Friday Special: What Racism?

by Walker Hawkins

Since the release of our latest issue, we’ve received a lot of great reader response. Our issue was described as “glossy,” “16 pages long” and “costs $2300,” especially by our publisher. But we’ve also received some criticism of our Racism/Diversity Issue being “racist.” In response to these allegations, long-time columnist and Texan Walker Hawkins had this to say:

When I first arrived at Penn, I was an innocent (and arguably supple) 18 year-old boy with mixed interests and emotions. The idea that in a year’s time I would be an editor of the university’s premier, SAC-funded, published once-a-semester, comedy magazine would have completely blown my mind. However, a year or so later, here I stand, amidst a whirlwind of controversy I never thought possible.

Before joining the Punch Bowl, I was under much the same impression as Benjamin Alisuag. I too thought Asians belonged at frat parties and that, on occasion, they enjoyed the deliciousness of fried chicken. What’s more, I had no clue that homosexuals are not allowed to listen to Eminem or that the easiest way to spot an infidel was to simply see if he or she has freckles. As you can imagine, my world also collapsed.

What is more, the latest issue of the Punch Bowl taught me that if a person wants to take offense to something, warranted or not, he or she will. Don’t get me wrong, I will be the first to admit that some of the jokes within the magazine are racy. But, I would also like to point out that the cover of the issue alludes to such jokes with the word “racism,” albeit crossed out, front and center.

It was never our goal to be blatantly racist, but it was our goal to make people laugh at the idiosyncrasies and some observable characteristics of various races and ways-of-life. In fact, while the Punch Bowl was reprimanded in 2001 for insensitivity towards South Asians, it was actually our first offense since our “Ethnic Cleansing: the Lighter Side” issue (Slobodan Milosevic, editor-in-chief, W’ 1972). This is why I fail to see why the Asian Pacific Student Coalition, specifically, is so outspoken about the Punch Bowl. Yes, there are Asian jokes. But a disproportionate amount, I’m not really sure I agree. Excluding the photo piece “Where Asians Don’t Belong”, there are literally two other jokes aimed solely at Asians.

To be fair, Alisuag points out these instances within his own article, citing the Thai Trans-gendered Barbie Doll and the advertisement for Birthright Japan. However, he fails to cite where else he takes offense, although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t to the similar Birthright Ireland and Mordor advertisements. Or, maybe he was offended by the numerous pieces that don’t even mention Asians or Asian-Americans at all, I can’t be positive.

My point is, if you’re offended, fine. While I may not feel that your feelings are appropriate, it is not my right to question anyone’s beliefs on the matter. However, it is my right to voice my own opinions. In reality, I am also offended by certain publications on campus. For example, every time I read 34th Street, I am offended that it is referred to as a comedy publication. With that said, I, myself, am a little saddened that people just can’t laugh and move on.

If you are of the opinion that something has to be said and that you can’t just simply forget, then, by all means, let us know. But please don’t cite historical references and pretend that a publication such as the Punch Bowl is “an unfriendly reminder that Asians once were not allowed to own land because of their ‘Alien Status’.” It is these kinds of statements that cause groups and opinions to not be taken seriously.

The APA, like many similar student organizations, serves a very important role on this campus and on universities across the nation. It is their right to express themselves and to spread their message, but not at the expense of another organization that serves an equally important purpose. If people can’t laugh at themselves, then I’m truthfully very worried about the direction in which we’re all heading.

I guess, in the end, the most telling moment of Benjamin Alisuag’s article is the admission that his favorite part of the magazine was “the quiz question about dividing by zero.” Some probably immediately thought of the sociotype that all Asians are good at math. Others probably paid no attention to this statement. Either way, please don’t call me a racist or insensitive just because I find it hilarious.

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