As if Foxgate wasn’t giving me enough blog material on the topic of press freedom this week, now the Student Bar Association here at Notre Dame Law School is threatening to censor its satirical bathroom newsletter, the Patty O’Herald (named after — and often targeted at — Dean Patty O’Hara), because of an “offensive” article in this week’s issue about a white 1L who joins the Black Law Students Association because he thinks it’s “fly.” Earlier this afternoon, we got the following e-mail from the SBA’s president:
Good afternoon. I hope this message finds you well. I am writing in my capacity as the President of SBA, and also as an individual who cares deeply about the law school community. On behalf of the SBA I apologize to anyone whose feelings were hurt as a direct result of content contained within this weekÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s issue of the Patty OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Herald. I deeply regret that this occurred. There was absolutely no intent to offend any member of the Notre Dame Law School community. I also extend an apology to those who have been offended by any of the articles published in the Patty OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ this semester.
As a bathroom publication, the Patty OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ is a satirical look at situations that confront the law school community. It is not published with any ill intent, nor is it meant to target any group or individual. Despite SBAÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s good intentions at offering comedic relief, it is clear that the Patty OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢, on more than one occasion, has been read as offensive. Therefore, the SBA will be re-evaluating the Patty OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Herald over the holiday break to determine how it can better serve its purpose.
Obviously, this isn’t nearly as big of a deal as the Daily Trojan controversy. That involves official meddling in the internal affairs of the student newspaper at a university with one of the nation’s best journalism schools; this is voluntary self-censorship by a student organization that produces a silly law-school bathroom newsletter. As such, this isn’t really a battle over “press freedom,” per se. Still, I think the SBA’s position is kinda lame.
It’s not like the article in question contained any material that could be mistaken for a Michael Richards rant. I thought it was pretty funny, and like many things in the Patty O’Herald (which has been much edgier — and funnier — this semester than in past years), falls under the category of “jokes that thin-skinned people might be offended by, and that’s just too bad.” Unfortunately, the P.C. police almost always win such debates if the offended people complain loudly enough.
I mean no disrespect to those who take offense. What bothers me isn’t their sensibilities, but their attempt to impose those sensibilities on me. My attitude toward such things is analogous to the “change the channel” principle: if you’re offended by it, don’t read it! It’s different when something is so objectively offensive that huge numbers of people are upset, but I get annoyed when a small but vocal group of easily offended people is allowed to impose its mores on the rest of us.
Anyway, to foster an informed debate, and to allow people to tell me I’m an idiot if they disagree and think it’s horribly offensive (I do have a rather “anything goes” sense of humor, admittedly), I’ve posted the article in full after the jump.
Caucasian 1L Thinks It’s “Fly” He Joined BLSA
Inspired by the law school diversity training program, a Caucasian 1L has joined BLSA, the Black Law Students Association, in an effort to expand his interaction with minority students.
“I learned a few things in the diversity training, but the club has really opened my eyes,” the student, who goes by the nickname P-Dizzle, said. “One member spent time explaining Chris Rock jokes to me, and another promised to teach me the secret Q-Dawg handshake.”
Not everyone is as thrilled as P-Dizzle with his membership in BLSA. “Of course, we welcome persons of all stripes into our club,” BLSA spokesman Richard Warren said, sighing with exasperation. “P-Dizzle certainly has enthusiasm, but his understanding of African-American culture seems to stem largely from antiquated stereotypes and caricatures of hip-hop culture. An open and honest dialogue about diversity might help to counter his unrealistic view of other cultures.”
To “ease his integration into the club,” P-Dizzle spent much of fall break watching reruns of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” and “That’s So Raven” to hone his “flowcabulary” skills. “I’m confident I can relate to the issues facing BLSA,” P-Dizzle said. “The Federalist Society says most BLSA members wouldn’t be at NDLS if it weren’t for Grutter v. Bollinger. To encourage BLSA members, I’ll use phrases like ‘You go, girl’ and to show my surprise when they get an answer wrong I’ll shout ‘Oh no you didn’t!’”
“From the first day everyone in the club has been very welcoming,” P-Dizzle said. “They all express an interest in my heritage, asking me what it’s like to get a sunburn and how I built up my phat collection of Billy Ray Cyrus memorabilia.”
When asked about the group, Patty O’Hara was stunned to learn that BLSA is not a club for students interested in carpentry. “We encourage students to involve themselves in alternative trades in the likely event that they never achieve legal employment, and woodworking is a noble craft,” the Dean said, before being told of her mistake.
“I’m looking forward to my very first Kwanza,” P-Dizzle said. “One of my new friends promised to buy me the new Ron Artest album, and I’m going to ask my mom for some new rims. I can’t wait to drive into the Fischer Grad parking lot next semester rolling on dubs, ya heard!”
Now, I’m not sure what person or group expressed offense at this article. It seems to me that, if anyone should be offended, it would be Patty O’Hara, with the Federalist Society a close second. If it was African-American students who were offended, that would truly baffle me, since the article is clearly making fun of stereotypes (and of white people who hold those stereotypes), not making fun of African-Americans.
In any event, while not the most hilarious thing I’ve ever read, I think it’s pretty funny and not objectively over-the-top offensive. It’s unfortunate that this will probably be the last “edgy” issue of the Patty O’Herald this semester, as it’s been a real treat to have some actual non-bland humor to read in the john this semester.
UPDATE: I can now confirm that African-American students — specifically, BLSA members — are the ones making a ruckus over this. I really don’t understand that. The article does not make fun of black people. It makes fun of stereotypes about black people. The difference is rather crucial.
What’s really distressing is that individual students, acting on their own initiative and without any formal authorization, have apparently been removing the newsletter from the bathrooms in an attempt to censor it. I hope we can all agree, whatever we think of the article in question, that unilaterally removing it from public view is not the appropriate response. I’m disappointed that SBA, in its zeal to apologize as abjectly as possible, couldn’t spare even a sentence to castigate those who would take such matters into their own censorious hands.
UPDATE 2: Lisa explains in comments:
The part people were complaining about is the second to last paragraph. For those of you who donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t go to NDLS, you have to know that the Black Law Students Association is abbreviated Ã¢â‚¬Å“BLSA” and pronounced Ã¢â‚¬Å“balsa.” Knowing that balsa is a type of wood, I immediately got the joke, and I did not see it as being at all offensive. If anyone should be offended by that paragraph, it should be Dean OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Hara. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sure there were just one or two people that either donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know about balsa wood, or else didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t make the connection, and stupidly thought it was trying to say that black people should be carpenters or something like that, which we all know is absolutely ridiculous.