Tempering Fire

Boring down into a quote from Michael King's "Firestarter" column

This week in his "Point Austin" column ("Firestarter," Fri., March 27, 2015), Chronicle news editor Michael King thoughtfully eviscerates the so-called "racist stickers" placed on the storefronts of local small businesses last week.

In the piece, King quotes, among others, local actor/director Rudy Ramirez.

The column's headline and kicker for the week: "Firestarter: If you want to attack institutional racism, you might pick an actual target" do their job well of summing up King's sentiment. Likewise, the quote chosen by King, attributed to Ramirez (shown in bold below), is short, sweet, and to the point:

On the other hand, when no one was yet taking credit for the tagging, Dukes nailed it when she speculated that whoever had done so was "a narcissist and a bully." In his underwear, Attorney "Trenchant Anal­ysis" directly attacked Dukes for supposedly not "getting the joke." On that subject, local actor/director Rudy Ramirez aptly posted, "Yeah. I got that. Still not funny. Still bringing back years of trauma around exclusion and banishment from home spaces. Thanks, asshole."

It's also the most incendiary line of Ramirez's piece, originally posted to his Facebook page March 19. The piece touched me when it first appeared, and I contacted Rudy to ask permission to quote or run it on this blog. Mostly for reasons related to redundancy and deference, I chose not to do so at the time, and instead sent it along to Micheal, who used it as a lovely punctuation mark to address the very possible first-glance interpretation of the stickers, especially by some people of color.

Here's Ramirez's full post:

When you tell a joke, you draw a circle in the world. The people who laugh are the ones inside; the ones who don't get the joke – or who don't see it as a joke – are on the outside. I can't speak for everyone, but I try to make sure that I draw my circles carefully enough that the people who are outside my circle have more power than I do, because sometimes jokes need to punch, but they should punch up, not down, and I also try to take the time to punch myself a few times to say, "See! I got punched and I recovered. You can recover, and maybe getting punched doesn't feel so bad, or maybe it does and now you'll be more careful about punching down." I try to make the people inside the circle the people who want to feel like, "Hey! I'm in a circle! I feel better now that I'm in this circle of people laughing WITH me and not AT me." Sometimes I fail, miserably and to the pain of people that I care about. I try to do better. I am pissed off about the "Exclusively for White People" stickers that appeared on businesses along Manor Rd (including some that are Latino-owned) because they are a joke that has drawn a very small circle and set those circles up in public. They assume that audiences of color are going to "get" that this is actually a joke about white people, but it doesn't take into account that a lot of people of color are going to look at it and say, "Yeah. I got that. Still not funny. Still bringing back years of trauma around exclusion and banishment from home spaces. Thanks, asshole." I do think that we need jokes and satire about race and other difficult subjects, but I think the people who make those jokes need to be very careful about how they draw their circles. Otherwise, they make Bad Art. And there is no excuse in my mind for Bad Art.

On March 21, Ramirez hit the point home, referring again to the stickers in a Facebook post in which he linked a recent HuffPo update on the Jumpolin piñate shop demolition story:

State Rep Eddie Rodriguez has put forward a bill that would increase the penalty for the landlord when they are evicting someone in order to put the space to more profitable use. This comes in no small part from really awesome people – way more awesome than I am – organizing and reporting to make sure that everyone knows exactly how fucked up this was, resulting in a number of companies refusing to use the space for SXSW. All of this happened doing something way smarter than putting puerile stickers on buildings: they gave the owners of this land the chance to speak and reveal how racist and callous they really are.

Hieronymus Bosch's The Conjurer: Balls… quarters… magic!

Ramirez's take on all this reminds me of an old Jerry Seinfeld saw about magic that comedian/magician Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller used to say so much in the 1980s that I thought he was the source:

"All magic is: 'Here’s a quarter, now it’s gone! You’re an idiot! Now it’s back. You’re an asshole. Show’s over.’"

Today, the person who claimed to have put up the stickers is milking a few more clock ticks out of his 15 minutes with a "Presentation and Press Conference" at either 3pm or 5pm, according to a rather vague and bait-y Facebook event page, which may or may not direct folks to a real happening, which may or may not be completely full of shit. (The Chronicle is actually sending someone.)

Concurrently, I will be holding my own press conference at my desk: "Satire Is So Much Better When It Works," featuring the break-out sessions: "Would stickers that said, 'NO WHITES ALLOWED' have taken this thing in a whole 'nother level?" and "Time to grow a huevo, and put the fucking stickers on actual COA property; then see who comes to your press conference."

Somewhere in there, there is a joke involving borrowing that quarter from Penn and calling someone who has fucks to give, but I just, as the kids say, can't even.

Rudy Ramirez is currently directing a production of EMMA WHEN YOU NEED HER Round 1 as part of The Cohen New Works Festival at the University of Texas at Austin and showing at the Winship Drama Building, Mon.-Wed., April 13-15. Round 2 happens in May at the Vortex.

For more, see "Contested Territory." Follow @PointAustin.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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Rudy Ramirez, Michael King, Point Austin, Firestarter, racism, stickers, east side

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