Copernicus No Longer Finds Above the Law the Center of the Universe. I used to get a kick out of reading the Above the Law . The Blawg is somewhat like the National Enquirer for the legal world. They write about which first year associates were seen at strip clubs or who got canned at what firm. If you want to know which hot nightclubs Justice Souter hangs out at or which starlet Justice Stevens is sleeping with, Above the Law is the place to go. Unfortunately, the blawg has lost a little luster. A few days ago it poked fun at a law student for asking for an extension on a paper when the student's mother was taken hostage by gunpoint. During the hostage situation, ATL quipped "Who hasn't "killed off a grandparent" in order to obtain an extension on a paper?" Today, they're cracking ethnic jokes. Maybe the editors might consider switching to decaf.
In their Lawsuit of the Day post, blogger Kasmir Hill pokes fun at a lawsuit in which a woman claimed her daughter was actually impregnated in an Egyptian hotel swimming pool by stray sperm. I actually read this mother's ridiculous claim on a few blogs. My problem with the story wasn't that she was making fun of the lawsuit. It's a typical story you would see covered on many blawgs. My concern was that Above the Law decided to use it as an opportunity to make an ethnic slur. Oddly enough, it was followed by a weak disclaimer indicating that the writer did not condone racial or ethnic slurs. I just rolled my eyes. Ms. Hill basically stated that she no longer felt guilty for telling jokes about"dumb Polacks". It surprised me a little. Maybe it rubbed me the wrong way because of my own roots. My parents and my wife are from Poland. As a Polish American, I don't particularly enjoy being referred to as a "dumb Polack." I speak three languages. I have a law degree. I tie my own shoes. I even made my own breakfast today. (Which reminds me...a special thanks to the New Britain Fire Department for their quick response. )
Is this the same blog that took a shot at some Tulane students for posing in sombreros? Wasn't that a joke too? The same blog that accused the National Review and a Tom Tancredo staffer of using racist rhetoric? Didn't ATL chastise NYU law for hiring a visiting professor from Singapore with controversial views on gay rights? The same blog that proudly supports Asian American Heritage Month. I agreed with ATL on many of their posts. Why can't Polish people get the same respect from ATL. Don't they deserve the same self righteous indignation the blog has shown for other groups? Can't Polish people saddle up for a ride on ATL's high horse? Why is it ok to make an ethnic slur about that particular group. I did not find the statement on ATL shocking. It's not like I've never heard a Polish joke before. It was just stupid. Polack jokes? Come on. Really? The story was funny on its own. Was the dumb Polak comment necessary? ATL is a well read site. AVVO blog lists it as one of the most read blogs around. I assume its readership is mostly lawyers, law students and individuals who have been subjected to massive head injuries.You really want to put yourself out to the legal community telling "dumb Polack" jokes. You have ivy league educations. Are you really that out of touch? (Editor's note: the proper spelling of the word is actually Polak. In deference to Above the Law, we shall use their spelling variation.)
As attorneys, we are supposed to be thick skinned. As such, I hesitated about admonishing another blog. I didn't want to get on my high horse (At best, maybe a very tall pony). I didn't want to be "that guy." Honestly, I get it. It was just a joke on a blog. I laugh at lawyer jokes. I have a sense of humor. I absolutely believe in free speech. Write whatever you want. The Constitution guarantees your right to be a jackass. Just don't yell fire in the movies. I just find ethnic and racial jokes a little low brow. And I'm a guy that loves the Three Stooges. Yes, I believe in free speech. But, I also believe in civility and respect.
J'Accuse! There is something inherently creepy about people who make racial and ethnic slurs. You know that uncle or party guest who insists on regaling the room with off color jokes. Sometimes people pipe up in disgust. Others fake a half hearted chuckle or stare at the floor. It makes everyone uncomfortable except the oblivious joke teller who assumes his audience shares his "sense of humor". Now, I don't mean to get all Sarah Palin or Émile Zola on Hill. I do, however, accuse Above the Law of not being funny and of being a little creepy. (Editors note: Sarah Palin attacked David Letterman for making jokes about her underage daughter. Emile Zola wrote an open letter accusing the French army of wrongly convicting actor Richard Dreyfus of treason...or something like that. You know, the guy from What about Bob? and Jaws. ) "Dumb Polack" jokes, as Hill refers to them, are as outdated as the pet rock and the Commodore 64 computer. The people who write Above the Law boast Harvard and Yale Law on their resumes. You would think the Ivys would have taught them a little more class. Where is that Onion-National Lampoon like wit? Didn't they teach these guys about "dumb Polacks" like Madame Curie, Chopin, Copernicus, John Paul II, Milosz, Joseph Conrad? "Dumb Polacks" like Koscuiszko and Pulaski helped our young nation defeat the British. They cracked the Nazi Enigma Code and discovered Vitamins. They helped bring down the Soviet Union with the Solidarity Movement. They helped defeat the British, the Nazis, the Soviets and the Curse of the Bambino*. I think the Polish people deserve a break from the Polack jokes. (*Editors note: Polish American Doug Mientkiewicz caught the last out of the Red Sox first World Series Win since 1918.)
I guess what really irked me was the disclaimer posted by Above the Law. "Kash does not condone racial or ethnic slurs" The disclaimer comes after her statement about "dumb polacks". The editors obviously must have gotten the feeling that maybe they went a little too far. (It's akin to "it's OK, my best friend is Black or I can tell Mexican jokes because my sister dated an Ecuadoran in 9th grade.) I might use this defense for my clients. If they commit larceny, I will simply state "it's OK your honor, the defendant does not condone stealing." Chances are the young 13 year girl was simply afraid to tell her mother about being sexually active. She actually convinced her mom that she got pregnant from swimming in a crowded pool. I talked my way out of lots of things. This one takes the cake. She might want to consider a career in law. Of course, there is also the chance the young 13 year girl was the victmi of a sexual assault and was afraid to tell her mother, how she got pregnant. Not usually what one would consider joke fodder.
As a Polish American, I always found it odd that these sorely outdated "Polack" jokes always seem to get a free pass with people. Can you imagine if Above the Law posted a joke knocking Judge Sotamayor for her Puerto Rican roots or blamed Bernie Madoff's woes for his "Jewish tendencies" Might as well accuse Justice Kennedy of being a fall down drunk because of his Irish roots and accuse the Italian Scalia for being a member of the mob. Maybe call Bill Richardson a lazy Mexican for not winning the presidency. Freedom of speech is celebrated in our nation. Above the Law has the right to write whatever they want. But show at a little class. And don't forget about that digital footprint. See what happens when your next employer happens to be Polish and he googles you. That "dumb Polack" might think twice before hiring you. As punishment, I am removing Above the Law from our list of blogs until I get an apology on behalf of all Polish people. Until then, let's see how they handle losing three or four readers. Archie Bunker funny? Hardly. We are waiting for our apology ... meatheads.