Black and White
Post by Auntie Vice
It is now clear to me, as a comic community, we need to have some pretty explicit conversations about race.
For those of you who follow the SACT board on Facebook, you are probably aware that something went down at Vince’s mic a couple of weeks ago. I was not there. I will not comment on what went down that night. But, I have seen the aftermath of the incident. Race is an underlying issue of how things played out on social media and how the parties involved feel about the aftermath.
In every conversation I have had about what happened, with the parties involved and others, race has come up. What lead up to the incident, how comics responded to the parties involved, how the issues were framed on social media… they are all rooted in race issues.
I feel somewhat qualified to write on this issue because I have a grad degree in the politics of race in the U.S. Here are a few things to think about when you are interacting with comics and when you write jokes.
Race has been a basis for discrimination, violence and harm in the United States since day one. This country has a horrible history of slavery, state-sanctioned bigotry, race-based concentration camps on our own soil, and state-sanctioned violence based on race. I know some of you are yelling, “But my ancestors didn’t blah, blah, blah…” or “I am not part of the White power structure….” And okay, sure, your great-grandfather didn’t own slaves. And sure, you are not out with the KKK supporting Donald Trump. But, racial scars run deep… generations deep. Columbia University released a study last year which shows trauma in one generation is genetically passed down. So, even if you or your parents weren’t personally involved in racial discrimination, that shit gets coded in the genes.
Beyond that, race colors the way you move through the world. I joke I drive with White girl privilege but it is true. I get a very different response from police and security peeps when I am by myself or if I have my guy in the car. Minorities of all races face what are deemed “micro-aggressions.” These are little digs, be it verbal, body language or other things that are designed to show them “their place.” The classic is a Black man getting in an elevator and a woman clutching her purse tighter. It can be in language. The #alllivesmatter is a great example. It is a way of trying to silence Black people from speaking out and putting White lives in the forefront again.
Dealing with these digs day in and day out is exhausting. I won’t say its the same, but being female, I also see some of this. I get the comments, “There just aren’t that many funny women,” and deal with issues like if I decided to sleep with a comic it is likely to be seen as a way of currying favor rather than just the fact I might want to sleep with him. These things change the way you move through the world. They add up. So, when you are attacked based on the thing that makes you have to fight the world daily, it is compounding the bullshit.
I have also heard White male comics complain that they are the “most discriminated against” minority. Um… ok, I get that you may feel that your language is governed and that you have to alter behavior to fit the more political dynamics of the comic scene. I have had plenty of conversations with White male comics who feel that they can’t make certain jokes or references without being seen as racist. Some of these comments even come from White guys who want to push social justice but are concerned about how any comments about race will be taken on stage. However, having to govern your language does not make you the “most discriminated group” in comedy. Far from it. You just begin entering the world of the rest of us.
So, what do we do? We need to have one-to-one conversations about race and comedy. We need to have group conversations about race. Race is hard to talk about, especially if you are White. White people fear that they will offend others or say something wrong then get backlash. However, if we don’t talk about race and we don’t listen to others about race, we won’t move forward.
These conversations can’t be defending your point of view. They need to be open. Everyone in the conversation needs to be available to listen and hear and respond to what is said.
Race jokes are pretty stagnant right now. We have about six premises for various race-based jokes and they are getting tired. Really, really tired. You want to move your comedy forward? You want to move us forward? Start talking to people about race issues.
And, since I am a big nerd, I believe in reading. Here are a few recommendations:
Takaki. A Different Mirror.
Myrdal, Gunnar. The American Dilemma.
Thernstrom and Thernstrom. America in Black and White.
Galarza. Barrio Boy.
Allport. The Nature of Prejudice.
Putnam. Bowling Alone.
Website: Black Girl Dangerous
Website: Good Men Project