Saturday, February 13, 2016

Foghorn Leghorn a Racist?

funny looney tunes rooster foghorn leghorn says nigga

Let me give a little important back story, here, first. One of the great serendipitous surprises of my post middle age life has been  reconnecting with former students through Facebook. I was a Junior High School/Middle School teacher for close to 2 decades, before moving on in my career to become a curriculum and teacher training specialist and a planner and director of citywide programs for the use of technology in instruction. In those 18 years I spent as a classroom teacher, I met many interesting and wonderful people about whom, and about my interactions with them, I could go on and on. Almost exclusively, I taught minority kids: Blacks and Hispanics and they were young - generally 11 - 15 years of age.  I rarely had the opportunity to work with kids of my own ethnic group (White). Overwhelming, except for a small number of outright hostile malcontents, I really liked the kids I worked with and I like to think that they knew it.  Even those who were not good students, I found to be engaging and aware individuals and I knew then, as I still understand now, that my experience as a person was greatly enriched by my spending my days with them. And so, a few years back, when I started to get 'Friend Requests" from kids I knew a quarter century ago, now in their late 30's to mid 40's. I was delighted that these kids remembered me at all, let alone thought enough of me to "friend" me. I've been especially pleased to see  how well the ones I've been in touch with, either directly or through the chain of Facebook friend relationships, seem to have turned out. From what I can glean from their posts, they are good people, leading good lives.

 Fast forward several years, and this morning, coffee cup in hand and doing my usual, every day morning ritual of seeing what's turned up in my email in-box, I came across a notice of one of my ex students having "updated his status" on Facebook. Logging in, I saw the usual sort of thing, one of my students had relayed an item that some friend or acquaintance had posted originally. But this one was a little different. In this, was posted the caption "I'm sitting here watching Looney tunes and this rooster just said you can argue with me but you can't argue with niggas lol"

OK, OK, this kicked up all sorts of issues that I had hoped had gone away, but which, of course, I knew had not. We are talking about Racism here, but also taking half a step back to try to get some sort of perspective on this, we are witnessing the concerns of a young Black man's perception of race relations in the US, one that is colored by both the common shared beliefs of his community, as well as the actual reality that he is trying to negotiate as his is confronted with it, daily. And, I understand this is NOT an easy thing. As I read into it, I guess my former students is trying to function well within the greater society while attempting to remain loyal to his personal slice of it, and therefore he hyper-sensitive to any hints of affront or injury. And, no doubt, he's also just trying to relax and enjoy his life, as well, amidst all of this.

So, what do I think? Well, I'm having a hard time making up my mind about this one. As my student cued me to listen for (and to hear) the affront carried by the Facebook post he is relaying, the Looney Tunes character Foghorn Leghorn saying "... you can argue with me but you can't argue with niggas!" I clicked on the link there and damn, I heard it to! And then I wondered if someone hadn't re-done this video so that he could slip a bit of over-the-top racist dialog into it - some sort of tasteless prank. I started Googling this cartoon and its dialog and it appears that there's been a long running debate about this. If you try to figure out what Foghorn should have said, that is if his dialog were to adhere to the logic of the 'bit' he's acting out in the cartoon, he would have said "... you can argue with me but you can't argue with figgas", "figgas" being his regional, coloquial mispronunciation of the word "figures" and this would make sense, as this bit of dialog comes from a mathematical discussion.

So, what did I actually hear? I'm not sure. I'd LIKE to explain the racism away by believing that he actually said "figgas" and when I try to listen to hear that, yes, it's possible to hear that. But it's also possible to hear it as "niggas" Was Mel Blanc, the voice actor who did all of those great voices for Warner Bros cartoons back in the day, a racist who 'slipped one in'? I think you have to listen and decide for yourself, but as you do, you have to understand that what we hear in this video (at least to my way of thinking) also has a lot to do with what we bring to it.

Getting back to my students in East Harlem... The truth, as I recall it, was that it was always powerfully obvious to both them and me that I was a White teacher in a school populated by non-White students; a reality that was always there right under our noses, and a situation that could have easily resulted in regrettable communications, hard feelings, and conflict. I think what happened, though, was that after taking the measure of one another, we simply decided to put that aside, that there was no point in going down that road, and above all that we were in the presence of others worth knowing, and respecting, and whose company was to be enjoyed. And I think that in the America of today that's pretty good; maybe as good as it can get. Hey, it worked well for us! And I'm proud of how we got on together.

PS - By the way, YouTube definitely does provide evidence that there were popular, professionally produced cartoons that depict Blacks as conforming to a number of the classic, negative stereotypes held about them for a long time in the US. One good example is The Most Racist Cartoon Ever! ( - 5,300,000 views as of this writing) and there are others to be found if one uses the YouTube search engine. 

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