They Never Drank Water, But Whiskey By Pints

This is an interesting story for thinking about “who makes the news?” and how (as some French marxist put it) real problems are engaged in imaginary ways. It is about a sorority-party where everyone dressed up as “mexicans” and at some point this photo was taken, eventually finding its way around campus and on the internet.


This media response seems to shut down not only the idea that mexicans are lazy substance-abusers (let’s affirm this), but also the class-taint of being associated with certain kinds of work or being in a position to beg for work. The majority of the article is about shock, offense and renunciation – tropes of sensationalistic journalism – but what could be wrong with that when the subject is so clear? Many people pipe up, as it were, about how clear it is to them that the girls are referring to student drug culture in contrast to the precarity and menial nature of the work immigrants. The racist element doesn’t go away seen this way, but demands a larger set of relations to make sense of it while also recognizing the otherwise apologetically racist “the kernal of truth” in a non-racist, non-classist way.

I’m reminded of The Pogues’ great song about railroad builders in the 19th Century “Navigator”, a population that included many Irish and otherwise migrant workers. Shane MacGowan sings “they never drank water, but whiskey by pints, and the shanty-towns rang with their songs and their fights”. Don’t remember him getting called out as racist or classist, but that’s because the whole song is about how shitty their lives were made by “the bold entrepreneurs”.

I have no illusions that these girls meant something critical of the drug-war or the precarious situation of life as an immigrant worker, but it still seems “there”. That’s because student drug-culture IS tied to the drug-war across ALL of North America is tied to NAFTA and the re-organization of work across the continent, which is also tied to the class-aspirations I’m sure many of these girls have as members of a sorority at a “good” State university. Only in the end do we hear about any of these connections when Ariel Coronel mentions the drug-war. However, she figuratively throws her arms up in the air with “this is wrong on so many levels” right before the article ends. Sometimes the exposure of exploitation and sterotyped character-flaws causes a bit of schadenfreude in people, which should be negated to some extent, but I think being critical of these displays requires that we interrogate rather than shutter them.

One thought on “They Never Drank Water, But Whiskey By Pints

  1. Agreed. You might add the concept of Foucaultian genealogy here, and the idea behind “First as Tragedy, Then as Farce.” The historical ways in which racial stereotypes come to be, and then the contemporary uses to which they are — twisted and then — put, may help us to disentangle the complexities that unite and divide us, that obfuscate power relations (class antagonism) behind simple bigotry, and that are the dark matter in which our conflicts are immersed.

    My personal example is the way that “dumb-speak” — the change in inflection that I and people who I know use to depict a “dumb” or perhaps “retarded” person — utilize a parody of Black American, Southern, or Country dialect as a code for this lack of education, intelligence, or class…. Here a standard critique of this off-color language might be on target for defending the dignity of real people with mental retardation, for example, while completely missing the racialized code-language used to communicate the insult. Like the “sorority girls” in your example, this code works without the speaker or his interlocutor being at all aware of it. I, for example, despite years of explicit after-the-fact awareness of the nature of my code-switch, nevertheless continue to regress to its use on occasion. At times, upon realizing my mistake, I have apologized, only to then (and only, finally, then) offend the folks listening by my mere mention of the racial dynamics of which we had both been unaware. It is by this certain strategic naivety that the sentence “mental retards are clearly dumb because they speak like Black southerners” is deeply offensive and vulgar, yet is subtly implicated by the way lots of people speak.

    My point here is just to clarify my agreement. If we simply throw up our hands and say, “This is wrong at so many levels!” what we achieve is to avoid an interrogation into the ways in which a clearly rude and offensive image or statement resonates in our “heart of hearts”, and how by our own implicit guilt at its humorous and shocking sight we are traumatized by it. Better to let this trauma push us beyond the pleasure principle into a space wherein we cannot symbolically complete the nature of our shock. Without the experience of such horror, it is all-too-easy to put the “racism” out there in the world, where we can point at it with righteous satisfaction and smile.

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