In Defense of Racial Humor
By: Selwyn Duke
If laughter really is the best medicine, it’s no wonder race relations are in a state of ill health.
Many years ago I spent quite a bit of time with a Zambian friend. He remarked one day that he found America’s hang-up with racial humor a bit strange, as racial jokes were not at all off limits in his country. And call it my one concession to multiculturalism, but neither were they off limits in our relationship. We would occasionally engage in innocent racial humor just as we would any other kind of jesting — and no hate-speech charges were contemplated.
The notion that racial humor is inherently damaging is utter nonsense. Whatever the type of humor, it can be innocent or cutting, good-natured or mean-spirited, and the difference is almost always obvious. And this is true of most any kind of expression. Political commentary, music, or art can be used to clarify or confuse, or to enlighten or benight, just as firearms can be used to protect innocent life or take it. It’s not the tools, but the intentions of the worker.
And what have we worked ourselves into? If you have a friend who is fat, skinny, blonde, bald, has curly locks, or possesses any other notable distinguishing characteristic, it will likely be a source of humor between the two of you (this is especially true among men). Making light of our differences is simply part of normal human interaction — and it is actually a strength. After all, should we be unable to laugh at ourselves?
This brings us to an important point. What kind of person would you not engage in this type of humor with?
Before we’re willing to poke even innocent fun at one another, we must have a level of familiarity. That wall between us must come down.
Now, if whites and blacks cannot poke that kind of fun at each other over their most obvious physical differences without bruising feelings, are they not, in a significant sense, damned to remain strangers? If that formidable wall between them will not come down, true friendship cannot grow up.
After all, platonic relationships are like romantic ones in that their quality depends on intimacy. The more two people can bare their souls with each other — without fear betrayal or rejection — the closer they’ll be. This brings us to a harsh reality, and I say it is true in general, though not always in the particular.
Whites and blacks cannot be friends.
This isn’t a statement of preference, only fact. Our society has made it this way through political correctness, which has erected a wall between blacks and whites the likes of which border-control advocates can only dream. As long as that wall exists, the races can never be close. And this means their average members can never truly be friends.
Yet there is even more to it. There is that infamous double standard, where in the public sphere blacks can tell jokes about whites, but the reverse is prohibited. What kind of relationship is reflected, however, when only one party can poke fun and the other party must just sit back and take it?
That between superior and subordinate.
It’s the relationship that would have existed between a pharaoh and his servants. A court jester might play the fool, but he’d never dare make fun of the king, lest his head and body end up with different zip codes.
The modern version of this for “disrespectful” whites is career decapitation. In 2007, shock jock Don Imus made a relatively mild joke (certainly by Chris Rock standards) about some black female college-basketball players and lost his CBS radio show. In 1997, golfer Fuzzy Zoelller made a quip about soul food and Tiger Woods’ choice for the next year’s Masters Champions Dinner, and he lost a Kmart contract. Both Imus and Zoeller made the obligatory groveling apologies, but this wasn’t enough to stop the racial hustlers from wanting their wrong-colored skin.
And although this is a tad off-topic, worse still is that this wall extends to serious commentary as well. I recently wrote about the article “Being White in Philly,” in which author Robert Huber provided the most tepid examples of whites’ experiences with blacks and black neighborhoods and of what they think about the racial situation in their city. Yet Huber couldn’t walk on eggshells carefully enough to prevent Philadelphia’s race kings from wanting to turn him into an omelet. Mayor Michael Nutter referred his case to the “Philadelphia Human Relations Commission,” recommended he be rebuked, and suggested that his article was tantamount to yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater. What apparently eludes Nutter is that you may yell “fire!” in a crowded theater…when there actually is a fire. But it seems that whites can’t issue such a warning even if most all of black sub-culture is ablaze.
Like Imus and Zoeller, Huber and his editor, Tom McGrath, did their share of groveling before their racial overlords — in their case during a Monday panel discussion on their article. But appeasement always seems a dead-end tactic, and the black/white racial divide is no exception. This isn’t just because people who are angry at you and see you through colored glasses will always want another pound of flesh, but for another significant reason: no one respects a doormat. Have you ever won respect — or friendship —by letting people wipe their feet on you? The most you’ll ever be is a sidekick, and either way the result is usually a kick in the derriere.
Moreover, when whites pander on race, blacks often sense the dishonesty, that they are dealing with people either too scared or too phony to speak their minds. This only validates the impression of whites many blacks are raised with, that they aren’t to be trusted. Blacks can get the idea that they’re confronted with phony, cowardly people — and nothing engenders less respect than that.
Unfortunately, nothing will change as long as whites risk scorn, ostracism, and career destruction by speaking their minds. Whites will stay behind their walls, getting angrier and angrier; and blacks will remain angry and isolated behind theirs. Those walls also may become higher and thicker over time…until time runs out. When those walls then come tumbling down, watch out — because harsh reality will become painfully clear in black and white.
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