Wow, it's been ages since my last post.

Here's a Debian bug thread I ran into on the interweb today. It's quite old, dating back to 2002, but I think the discussion still holds very much real-world relevance to the prevailing view of society.

So the original poster (OP), one "Lazarus Long", was using an irssi channel management package and found a "yo mama" joke in a list of predefined IRC kick messages. Posting under the subject heading "inappropriate ractist and other offensive materia" he repeats the joke and states his issue:

"Yo family's so black, when they hold hands, it looks like a stretch limo."
There's no excuse for racism in Debian.

Simple enough, right? I doubt he knew that the thread would explode.

Adam Conrad immediately launched in with the standard "individual responsibility" line:

So, your take is that Debian should censor upstream so we can be more politically correct? If you don't appreciate the author's off-colour humour, then don't use his script(s).

When Debian starts making decisions about what is and isn't appropriate for our users to see, that's when I stop contributing. We should not be about censorship.

And later, after the OP had tried to claim that his daughter was being harmed by the presence of the line in a Debian package:

"No excuse for blah blah blah"… You're one of those people who thinks that any thing that might possibly offend somebody can't possibly be funny, right? You need to lighten the fuck up. A joke is a joke. If you don't like it, that's fine, don't deal with it. Uninstall it. Whatever.

By now, the "bug" had been corrected, but the conversation continued.

More interesting, though, is the application of free software principles to such a hot real-world topic as political correctness.

Again, Adam Conrad:

When we TELL people what they can and cannot say, hear, see, and do, we are no better than the people we "fight" against. Free software is about freedom. The freedom to share and obtain information, in ALL forms. It's not about the freedom to share "only the information that certain people have deemed good and wholesome". If I want people telling me how to think, I'll go see if Disney is considering writing an operating system.

I find the hypocrisy of people who can scream "free speech" and "censor all the bad stuff" in the same sentence EXTREMELY vexing. Get over it. More importantly, get over yourself. A racist joke isn't a "hate crime", any more than a fat joke, a blonde joke, a nerd joke, or any of the other lowbrow humour that makes people giggle in spite of themselves.

This is an important point, and one which was raised at the pub the other day during a discussion on how the British National Party would never be allowed to get a seat in parliament. Despite general disagreement — mine included — with the viewpoint and policy of the BNP — or given it — how can we consider ourselves a free and democratic nation when the ability to gain legitimacy is so heavily dependent on the opinions of others? Surely everyone has a right to their opinion, whether it's popular or not? Isn't that the whole point? Sometimes it seems like we have a right to free speech as long as your speech lines up with the position of the establishment.

Robert van der Meulen concurred (italics mine):

Then don't install it on the box your daughter uses. Debian is about freedom, not censorship. Shielding from 'sensitive' material is a decision every parent can make by themselves, and it is not the responsability of an organisation like Debian to make such a decision.
It can be hard to be 'honest' when freedom is concerned, but it should be applied equally to standpoints you support, and to standpoints you're against.

And less seriously, indeed there clearly was no malice in the words of that kick message. As pointed out by Petro, racism is defined thus:

Main Entry: rac·ism
Pronunciation: 'rA-"si-z&m also -"shi-
Function: noun
Date: 1936
1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
2 : racial prejudice or discrimination
– rac·ist /-sist also -shist/ noun or adjective


rac·ism Pronunciation Key (rszm)
n. The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others. Discrimination or prejudice based on race.

I could not agree more with his follow-up:

Any racism you perceive in either of those two statements is purely your own ignorance and knee-jerk political correctness. Personally I find racism–as defined above–to be odious, ignorant and inefficient, but that does not mean that *eveything* that mentions the color of someone's skin is a racists statement. You need a thicker skin.

By this point the OP had long since vacated the thread, but the discussion continued for some time through topics such as letting children loose on IRC, censoring Debian packages and splitting the codebase into "off colour" (isn't that racist?) and "clean" versions.

It was just nice to find that there are indeed people out there who for starters don't consider a mere reference to the colour of someone's skin some kind of racist hate speech — we are different, it just doesn't make anyone better or worse — and who secondly realise that traditional "yo mama" jokes can be found in all varieties, and are meant jovially despite being candidates for controversy in our current social climate.

Anyway, do you find "yo mama" jokes offensive? Do you think the "racist" quote is offensive? Discuss.