In their recent column, Christine Hung and Annette Wong lodge the complaint that certain publications, the latest issue of Rumpus among them, “employ generalizations that are not only uninformed but derogatory towards Asian-American men, Asian-American women, those in interracial relationships and women in general” (“Racially based humor reflects badly on school,” 4/17). This column accompanied a News article (“AASA accuses publications of racism,” 4/17) reporting on the letter of complaint to the administration containing an accusation of racism with reference to our paired articles, “Me Love You Long Time: Yale’s Case of Yellow Fever” and “Miscegenation Station: Interracial Dating at Yale.”
We, as the editorial board of Rumpus, would like to say that racism was never the intended tone or message of the articles. For those who were offended by the material, we will not now encourage them to, as Hung and Wong describe, “lighten up or learn how to take a joke.” We respect everyone’s right to express any opinion on the matter, but we would like the opportunity to explain the intent behind the article and acquit ourselves of the charge of racism, while also apologizing to those for whom the article caused personal pain.
Laying the foundation of our position based on a freedom of speech argument would be glib; it would be cheap, and it would devalue the positions of everyone involved in the situation. This is a social debate, not a legal one, and to claim that it is a legal issue would steamroll the nuances of the discussion. More importantly, to go through the whole article, tagging each line as defensible or indefensible would be petty and, again, miss the larger issues at stake. But it is worthwhile to note that the majority of the specific lines cited as offensive were direct quotations from sources within the Yale community (but outside of Rumpus), which were subsequently attributed incorrectly to the authors of the articles and to Rumpus as a whole. Whoever threw out all of the issues of the April issue of Rumpus made the impact of these out-of-context excerpts infinitely worse, allowing them to be repeated without material repudiation. Whether you find Rumpus to be funny or not, we do not, in fact, make things up, and we hold ourselves to a strenuous, if irreverent, standard of journalistic integrity, although the articles would have benefited from identifying their sources.
We never intended to condone these stereotypes. To call Rumpus a champion of social justice would, to many, sound laughable at best and entirely disingenuous at worst, but we certainly have not sought to cause large-scale personal injury to those who have done nothing to deserve it. On the contrary, we have always considered the purpose of the magazine to be the following: Rumpus’s goal, from RumpusRumpus to Remedial Media, is to hold up absurdity in all its forms for the rest of campus to examine and laugh at. The tools we use (parody, irony or just plain outrageousness) vary, but our purpose has been never to allow people to rest comfortably on their assumptions. Racial stereotyping is inherently absurd in its form, if undeniably devastating in its effects. When, however, the form can be laughed at, it’s the first step toward preventing the effects. In these articles, our goal was to report on a campus phenomenon, and we attempted to use irony (in the tone of all material, both in and out of quotations) to exploit for humor those who adhere to these stereotypes, not those who are affected by them. However, when the irony does not come across, not because people lack a sense of humor, but because use of the tool was misapplied, it suddenly seems as if we were intending to kick the underdogs. Promoting negative, racist stereotypes is the exact opposite of the original intent of the article.
We stand by the original intent of the article and encourage those who are unfamiliar with it to read it on our Web site (http://www.yale.edu/rumpus/archives/pdf/yalerumpus.com_apr06.pdf) in its full form and to draw their own conclusions. However, this discussion certainly begs the question of how many people the irony must be lost on before we may no longer reserve the right to call the articles ironic in effect. We would like to apologize wholeheartedly to those who suffered hurt at the idea that we intended to promote racist stereotypes or that we personally adhere to them. In deference to students’ concerns about the effect that this would have on the Asian-American prospective students attending Bulldog Days, we did not redistribute the issues to the dining halls, nor did we distribute it at the Freshman Bazaar, although we have put it on our Web site for the sake of clarity. Part of the reason that the article failed to convey its intent to some is that we honestly did not foresee the strength of the reaction to it. To those writing it, and to those to whom we showed it, the ironic intent seemed clear. It appears that we were in error in assuming that this was a representative slice of the campus. However, the dialogue that this has opened, even unintentionally, is a positive thing. If people are offended by our articles, we’d rather engage them in a dialogue than tell them where to shove it.
Molly Clark-Barol is a sophomore in Saybrook College and co-publisher of Rumpus. Lacey Gattis is a junior in Pierson College and co-editor-in-chief of Rumpus. Sam Heller is a sophomore in Pierson College and co-editor-in-chief of Rumpus. Samuel Penziner is a junior in Saybrook College and co-publisher of Rumpus.