In the Jan. 10 print edition of the Rice Thresher, our popular satirical “Backpage” consisted of a series of fake advertisements that looked to poke fun at different events going on at Rice and in the world at large. One of these “ads” (see image below), relating to the upcoming holiday of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, has attracted criticism from some individuals on social media; earlier today, in an apparent response, Rice University published a statement on its Twitter account stating that Rice is "disappointed w/this offensive attempt at satire."
A satirical jab at the behavior of many white people cannot be compared to a similar jab at those that have suffered from the brutal history of racism in this country.
The purpose of the “ad” in the Backpage was to encourage students to reflect on the meaning of the holiday rather than use it simply as another vacation day without classes. The reference to masturbation, of course, is crude, as much of the Backpage’s humor has been in its several decades of existence. The final line, “You’re disgusting,” regards the previous sentence’s reference to “beating off into a sock.” It was not meant to address all white people, which we realize may have been unclear.
This controversy also brings up an opportunity to discuss the meaning that Martin Luther King Jr. Day has to us at the Thresher. While the progress made since 1963 is undeniable, we still live in a system designed to favor white people at the expense of others. It’s wrong to argue that the reference to race in the “ad” is just as unacceptable as if a minority group were addressed rather than the white majority. This ignores the fact that racism exists in a context, and in this country, the context is the generations of oppression and slavery suffered by one minority at the hands of the majority. Given this fact, a satirical jab at the behavior of many white people cannot be compared to a similar jab at those that have suffered from the brutal history of racism in this country.
The purpose of our content is not to cause any harm or offense to our readers. This is often a difficult line to tread with satire, which is not meant to be comfortable for everyone. Discussion and reflection, on the contrary, are often spurred by that which may make us uncomfortable. We take our responsibility in production of satire on our last page equally to that of producing news in our first 11. We are disappointed in Rice University’s response stating that this Backpage is contrary to the values of the university and offensive. We do not ask the university to stand with our editorial content on every occasion, but we are disheartened that Rice’s administration finds a part of a Backpage intended to target issues of institutional racism and general apathy to be “contrary to the values of the university.”
The page was written by our Backpage editors and approved by the editors-in-chief for publication in our print issue. The Thresher is entirely produced by undergraduate students of Rice University and is free from any oversight by university administration; no university personnel reviewed the page prior to publication. Our print front page proudly declares that we have been entirely student-run since our founding in 1916. We seek to provide the Rice community with fair and responsible journalism, as well as to entertain and use satire to bring about campuswide discussion through our Backpage.
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The Thresher Backpage can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: The first paragraph of this editorial was edited to provide more context for why we chose to write this piece (7 p.m. Jan. 12).