Showing posts with label Ethnicity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ethnicity. Show all posts

"Believing They Are White" -- Talking about Ta-Nehisi Coates and Whiteness with my Students

Yesterday we started Ta-Nehisi Coates' book Between the World and Me in my first-year writing class.

We had a vigorous discussion of the following passage. At the end of the hour I felt good about the level of engagement, but perhaps also aware that not everyone in the room was convinced by Coates' scathing assertions about whiteness in particular. The key passage comes right at the beginning of the book:

Americans believe in the reality of ‘race’ as a defined, indubitable feature of the natural world. Racism—the need to ascribe bone-deep features to people and then humiliate, reduce, and destroy them—inevitably follows from this inalterable condition. In this way, racism is rendered as the innocent daughter of Mother Nature, and one is left to deplore the Middle Passage or the Trail of Tears the way one deplores an earthquake, or any other phenomenon that can be cast as beyond the handiwork of men.

But race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of naming “the people” has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy. Difference in hue and hair is old. But the belief in the preeminence of hue and hair, the notion that these factors can correctly organize a society and that they signify deeper attributes, which are indelible—this is the new idea at the heart of these new people who have been brought up hopelessly, tragically, deceitfully, to believe that they are white. (7) 

There are two difficult ideas here. Let's pull them apart to try and understand them better.

1. Where did Racism come from? 

The first is a historical one (crystallized as "race is the child of racism, not the father"). After a certain amount of talking it through, my students seemed to get it. Since Coates isn't really giving us a detailed history of the emergence of scientific racism here, or talking about various kinds of tribalism and ethno-nationalism that exist outside of the Euro-American framework (i.e., with whiteness on top), I had to fill in some blanks.

To help my students get there, I suggested to them that before modern race science (modern racism), various societies certainly did have versions of tribalism in which outsiders were denigrated and contrast to "our people." Sometime in the early modern period -- probably coinciding with the inception of the transatlantic slave trade -- that changed in Europe and North America. A new, overarching theory of Race ("capital R") was invented, displacing minor tribalistic racisms with a Theory that could now be applied to all forms of cultural difference.

Follow-Up: "Brown" and "White"

The responses to my post on Nikki Haley a couple of days ago have been interesting The pushback makes me want to clarify some of my arguments a bit more, though I don't have any aspirations of actually "winning" the debate; in any case my own views on South Asians and the peculiar American concept of race are very much in flux these days, and I am still thinking it through.

There are two salient themes that seem to come up in the discussion that perhaps could be underlined:

1) The real long-term goal is to undermine "whiteness" as a kind of racial default or endpoint for both immigrant communities in American society and for the established racial minority (i.e., blacks or African Americans). In response to one of the comments on my original post, I suggested that perhaps where we are headed eventually, at least in the urban parts of the U.S. is towards a kind of post-"white" society, where the barriers will be much more class-based than racial, especially for people from immigrant backgrounds who don't have the familial experience of slavery and segregation in their past. The configuration of race has changed several times in American history (see books like "How the Irish Became White" and so on), and it can and will change again.

2) If we can't displace whiteness as a default, perhaps we can redefine it. For at least the past 50 years or so, being understood as "white" in the U.S. meant that you were of European origins (earlier it would have meant more strictly northern and western European origins). I think it may be the case that with the rise of someone like Haley, who is perceived by many South Carolinians as white despite her South Asian immigrant origins (which are widely known), that this kind of subversion may already have happened.

Below I'm just going to paste snippets and comments I've seen by others on the web that address these two ideas, with my own brief responses.

* *

On Facebook, a friend posted a comment that I thought summed up where I've been on this issue myself for the most part:

I want to believe that one can claim whiteness if one wants. Depending on who's doing the claiming, it could be the ultimate act of subversion against the hegemon, self-loathing assimilation, or somewhere in between. And if any group could get away with it, Indians are the ones with the privilege. After all, Bhagat Singh Thind attempted to gain citizenship by arguing that Indians are Caucasian - even though he lost his case. But looking at Republican Indians in politics, namely Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley, it's hard for me to think they are up to anything other than an attempt to ingratiate themselves to the Republican establishment and their constituents. I say all of this as someone who was only dimly aware of being Indian until I went to college and UPenn's South Asian Student Association tried (unsuccessfully) to co-opt me. Yet, I've never once considered putting anything other than "Asian" in the race box (except for declining to answer when possible or writing in "human" on my census form).

I want to underline my friend's point about privilege. Many Indian Americans especially come from privileged backgrounds economically, and I think people who claim a "People of Color" solidarity amongst East and South Asians, Latinos, and blacks have to recognize this point. I may at times feel a "person of color" solidarity with poor blacks in America, but the solidarity is not shared: to them I inevitably sound a lot more like a white liberal when it comes to social and economic issues, even if I don't look like one.

That said, I don't dispute that Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley had to work hard to "Americanize" (one could also say deracinate) themselves in order to succeed in politics. On Sepia Mutiny over the years we had many (too many) discussions about whether Bobby Jindal would have had a prayer (loaded term!) of a chance in Louisiana if he had either run as "Piyush" rather than Bobby, or hadn't been a Catholic convert. (The answer is clearly "no, he would not have had a chance") The same probably holds for Haley if she were to have run as "Randhawa," or with a turbaned Sikh husband rather than her actual husband, Michael Haley.

* *

At the Volokh Conspiracy there have been a pair of posts on this subject, and many interesting comments (these predate my own post). One salient comment by a commenter ran as follows:

[A]llow a white Southerner to point out something about casual use of the word “white”: sometimes it just means “not black”. Meaning, believe it or not, that in common usage, a school (or gathering, or club, or church, or whatever) in the South that includes no black people is “all-white”. This is true even when there are, for instance, people of Korean or Indian ancestry in said group. Whether this is anthropologically correct, or PC, or even nice is beside the point. It’s just one of the common, casual usages. (link)

I have seen this in other cases, and not just in the South. I even have to admit that I've done something like this myself on occasion. For example, at one point I was teaching a class on a topic in postcolonial literature, with something like 12 white students, two (East) Asian American students, and one African American student. To a colleague I remember noting, "with the exception of **** [the African American student], all the students in my poco class this spring are white!" Somehow in the course of that conversation I unconsciously turned the two Asian American women in that class, with Christian first names, into white students.

If you read the many comments on that post at Volokh, you'll see that many other people also seem to unconsciously do this at times, even though they might later note the seeming "mistake." The question I want people who have disagreed with my previous post to address is: what might it tell us about the definition of "race" in American society that so many people are doing this?

To my eye, it suggests that second/third generation Asian Americans in particular are losing their "otherness" in certain contexts and social milieux. When it comes to college affirmative action policies, Asians have long since not counted as "minorities," and the spaces where that is true will only continue to expand.

(Also see this post from Volokh in 2008: "How the Asians became White." There the focus is on a study of doctors in California; Asians and whites are counted on one side, while blacks and Latinos are counted on the other.)

* *
Samhita at Feministing wrote quite an extensive post on this issue, responding to me and taking up some points made by Taz at Sepia Mutiny. Here is one of Samita's key points:

But, at the end of the day, it is not about what we say we are–race is a structural experience, as much as it is an interpersonal one, if not more so. Having access to white culture and more money doesn’t make you white, as many sociologists have found. Haley can self-identify as white, but she has had the lived experience of a person who is not white and as a result, will never be recognized as white or have access to “whiteness,” in the political sense of the word, even if some people once in a while mistake her for white on the street.

But I actually do think Haley has had the experience of being effectively "white," in part because of the peculiar racial configuration that holds sway in the American south (see the comment from Volokh I posted above), but also increasingly in other parts of the U.S. And I mean that she has been recognized as such by the dominant/white mainstream, not simply that she decided to call herself white on a lark, despite what everyone else around her thinks.

The fact that this is so is not necessarily a cause to celebrate; if anything, the comment I quoted above from Volokh suggests that while the definition of "white" may be broadening, it is still based on an opposition to (and sometimes exclusion of) "black." And that is real problem we have to address, one way or the other.

Nikki Haley, Race, and the U.S. Census

This is the kind of post I once would have written on Sepia Mutiny, with the full knowledge that it would have produced a firestorm of controversy. One of my former colleagues over there did cover the story, but as you can see the reaction is pretty much predictable: let's just call her an Uncle Tom because she's pretending to be white (to be fair, the comments do challenge the premise of the post in some interesting ways).

Here I wanted to push past the basic framework that people have for thinking about this issue and suggest that 1) Census and drivers' license racial categories help provoke this problem, since "East Indian" or "South Asian" is not a widely recognized racial category, leaving many people confused; and 2) it would not in any case necessarily be a "racial" sell-out for Haley to identify as white given her economic background, acculturation and appearance. She may just be recording what many other people are already thinking.

* * *

1. Generalized confusion over racial and ethnic categories

As many readers will have seen, it recently came out that Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina had her race listed as "white" on her 2000 voter registration card. The most detailed version of the story I've seen is from USA Today, which reveals that in large part this story has been generated by the Democratic party of South Carolina to try and embarrass the Governor:

South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian said the 2001 document the party unearthed shows the 39-year-old Haley plays on her race for political convenience.
"She can't even tell the truth about her racial heritage," Harpootlian said.

Haley spokesman Trey Walker said the governor's office did not plan to respond to the Democrats. State Republican Party Executive Director Matt Moore called Harpootlian's criticism "just more theatrics and that's all there is to it."

Haley's 2001 voter registration application was derived from information already on her driver's license.

It was not clear when that information may have been provided, or what options were even available on the form for racial identifiers when it was given.

South Carolina's current driver's license application asks people to identify their race as white, black, Hispanic, Asian or Indian, according to instructions for the form. It doesn't specify whether the description "Indian" refers to someone who is American Indian or of Asian Indian heritage, but it traditionally refers to Native American on government forms. (link)

Of course, "Indian" in South Carolina means Native American, so the only option for Haley other than White or Black is Asian. I myself would put down "Asian" in Haley's shoes, but I think that Indian Americans could be forgiven for not feeling comfortable with that category, since many people continue to understand "Asian" to refer only to East and Southeast Asians.

I posted earlier on the ongoing and broad-ranging confusion in the way government agencies classify different communities by race and ethnicity. The U.S. census racial categories have long been a source of confusion for many immigrant groups in particular. While the approach to race and ethnicity involving Hispanic/Latino people is now impressively nuanced and complex, the approach to immigrants from other parts of the world remains confusing and haphazard. "Asian Indian" is now a category you can check, but the "Other Asian" category seems to invite Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and Sri Lankans to check that box despite the obvious connections between the different nations of the Indian subcontinent.

The question of course is what the U.S. government plans to do with "racial" information other than simply record it (as I understand it in countries like France the government does not keep official tallies of its racial and ethnic minorities for fear of encouraging discrimination). While there is an affirmative action argument -- it's important to know whether all members of society are getting proportionate access to government services -- it's not clear to me that Indians and Pakistanis would want or expect to be treated differently by a government agency based on their ethnic/racial background. I maintain that it would be far more sensible to have a broader category called "South Asian" that would include everyone deriving from the Indian subcontinent; other sensible categories would be "East Asian" and "Southeast Asian."

A second issue pertains more specifically to Sikhs and the "Sikh American" community. Many Sikhs I know in the U.S. do not identify strongly as "Indian American." Some who dis-identify as Indian come from families with strong separatist bents, going back to the "Khalistani" days of the 1980s. Others may have more muted ideological investments (i.e., they do not actively support the creation of a separate Sikh state of "Khalistan"), but still may have been raised in environments where Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims did not mingle much (this diasporic separatism is itself a legacy of the tensions in India from the 1980s). I do not know much about the Randhawa family in South Carolina, but certainly many of the Sikh families I knew when I lived in North Carolina seemed to fit this bill quite well; they had little connection to Punjabi Hindus and virtually no social connection to non-Punjabi speaking Indians. These are Sikhs that identify more strongly as "Sikh American" than as "Indian American"; I doubt that this applies to Haley herself because she has converted to Christianity, but it could, for some Sikhs, potentially add to the confusion at least regarding whether to check the box for "Indian" or "Asian Indian." Indian is a nationality; "South Asian" may be defined as a "race," depending on how we define race. In any case, "South Asian" was not one of the choices available to Governor Haley.

Given all this confusion, I think it may be wise not to jump to conclusions regarding the racial identification on Nikki Haley's voter registration card.

(I should also point out that Nikki Haley is far from the only one to have this confusion. Amongst second generation South Asian Americans, a full 25% of them checked "white" on the 1990 census, while 5% checked "black".)

2. Identifying as "White"

When Italians, Greeks, and Eastern European Jews started immigrating to the U.S. en masse in the early 20th century, they were not seen by other Americans originating from Northern and Western European countries as "white," at least not white in the same way they saw themselves as white. The "ethnic difference" of these immigrants was visible and it presented a clear social barrier.

Over time, of course, those groups were assimilated, and today Italian Americans, Irish Americans, and Ashkenazi Jews who have a strong sense of identification with their families' countries of origin are seen as "white ethnics." Ethnicity is now seen as a barrier that can be easily crossed and lose its significance over time, while "race" is reserved to describe visibly different minority groups.

The question I often have for South Asian Americans, especially those who come from affluent backgrounds and whose acculturation is largely to Euro-American ("white") norms, is whether they really think they are so going to be very different from white ethnic communities down the road.

Isn't it fair that some South Asian Americans with little connection to South Asian culture or language would see themselves (and be seen as) "white" by others in their communities? Isn't it possible to be of South Asian origin and "white" at the same time?

To be clear, I myself don't describe myself as white. I just don't see why other South Asians shouldn't be allowed to do so if they have a strong identification with Euro-American cultural norms and others in the community accept it. To make this identification doesn't even require that you ignore or hide your family background; but it seems inevitable that for a significant number of South Asian Americans going forward their ethnic identity will play for them rather the same role it does for Italian Americans -- it's in your name, and maybe visible in your complexion (though with the growth of intermarriage this too may fade), but it doesn't necessarily pose any kind of other meaningful social barrier.

I understand that in the African American community this kind of thinking is deeply frowned upon, since it has a history going back to the Jim Crow era -- the old legacy of "passing" to avoid racial discrimination, which in many cases prevented true solidarity from taking hold. Even identifying as "multiracial" as Tiger Woods did many years ago is controversial along those lines: you are either with us in struggle ("black" as a term suggesting a racial identity that is always political), or you are not.

But in fact South Asian American immigrants do not share that history; many of us have never experienced that kind of discrimination, and it's unclear to me what political or ideological power comes with identifying as "Asian," as Nikki Haley presumably should have done to avoid the censure of the Democratic party in her home state.

I personally do feel a sense of political solidarity with other "brown" and "Desi" people owing to who I am and my personal cultural values and orientation. But I also know plenty of South Asian Americans for whom this is not really the case, and I'm not at all invested in policing whether they or their children see themselves as ethnically "white" or "South Asian," since it seems that anyway most people are not clear what these categories really mean.


See this interesting discussion at Brownpundits.

Race and the U.S. Census -- from April 2010

I wrote this in April 2010, and tried to get it published without success as an Op-Ed. Printing it now in response to a debate some friends are having regarding race and the census. I may have a follow-up post on it soon.

More than sixty years ago, my grandparents left their home in a village in Pakistan, packed all their belongings in an ox-cart, and walked on foot for hundreds of miles – along with millions of other Sikhs and Hindus – across the border to a newly independent nation: India. Millions of Muslims from the other side of the border were going in the opposite direction, settling in Pakistan, where the immigrants from India are to this day identified by other Pakistanis as “Mohajirs” (“Migrants”), held to be somewhat separate from the old-timers who are really native to the region.

In 1973, my parents migrated again, this time from India to the United States. As my father still likes to brag, he and my mother came to this country with nothing but a medical degree from an Indian university, and about $300 in their pocket. My parents’ profile was not so different from that of thousands of other immigrants from various Asian countries, who came to the U.S. seeking economic opportunity after the reforms in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Four decades later, this wave of immigration has made the United States easily the most ethnically and racially diverse large nation in the world. As of 2000, the census recorded approximately 1.9 million Asian Indians living in the United States (counting people who checked two boxes on the Census for “race”), and this number is expected to be substantially higher as of 2010. By comparison in 2000, approximately 150,000 wrote in “Pakistani,” 43,000 wrote in “Bangladeshi,” and 20,000 wrote in “Sri Lankan” Unfortunately, the census data from 2000 gives us no way to ascertain how many immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka might have simply defined themselves, racially, as “Asian Indian,” since that is the closest category on the survey that does not require a write-in answer.

While the race question on the Census has for the most part remained the same from 2000 to 2010, there is one significant change, which comes in the form of a “hint” that has been added in the 2010 census to the category “Other Asian.” The hint, in parenthesis, points to a write-in box suggesting several nationalities that may be written in, including, “Hmong, Laotian, Thai, Pakistani, Cambodian, and so on.” The addition of this small hint in the 2010 Census might seem small – perhaps it is meant merely as a clarification, and not as a substantive change – but it raises some difficult questions for Americans whose families hail from the Indian subcontinent.

Why is it that my parents and I are “Asian Indian,” while our friends who came (more recently) from Pakistan – people who share our complexion, languages, and much else – are given a separate slot? Similarly, while Bengali-speaking Indians will almost certainly fill out “Asian Indian” for Question 9, Bangladeshis, who again share the same language, appearance, and many deep cultural links with Bengalis on the Indian side of the border, might feel encouraged to follow the lead of Pakistanis in identifying themselves as of another “race,” again under “Other Asian.” And this confusion can be seen yet again regarding the ethnic groups from the southern part of the Indian subcontinent: Tamil Indians, who speak a language and have a distinctive way of life that resembles their Tamil-speaking cousins in Sri Lanka. If Tamil Indians are “Asian Indians,” how are Tamil Sri Lankans “Other Asian” – which by the logic of the new hint, they must be? All of these groups now have significant immigrant representation in the United States. It is puzzling that despite the many cultural and historical commonalities shared by people from the Indian subcontinent, they are seen by the Census as separate “racial” groups.

The confusion over the nationalities of the Indian subcontinent is only one among several signs that the Census remains hopelessly confusing on “race.” How is it that there is a distinct box for the Samoan “race,” but no boxes for “Arab” or “Persian/Iranian,” both of which have substantial populations in the U.S., and who are likely to be split between “white” and “some other race”? And what about Afghan-Americans? Are they “Asian,” “white,” or “some other race”?

After some consideration of these categories, it becomes clear is that while some boxes in Question 9 on the Census (the “race” question) actually refer to categories everyone would agree relate to “Race” (“white,” “black,” “American Indian or Alaska native”), there are several others – “Asian Indian,” “Japanese,” “Chinese,” “Korean,” “Filipino,” “Vietnamese,” and “Samoan,” that refer to what are really nationalities. While official Census statements and directives suggest that the survey should have one question that relates to “ethnicity” (Question 8, addressed to Hispanics), and one on “race,” the reality is that Question 9 in particular remains a mish-mash of social groupings that could variously be described as “racial,” “ethnic,” or “national.”

Admittedly, the changes to the approach to race taken by the census are not all bad; indeed, the current configuration is a great improvement over versions of the “race” and “ethnicity” questions in earlier Census surveys. (Before 1970, for instance, Asian Indians, along with others from the Indian subcontinent, were all simply expected to check “white,” even if it was far from clear that they were going to be recognized as such by ordinary Americans.) The Frequently Asked Questions section of the current Census.Gov website, in response to the question, “Why doesn't the race question include more categories?” refers to a 1997 directive from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), setting up a general frame of reference that included five broadly defined racial groups. The 1997 OMB directive, which can be read in its entirety here [], also states that, “The categories represent a social-political construct designed for collecting data on the race and ethnicity of broad population groups in this country, and are not anthropologically or scientifically based.”

But this statement by the OMB raises more questions than it answers. If the racial and ethnic categories on the U.S. Census are not “anthropologically or scientifically based,” on what ideas or facts exactly are they based? While one understands the imperative to gather broad population data, wouldn’t that data be better if it were construed in keeping with terms and social groupings derived from scientific anthropology?

Let us briefly take a stab at a better system of categorization for Asians. Admittedly, there is no magic bullet – and certainly no simple way to balance the challenge posed by balancing ethnographical accuracy against the evident need to be brief and keep the form simple enough that it can be easily understood and filled out. Still, I would suggest that the various “Asian” nationalities could best be re-defined into three large, regional groups: South Asian, Southeast Asian, and East Asian. Though obviously culturally heterogeneous in many ways, Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, and Nepalis, come close to forming what ought to be an intelligible regional (if not “racial”) category – a category that anthropologists would call South Asian. Similarly, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese people might be identified as East Asian, while Filipinos, Burmese, Cambodians, Laotions, Thais, Indonesians, Fijians, Malaysians, and other Pacific Islanders, might all be Southeast Asians. Again, these three regional sub-categories of “Asian” are far from perfect, and each of the terms listed is abstract enough that it would probably need a list of “hints” along the lines of the hints currently given for “Other Asian.” While this change might not solve all of the analytic problems relating to Asian “racial” identity on the Census, it certainly would lead to better data than a survey that encourages Asian Indians and Pakistanis to see themselves as distinct “racial” groups.

Russell Peters' Deaf Jokes

Here are some thoughts about Russell Peters, who I presume needs no introduction; Sepia Mutiny has had many posts on him, and you'll find a fair amount of his stuff up at YouTube. (Also, see Manish's recent post on Peters' show in Bombay from earlier this spring. I saw him last night in Philadelphia.)

At his best, Russell Peters airs out some intra-community dirty laundry. He plays with the mixture of embarrassment and pride that tends to circulate amongst members of various ethnic groups, especially immigrant ethnic groups. While many people might feel isolated within a particular ethnic niche, Russell Peters manages to draw people out, and create a certain amount of cross-ethnic solidarity.

Because he has a fair amount of "insider" knowledge about South Asians, the Chinese and Chinese Americans, Jamaicans, Arabs, and Persians, Peters can usually pull off humor that works with ethnic stereotypes. It also helps that he has a good ear for accents, and usually sets up his jokes with shout-outs to members of the audience: "You in the first row, are you Chinese? [Yes] What's your name? [Tim] Tim, what's your real name? Anyway, thanks for coming out tonight... You know, the thing about Chinese people is..."

Of course, all of that doesn't quite work the same way when Peters makes deaf jokes, as he did for quite some time at his show last night in Philadelphia. There are, presumably, going to be very few (if any) deaf people in the audience at a show like this -- so the sense of talking to people rather than just about them isn't there. Also, in my view humor relating to a disability by someone who doesn't have it doesn't work the way ethnic humor works coming from a brown comic. Some of Peters' deaf jokes were a bit corny and stupid (i.e., wouldn't it be nice to be deaf, because then you wouldn't have to listen to your girlfriend/wife nagging you), while others were flat-out mean.

What was interesting about the end of Peters deaf-joke routine was the way he brought it back to ethnicity. He pointed out that in American Sign Language (ASL), the signs for people of different ethnic groups were, historically, based on pretty offensive caricatures. According to Peters (I haven't been able to confirm this), the official sign for a Chinese person involved a pulled/flattened eye, and one sign for a Jewish person involved a big nose. Even today, the official ASL sign for a Jewish person involves making the shape of a long beard -- though apparently the sign for "Chinese" has changed. Also, to sign "Indian" one makes a "dot" on the forehead with the thumb -- like a bindi. It's not really a "stereotype," but it's also not exactly a neutral or arbitrary symbol. (See The ASL browser for video representations of many ASL words.)

The point behind this being, presumably, that even deaf people are capable of ethnic stereotyping -- it was even built into the fundamental structure of ASL as a language. Of course, if that's what Russell Peters was saying with this whole routine, we could easily respond that the history of offensive signs in ASL (most of which have been replaced) doesn't say anything about whether the people who used those signs believed in the caricatures.


With the new wave of self-consciously "offensive" comics (Sarah Silverman, George Lopez), it's often said that can they get away with it because their audience doesn't really believe, in a literal, non-ironic way, in the stereotypes that are being played with. But I sometimes wonder if the extensive reliance on these stereotypes -- this is Russell Peters' whole career, in a nutshell -- really helps people understand each other better. Sometimes it feels more corrosive than cathartic.

At this point I have a bit of a bad feeling in my mouth about Russell Peters, though I do recognize that he's a very talented comic, and I admire much of his earlier material. Who knows? Perhaps he'll have a version of a Dave Chappelle moment, where he takes it as far as he can go, and then stops to rethink what he's doing. Given what just happened to Don Imus after he said something not so different from Russell Peters' comedic bread and butter, I would have to say that's within the realm of possibility.