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September 1, 2014

Strangers with Candy: Let Freedom Ring

by Adam Finley, posted Jul 14th 2006 8:01AM

strangers with candy(S01E07)

Mr. Noblet (after showing his class a tape of Martin Luther King, Jr's "I Have A Dream" speech): King's dream was of an America without racism of any kind. The tragedy of course is that all this footage is in black and white. Imagine how powerful it would have been in color.

In this episode, a student spray paints the N-word in the hallway, and all of Flatpoint High is turned upside down as they try to figure out who did it. The easiest humorous route to take would have been to mock those blatantly racist enough to do such a thing, but this episode, like the "Ginger Kids" episode of South Park, cuts much deeper, exposing the varying degrees of prejudice that exist in all of us. Or, as one student says, "The only thing we hate more than a racist is spics."

Paul Cotton, a shy, quiet student, is the first to find the offending word, but since he didn't see who spray painted it on the wall, everyone assumes he did it. Jerri takes Cotton under her wing and tells him she believes his story, and that since neither of them are racist, everything will be okay. She immediately follows this by showing Paul a drawing she made of a "chinaman" complete with slanted eyes and buck teeth. Meanwhile, Principal Blackman interrogates Paul, trying to make him crack so he'll admit to the deed. Blackman's interrogation techniques only confuse Paul, however, since Blackman seems more interested in hearing about Paul's bowel movement in the bathroom right before he saw the word, asking whether Paul's stool was "aggressive or presumptuous."

In this episode, words like "spic" and "gook" are tossed out without a second thought, but the word "nigger" is never actually spoken, nor is it ever shown in its entirety on the wall. This is purely a satirical choice, because while everyone in the episode agrees that the "N-word" is bad, all of their anger is turned outward, with no one bothering to look inside themselves and take responsibility for their own prejudices. Mr. Jellineck is traumatized by seeing the word to the point where he asks his students to send him cards and flowers (but no Mylar balloons). When Percy Kittens (Tim Meadows), a former grief counselor, confronts Jellineck about the incident, Jellineck can't even say the word. He can, however, describe the difference between "Indian" as in "Native American" and "Indian" as in "from India" by imitating both of those races in a stereotypical fashion.

By the end of the episode, Paul has been put through the ringer by both Blackman and Kittens. They even show him a film in which Blackman dresses as various people (an astronaut, a female doctor, Jesus Christ, a giant squirrel) to prove that black people can do anything. Jerri bursts in at the last minute to admit she's the one who spray painted the word on the wall, her only defense being that she doesn't like black people. When Paul reveals he's not actually white, but black (his skin is a recessive trait), Jerri realizes she really does like black people, it just took a white one to prove it to her.

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