to my senses.

I responded by letting them know that we had been to their restaurant several times and enjoyed it, but that I thought their post was culturally and racially insensitive. The response:

 I’m sorry you feel that this meme is offensive, clearly it is meant in a jokingly manner just as someone would if they said they were irish when they weren’t. It is a play on the holiday, Cinco de mayo, and how we aren’t a Mexican restaurant yet are doing specials like tacos, Coronas, etc.

And then another reader chimed in, “I am Mexican and I find this offensive.”

The response?

I hope you’ll come in and enjoy our specials!

(Insert facepalm here.)

What bothers me most of all about the choice of this meme is the “othering” involved. How many Mexicans do we think are regular customers? How many who look like the man under the sombrero? Pretty darned few, I would guess. And so it was easy for someone to look at this picture and think, “It’s just funny.”  The racial and cultural implications were lost on them.

And yet they thought the joke was just lost on me.

I share this with you not to stir up outrage or suggest you boycott this particular establishment. I share it to show how racism in our midst can be so casual. It presents itself with a smile, just a joke between friends. It persists when everyone laughs or looks the other way.

I hesitated to say anything yesterday and make a fuss. But I felt I needed to use the privilege I had to push back. I was hoping to make the person on the other side of the social media account think. I don’t know that I did.

About two hours after my initial objection, the restaurant took down its post. Maybe a manager or an owner looked at what social media was doing and saw the problem.

My husband and I have been there several times and had excellent food and excellent service. It isn’t really in our neck of the woods so it was never going to be a regular thing for us. But seeing the use of this particular meme was chilling to me. It clearly articulates who is “us” and who isn’t. As a friend responded when I asked for more opinions on this:

Someone made the conscious decision to select this image over one that would have been funnier and more relevant to their target audience: drunk white dude-bro. That's just messed up.

But the Ten Oaks Tavern also prides itself on being a neighborhood family gathering place. It’s not just a bar. After yesterday maybe they will want to get together with their team and talk about what their family values really are.

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