A Response to Richard Fries and Joe Jefferson Re: The Sea Otter Tweet
The following thoughts are my own unless otherwise quoted or linked.
When I raced at the Sea Otter Classic two years ago, one of the announcers thought it necessary to mention going to strip clubs and getting in trouble with their wives during the Pro Women’s Criterium. They were too busy talking about other things to notice the break being caught (the main group caught up to the women in the lead) in the race.
This year during the Dual Slalom competition at Sea Otter announcer Larry Longo made a joke about Leigh Donovan “coming off the couch” after being a mother and still racing well. In a post race interview she quickly corrected him and informed him that she worked and trained super hard and not to downplay the time and energy she put into preparing for her race because it was not just an insult to her, it also belittled the hard work of the other women in the field. He did go on to apologize for the remarks. The fact that he did it in the first place reminded folks that Larry Longo was fired earlier this year for making sexist remarks at Jingle Cross only to be given the opportunity to do it again at Sea Otter.
I’m not a fan of cancel culture, but I also think there needs to be consequences if you’re a repeat offender. It’s an insult to the women who show up to race their hearts out if they arrive to see a person who has diminished them in the past.
Sea Otter was a huge event with lots of races and one thing that stood out was the consistency in unnecessary comments from many of the announcers. Comments like the one mentioned above and others like “[you] better learn to get along you have a long race ahead of you" ahead of the women’s XC race and "raging testosterone battle" ahead of the Pro Men’s circuit.
Needless to say, by Sunday morning I was fed up when I was waiting for my friend to finish the XC race and tweeted about this:
Standing with another person of color at the XC finish. The announcer says "this going to be very very interesting" in what I can only describe as an ethnic accent. My friend asked "wtf was that?" To which I could only respond. "that was racist." Do better @SeaOtterClassic— Ayesha McGowan (@ayesuppose) April 14, 2019
It seemed a lot of other folks were over it too, and responded and retweeted for Sea Otter to hold the announcer accountable in some way. Yesterday I had a super long travel day, during which I received notice that Richard Fries was attempting to contact me. I didn’t have the time nor the energy to respond to him in the moment, nor did I appreciate the tone of his messages. I made it home at 1am and never got around to responding.
No one would expect an immediate response from someone who is traveling. I can’t imagine this ever being an appropriate reaction to an out of office email. It also made me feel like I owed him an explanation. Why did he want to review my twitter comments and not discuss my experience? I don’t owe Richard anything, especially if this is how he tries to initiate a conversation with me. For the record, whenever someone sends me a message like this, I do not respond. Disrespect will never be tolerated. Unintentional or otherwise.
To be quite honest, there was never a chance of me calling him back, as the sense of entitlement to my time made me feel that any interaction I had with this person needed to be in writing. So, I was intrigued this morning to see he begun to follow me on twitter and wrote a series of tweets to set the record straight.
I will admit his tweets were helpful in clearing up a few things, but not in the way I assume he intended. I did my best to quickly respond with an “out of office” tweet, but now I’ve made the time to address his explanation. I’m not doing this for Richard, or for Joe, but for anyone else who might benefit. It’s not really published in thread format, so I’ve copied and linked the tweets for ease of reading.
I don’t know why Richard is speaking on behalf of his colleague. I truly would have appreciated if the announcer who made the comments would have spoken for himself. Second hand explanations feel flimsy and “fallacious”.
Understood. As Richard later explained it was said by an African-American man that makes it impossible to be classified as racism. Seeing as how this context was likely not known and available to the entire audience at the Sea Otter Classic, it was still in poor taste. I’m never a fan of mimicking accents from groups you’re not a part of. There was no need for it, and it made my friend and myself very uncomfortable in the moment. Not to mention, there’s something about mimicking a Nazi at a bike race also seems super unnecessary.
Problematic is problematic. Quentin Tarantino is infamous for racism in his films. There are so many articles about it on the internet. If I was defending racism, his movies would be the last thing on my list of examples to prop up my argument. I’ve read about Greek folks feeling misrepresented by My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and I can’t speak to Monty Python or Talladega Nights as it’s been ages since i’ve seen either, but saying it’s okay to be racist because folks did similar things in the past and YOU don’t think they’re racist is also a very weak argument.
If by event, you mean a different race at this year’s Sea Otter Classic? Then yes, it was a different event and a different announcer. That doesn’t mean Sea Otter shouldn’t be held accountable for consistently giving opportunity to announcers who historically don’t respect the athletes they are announcing for. I’m certain if you’d like receipts for this there are plenty of women, and possibly men, who will provide them for you. I’m sure you’re not the only one who believes Joe is a fantastic announcer, that doesn’t mean he didn’t make an unnecessary statement.
Don’t do this. I believe he is referring to Dorothy Wong also known as Dot. Leave Dot out of it, she’s got absolutely nothing to do with this and let’s leave it that way. Having a “wonderful female announcer of Asian ancestry” present does not make it impossible for racism or sexism to happen. She is not a prop or a shield, this argument is completely invalid.
The only thing I learned from this point is that by definition, this could not be racist. That doesn’t mean it’s not in terribly poor taste. If anything it made it more disappointing. The rest of my response to this is the same as my response to your first point.
This one is super important. Having done nice things for women or POC in the past, present, or future does not make you immune to being sexist or racist. Ever. This is not a defense. Again, by definition Joe is not capable of being racist, but it’s not because he said nice words about a diversity initiative minutes before.
Absolutely don’t do this. Don’t you dare put this precious baby’s picture on my timeline and expect me to ignore the fact that her dad said something that felt offensive in the moment (and still problematic after the fact). She has nothing to do with this, so leave her out of it as well. Why did Richard feel the need to include a picture of this little girl? Why does Richard feel that it provides an explanation for the actions of her parent?
Those were all of his points. They were all trash in my opinion. And since this is my blog, you’re hearing my opinion.
I guess the most obvious question is, what do I think would have made this better? If Joe would have spoken for himself, offered an explanation, and apologized for it, that would have been spectacular. I understand the desire for Richard to swoop in and defend his friend. I also swoop in and defend my friends if they are unable to defend themselves, or if they ask me to. What I don’t understand is why Joe never reached out to me, but instead tried to reach my friend Sam at her job. That is entirely unacceptable. It is beyond inappropriate to call someone’s job looking for them to discuss a mess that’s got nothing to do with them. Not once has her name come up on the timeline, not once has she chimed in on any of this. There was absolutely NO reason for Joe to call her job looking for her. Slide into the DMs like everybody else. She’ll respond if she wants to.
Bothering Sam and attempting to use blackness, kids, and other POC as shields and excuses are not okay. I will repeat that my initial reaction was incorrect in saying that the comment was racist, but the comment was still was still not right. Furthermore, the reaction from the parties responsible (Joe, Sea Otter organizers, and Richard since he included himself) have been very disappointing. There was never an attempt to understand where things may have gotten misinterpreted. It seems the intent of the comment was to make a joke based on a questionable comedy sketch from the 1960s, but the impact was that my friend and myself felt it was another instance of POC being mocked and excluded in a mostly white space. POC people can’t be racist, but they can still be offensive to other POC. Intent is irrelevant if the impact is harm.
After a very successful diversity panel on Thursday, I was very excited for all the progress we are making in the DEI space in cycling. There’s still a ton of work to do, and we’re all learning how to navigate this new terrain. I never asked for the announcer to be fired, I just asked that the situation be addressed so it didn’t happen again. It was great to see diverse faces and voices amongst the announcers, but that did not make any single one of them infallible. I was informed later that during my race Dot pronounced my name incorrectly, but almost immediately took the opportunity to get it right after she was corrected. I’m super into that since my name is extremely important to me. Mistakes happen. The thing that comes to mind for me in this moment is that respect should come first. Always. Disrespect will never be tolerated.