Foreign Policy deputy editor under fire for ‘racist,’ ‘sexist’ Karen tweets

Foreign Policy’s deputy editor, James Palmer, has come under fire following a thread he posted on Twitter on June 30 in which he made fun of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

In the first tweet, he wrote, “you might think the problem of women demanding to speak to the manager is bad in the United States, but Myanmar has a Karen National Liberation Army.”

Wikipedia’s entry for the moniker “Karen” defines it as “a pejorative term for a woman seeming to be entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is normal.” The term is often used in relation to white women.

The tweet was followed by a jab at the MILF, an armed group based in the southern Philippines. In colloquial English, “MILF” also has a sexually explicit meaning.

“There’s a real danger of them [KNLA] hooking up with the Philippines Moro Islamic Liberation Front, creating a unified front of MILF and Karen,” James Palmer tweeted.

The thread caused an outcry among Twitter users, a number of whom characterised the tweets as “racist” and “sexist.”

The Karen Women’s Organisation (KWO) demanded an apology and wrote that Foreign Policy should be ashamed of James Palmer’s tweets.

“We do not find the comments funny, especially in the current context where 70,000+ Karen people are fleeing attacks by the Burma Army. KWO & Women’s League of Burma are committed to a future where such ignorant, patriarchal thinking doesn’t exist,” the group wrote.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, called the tweets “juvenile, insensitive & ignorant,” noting that the Myanmar military continues to commit sexual abuse against Karen women.

Nyein, a Twitter user who describes themselves as anti-racist, called out the tweet as sexist.

“This is the kind of low-key sexist and juvenile humour that you ought to know doesn’t fly in 2021. If this is the kind of humour Foreign Policy thinks is acceptable, I am very concerned for the women at your workplace,” Nyein tweeted.

Some users urged Foreign Policy to fire James Palmer for the tweets.

“This is truly disgusting,” wrote Gabrielle Aron, an independent analyst and conflict advisor. “Foreign Policy should not allow bigotry against an oppressed group—and one currently facing a severe humanitarian and political crisis—to be promoted by a senior staff member.”

Htuu Lou Rae, founder of ethnic and religious harmony group Coexist Myanmar, announced a boycott of Foreign Policy until the magazine takes action.

“Lack of sensitivity, good judgement & accountability shown in this & the follow-up tweets are unacceptable for an editorial position at a global affairs magazine where these qualities are indispensable,” he added.

Winnie Thaw, another Twitter user, warned that James Palmer’s tweet could cause hurt to those personally connected to the ethnic Karen revolution.

“The KNLA exists to fight the Tatmadaw, which has killed, maimed, bombed, raped, and destroyed entire Karen communities and their livelihoods. Some people reading this tweet will have families who have experienced this, if not having experienced it themselves,” she wrote.

“Thinking of KNU and KNLA’s own family members who are hunted down because they made a choice to protect their people and join the organisation. These are the risks they make to fight against a monster oppressor that wishes to destroy their people, not to be turned into a joke,” Winnie Thaw tweeted.

Some Twitter users criticised James Palmer’s tweets as reflective of colonial politics. Ehler Win tweeted, “my ancestors and family members did not fight a genocidal regime for them to be made fun of by descendants of colonizers like you.”

Rohingya activist Yasmin Ullah characterised the tweet as “orientalism at work.”

“Even in comedy, it is absolutely not okay to make jokes punching down especially when it comes to groups undergoing systemic oppression,” she added.

James Palmer responded to initial criticism by tweeting, “I AM UNCANCELLABLE MWAHHAHA.”

Myanmar Now contacted Foreign Policy for a response to the tweets and the public criticism. The magazine declined to comment.

Foreign Policy, based in Washington D.C., describes itself as “the premier, award-winning magazine of global politics, economics, and ideas.” It was co-founded in 1970 by US political scientist Samuel P. Huntington.

The magazine is owned by the Graham Holdings Company, which also owns Slate, a US-based digital magazine.


Related Articles

Back to top button