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When Humor And Malice Look Alike


By Mark T. Whitaker

Racial stereotypes, whether statistical or humorous, have long rankled black students, and when the Harvard Lampoon published a magazine cover last spring featuring a black shining the shoes of John Harvard's statue, it did not exactly endear the magazine to the University's black community.

This week, the College's most prominent black student group, the Harvard-Radcliffe Black Students Association (HRBSA), decided it had had enouigh of what it terms "racially insensitive" humor in recent Lampoon issues, and decided to make a public protest in the form of a petition.

Although the petition marked HRBSA's first overt attack on the humor magazine, the group's board had already made two private complaints to the Lampoon. But HRBSA found that approach had little effect on the magazine, Anthony R. Chase '77, president of HRBSA, said this week.

A rough count Wednesday night, after the petition had been circulated in five Houses and the Freshman Union, showed about 500 signatures protesting the Lampoon's sense of humor. HRBSA will now file the petitions with the College Dean's Office, Chase said.

The newly inaugurated top officials of the magazine expressed disappointment that HRBSA board members had not taken up their private complaints with them--rather than the now-retired officials--before making their grievances public.

Yet even before George A. Meyer '78, the new president of the Lampoon, could promise to "try to patch relations up with the black community" during his tenure, he found himself defending a magazine piece he wrote this fall that HRBSA signalled out as particularly "tasteless" and "insensitive."

Meyer said he had meant to ridicule stereotypes, not reinforce them.

But Chase, taking exception to the suggestion that mock stereotypes can help devastate malicious stereotypes, said, "Blacks hear those criticisms so many times when not in humor that it becomes hard to differentiate" between malice and jest.

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