Is Racism Funny?

January 25, 2005

In his song, "Free Life" Neil says, "Sing it like a black man...I'm talking about round, brown women... it don't matter if she's a belle, we'll just have a time." Other songs talk about getting with "a poor man's woman," and generally have the attitude of a white man sampling the women of the world.

Which is nothing new, of course. The thing is, Jane, who is white, is the one that pointed this out to me. "This is so racist!" she says with a laugh. And continues playing it. And plays it for other colleagues who come to chat in our room. "Check out how racist this is!" she says, and we all laugh.

The idea of course, is that we're so enlightened, we're so post-racism, post-PC that we can laugh about it. But can we?

I felt the same conflict when I went to go see Kate Rigg's Chinkorama a few years ago. It was a first and last date because the guy couldn't figure out why I wasn't laughing my ass off. He seemed to think I was a humorless wench or something.

Basically, the show was the reenactment of every bad asian stereotype you've ever heard of. Polynesian tiki girls and dragon lady seductresses and the whole bit. According to her website,

"Kate's Chink-O-Rama deconstructs, repositions, ridicules, explodes, embodies, satirizes, re-visions, dissects, reconstructs addresses, discusses, challenges images of Asian America found in pop culture and mass media.... it's a comedy music revue in the style of In Living Color, but with a decidedly asian slant.

And on a level, I'm sure it was all these things. Rigg is very politically aware and expressed that in her show. But looking around at the mostly caucasian audience, I had the uncomfortable feeling that at another level, it was just a bunch white people laughing at the brown people aping themselves.

Is that okay because it was San Francisco, and the population is supposedly more politically enlightened? Are they, really?

Would it be called into question more if it were rural Kentuckians yukking it up? What if it were African Americans? What if it were all Asians?

That raises that unanswerable question, who is allowed to make fun of who's group? And then someone points out that black people can use the n-word and nobody else can, but some white people who have grown up in the hood feel they can, and if Joe is fluent in Chinese than why can't he laugh at the falling-down nerd skit?

Well here's my humorless answer: I don't think we're there yet. With neo-nazi's targeting Asians in Minnesota, with AA representation in the mainstream media limited to the same narrow, tired, roles, with 30% or whatever Americans saying they don't trust Asians, with the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act less than 100 years away, I don't think Americans have the cultural understanding, sensitivity, and interconnectedness to put on the blackface, make their eyes squinty and their teeth buck, or call their sports teams "the Braves."
I don't think we're far enough away from the colonist attitudes of convert and civilize.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Neil Diamond.




Neil Diamond is not a racist. Do not be so arrogant and eilitist as to laugh at his lyrics, thinking he's some segregation-era racist. He has been close friends and employed black band members for over 30 years. Many of his songs speak to the important of loving ALL people. There is nothing in Free Life that is racist. There is nothing racist in simply saying he's going to make love to a black woman, he's just stating that that's what he would like to do. Grow up and learn how to listen critically. Think with the rapier, not the axe.
I think more people from different races should have open discussions about these stereotypes. I can honostly say certain things were not meant to go outside ones enviroment. Jazz, Hip Hop, Rock N Roll was meant to stay in the black community. People on the outside was attracted to it, they wanted to imitate these Entertainers they so admired. With that comes one culture spreading to another, now it mainstream. Im not an expert on Asian affairs, but im just trying to make an analogy. Bruce Lee was killed because he was exposing a sacred art to the Western World and was murdered for it. I guess it wasnt meant the Western World to see. Since Bruce Lee made this art mainstream. Its form has been watered down and made Hollywood to some degree. Everyone has their interpretation of what they think it is. One person earlier wondered why Blacks called each other the N___ word. I dont codone it, nor do I use it in my everyday conversations. when I go to a Black community I do understand what it means to black People today as oppossed what it meant many years ago, and it is sad the way they use it. Other races as well. The Youth of today have no sense of history.
Racism jokes are the best, aslong as you tease the persons race your talking to and they know your just making a joke, its all fun and games,even better when you tease asians XD
these are good points. satire and sarcasm are only worthwhile if the listener is savvy enough to get it. otherwise, the doltish amongst us could take it as an endorsement of their pre-existing stupid assumptions. That anyone, anywhere would even listen to the opinion of a person that claims to be 'Nazi' is scary and it is even scarier that someone would have the "brass pair" to call themselves a Nazi without fear of being stoned. In fact, it would seem to me that calling ones' self a Nazi would be akin to treason. We had a war with those guys.At what point does satire become insult? Who can satirize? Does it require a clear knowledge of the right side and wrong side of the line? This is a play that doesn't offer instant replay for clarification. Once pissed on, you will be pissed off. For an interesting treatise in film, check out Spike Lee's Bamboozled. Knowing a language is not knowing a culture, but you can empathize without living through it. The benefits of checking out the world around you - i.e. grooving to Bollywood.Ask your co-worker if Neil was singing songs about beating up white women would she still chuckle and play it saying 'wow, that's really misogynistic'?Kind of doubt it...
Whenever I watch Dave Chappelle, I think about whether or not it's funny to laugh at racism...although I think Dave Chappelle's humor is on some other ish.Tough call.It's sort of like asking if it's okay for just African Americans to call each other the n-word (in whatever context). I've heard some Asian American folks address each other as the n-word and it always made me laugh, not because it was funny but because I think it's ignorant.On the flip side (no pun intended), I always wondered why Asians don't call each other "chink," "flip," "gook," etc. the same way I've heard African Americans use the n-word as a term for "friend/brother/'potna'/etc."Rambling. Don't mind me.
Hey A, rambling get's you places and you get to see the scenary. Good questions. Maybe I have to cede my moniker.Call me a cultural backwater, but I've never seen Dave Chappelle but I hear he's funny. On the 'n-word' - I personally don't think it should be used by anyone for any purpose. It is fundamentally offensive and limiting. I've heard the old rationale of 'taking control of the word' and frankly it sounds weak to me. If Asians start using 'chink' and the like in a similar way, maybe it illustrates a similar degree of 'assimilation' (in a Borg type manner) or resignation to a psychological condition imposed by years of oppression. Having been taught for so long that you are inferior, you eventually come to believe it yourself. This environment has been lived through by African Americans for a long time and most of them without the psycho-cleansing of an immigrant cadre that in ways reinforces the group's identity independent of the majority population's constant head banging of doom. But the fact is, many other 'minorities' secretly harbor the same opinions about blacks that the majority spew out. And reinforce the message while at the same time rebelling when the same techniques are used on them. But you can't swing a broken bat for too long without picking up a splinter yourself. Asians use the terms 'banana' and 'twinkie' to describe themselves or as intergroup accusations. Blacks started out calling each other Uncle Tom, Sambo and 'high yellow'. What happens next? If we have perfectly fine words for brother, friend and partner(?) then why don't we use them? Maybe the intent is to divide with words so that people can't speak of their common pain...and the newcomers can't be warned.