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ISSUE 120 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 3/23/2007

Milano sparks racial debate

By Stephanie Soucheray
News Editor


Friday, March 23, 2007

Journalist Phillip Milano spoke to a packed Lion’s Pause Wednesday night, delivering a program called “I Can’t Believe You Asked That!” sponsored by the Diversity Celebration Committee (DCC) and Student Government Association (SGA).

Milano, a 20-year newspaper veteran from Jacksonville, Fla., is the founder of Yforum.com, a moderated website that allows curious people to ask non-politically correct questions about race, sex, gender, religion and cultural differences.

Typical questions from the website that Milano shared with the audience on Wednesday night included “Why do white people smell like dogs,” “Do women fart,” “How come purple suits only look good on black men,” and “Do Irish men have small penises.”

Milano created YForum.com and authored the book “I Can’t Believe You Asked That!” because he believes that “people have to ask questions in order to learn.”

The “I Can’t Believe You Asked That!” program at the Pause was an open forum where Milano allowed students to ask questions and shared some of the questions already asked – and answered – on his website.

St. Olaf students got in two heated debates over issues of race. The first debate began when one of Milano’s questions about the affectionate use of the word “nigger” in the black community.

Sharon Sanders ‘08 said that she used “nigger” among her African-American friends, but added an “a” on the end. She said it was a term of endearment, but also explained that a white person could never use it with her.

John Morrow ‘07 disagreed with this, saying that he does not believe words like “nigger” and “faggot” should be used, even among friends. Sanders said that if a term is used among a certain culture, another culture cannot condemn its use. “America is not a melting pot,” Sanders said. “We’re a tossed salad.” Morrow criticized this viewpoint as being separatist. “We can’t just focus on the different vegetables in a salad,” Morrow said.

Milano, who personally edits his website, encourages heated debates. “Even if a question is asked out of arrogance, ignorance or innocence, it deserves an answer,” he said. “That’s the beauty of Yforum. I don’t judge the questions, I just try to answer them.”

Milano seeks out political, medical and cultural experts to help answer questions and tries to present all viewpoints. He shared with the crowd that often the silliest seeming questions lead to huge revelations on differences. He cited the question “Why do purple suits only look good on black men?”

“That seems silly, but I have some thoughtful answers about white Christian traditions and traditional African religions which emphasized personal decoration and expression,” Milano said.

Other questions involved homosexuality and physical appearances. Milano shared personal anecdotes about his own questions, always reminding the audience that these questions stem from a “hunger for authenticity that our culture does not give us.” Milano spoke of contemporary culture as being inauthentic. “Reality TV and political correctness do not satisfy our need to understand each other,” Milano said. “Often these are questions that couldn’t be asked on the street, but on the web, they seek an audience and an answer.”

The political correctness of asking questions about ethnicity and racial background sparked another debate among audience members about the appropriateness and racial implications of the question “Where are you from?”

Some students, like Katie Henly ‘07, did not find “I Can’t Believe You Asked That!” to be a helpful program. “I think these questions just perpetuate our differences and highlight stereotypes,” she said.

Others like Megan Remtema ‘07 saw a value in Milano’s endeavor. “I think it’s a good idea,” Remtema said. “People in our culture are too politically correct. The only way to learn about people is to ask.”

Milano has fielded about 50,000 questions since his website launched in 1998. He chooses which questions go on the website and said that he developed a “sixth sense” about which questions were sincere and which were simply asked out of hate. As a journalist, Milano resists answering questions himself

“I’m just the messenger,” Milano said. “I try to keep myself and my own views out of the way of the questions.”





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