Many of you know that the headline is the punchline to an awesome Dave Chappelle joke about black people and chicken. As far as I know, it is the only joke about black people and chicken (fried or otherwise) that is acceptable for white people to retell in 2010 America. I say again, it’s the only joke white people are allowed to make on this subject. (I’ll accept new submissions from African-American comedians — surely Kat Williams has something.) Obviously, if your name is Bill Maher, you are exempt from this rule, but that’s because Maher is pretty much the only white man in America who has figured out how to joke about Obama’s race, and he does so brilliantly.

For all other white people, I think this is a bright-line rule that should be easy to follow. They’re really not that many of them: you can’t make jokes about fried chicken or watermelon, you can’t use the “N”-word, you can’t comment on black women’s hair because you have no freaking idea what you’re dealing with. In exchange, you got a 300-year head start in this country, nobody ever profiles you, and just to be nice we’ll leave you hockey for your own sporting domination. That’s a good deal, right? There are a handful of jokes I can make that you cannot; if you think you’re getting the short end of the stick, call up a single mother living in the Bronx and ask her if she wants to trade.

Really, I didn’t think I had to write down the “no fried chicken jokes” rule. But the law firm of Morgan Hill in Washington State made me realize that sometimes you have to spell things out for people. Every Christmas, they send out their holiday party invitation in the form of a satirical newspaper. The flier contains funny, made-up stories about the big legal news items of the year in Washington.

At least, it’s supposed to be funny. This year, the invitation missed the mark. Badly….

Here’s the set-up. Earlier this year, Justice Richard Sanders, of the Washington Supreme Court, opined about the disproportionate number of African-Americans in the prison system. Here’s the ABA Journal report, from October:

“Certain minority groups” are “disproportionally represented in prison because they have a crime problem,” Sanders told the newspaper. “I think that’s obvious.”

Sanders lost his retention election, and blamed the bad press that followed his “obvious” statement.

The Morgan Hill law firm decided to resurrect the whole drama, just in time for Christmas. Again, from the ABA Journal:

A law firm’s annual satirical newsletter takes aim at Washington Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders for his recent controversial remarks about blacks. But its fake article, entitled “Sanders to Reach Out to Black Community With KFC Restaurant,” apparently missed the mark.

Yeah, they went there. You could see what they were going for. You can even see that the true intended target of the joke was not African-Americans, but the Sanders guy who lost his judgeship because of racial stereotyping. You can even see the fun of making a KFC joke in connection with a guy with the last name of “Sanders.”

And if you’re a white person, maybe that’s all you see, and you just run with the joke. But maybe if Morgan Hill had some more black people in management — or hell, even a black friend, I couldn’t find a picture of a black person in my quick search of the firm’s website — somebody over there would have said “DANGER, DANGER, we can’t print this. Really guys, we CANNOT print this.”

Because the “joking” didn’t stop there. The fake article is gone, but the Olympian has a detailed report:

The text of the article includes made-up quotations attributed to Justice Sanders, including the following:

“I never said that black people are pre-disposed to commit more crimes. I just said that in fact, they do commit more crimes.” The fictitious article went on to say that while black people are not “genetically inclined” toward eating a lot of fried chicken, “they do in fact eat a lot of fried chicken.”

The article says that Sanders is opening a KFC in Lacey “as a service” to minorities.

The fictitious article also included a lengthy quotation in ethnic dialect attributed to “local brown-skinned attorney Kevin Johnson.”

Here’s one thing I’ve noticed: when people who are not used to making racial jokes start making racial jokes, they literally just don’t know when to stop. It’s like, Kramer can’t shout n***** in a crowded theater just once, he’s got to do it again and again and again, almost as if once you cross a line you become duty-bound to get your money’s worth.

In any event, this flier went out everywhere. It was even available in the local courthouse. Not surprisingly, the criticism came fast and furious:

James Bible, President of the Seattle/King County NAACP, said in a phone interview Monday that the attorneys at Morgan Hill should have known that the language they used in the publication would be hurtful. Legal professionals are trained to use words appropriately and to understand the effect words have on others, he said.

(I’m going to take a wild guess and say that James Bible has never read an Above the Law comment thread if he thinks attorneys “use words appropriately” and “understand the effect words have on others.”)

Actually, my own experience with the Above the Law commenters is probably what made me desensitized to the fake article when I first read it. I mean, fried chicken jokes, really? I work on the internet; I hear worse than that any day of the week.

So I was inclined to think the whole thing was being slightly blown out of proportion, until I read the Morgan Hill apology:

Rob Morgan Hill and Clint Morgan, also an attorney at the Morgan Hill law firm, wrote an e-mail to Judge Casey on Monday.

Morgan Hill’s e-mail to Casey states: “It appears that after years of approaching the line with our annual Christmas invitation, a number of people believe that we finally crossed it. Obviously, this has put you and other personnel in a difficult situation, which we sincerely regret and for which we apologize…

We hope that this message can be shared with anyone who was offended by the article and that our apologies can be extended to both those who were offended and those who were put in a position of having to answer for our apparent misstep.”

“Apparent misstep”? Are you kidding me with this non-apology apology? They should have just said “so that we can better understand the pain our holiday invitation has caused, we’ll all be drinking Hennessy at our party. Peace out, bitches.” Are they still living in a world where they don’t understand how some black people would get offended by a freaking fried chicken joke?

For the love of God, just stop digging the hole. Just apologize… or don’t apologize. You could say: “We thought it was funny, and people who didn’t can go jump in one of our many Washington lakes.”

That’s why we need the rule I proposed above: no fried chicken jokes. If you break the rule, you can deal with the consequences. But you can’t feign ignorance of the rule. Ignorance is no defense to bad racial humor.

Law Firm’s Satirical Holiday Card Backfires; Critics Claim Racial Stereotyping [ABA Journal]
Thurston County Jail guard says law firm’s newsletter crossed the line [The Olympian]


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