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"Detour-Spotting" continues to be the basis for this series of thinkposts Re: why we can't seem to make any progress on the issue of race in America. Jona Olsson's essay is lengthy, wide-ranging and deserves to be examined closely, so I'm going point by point through it to expand on the thoughts she is offering and to clarify the view just a bit.

Today's offering:

6) Lighten Up (lighten? whiten?)

“Black people are just are too sensitive and thin-skinned.” or “Indians should get a sense of humor. We’re just kidding around.” or “I didn’t mean anything racist, it’s just a joke.”


Reality Check and Consequence

Here are racism and agent deletion in partnership again. The problem and perpetrators are exonerated, because the rationale declares that humor isn’t hurtful. This form of denial serves most to trivialize the pain and reality of daily racism.


This is kind of in my wheelhouse as it relates to a topic I know pretty well: comedy.

As an attendee of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, I learned a few important maxims regarding humor, but one of the most important ones was:

If you had to say it was a joke, it wasn't funny.

And that applies everywhere, no matter the situation, or the people involved. A joke is supposed to make people laugh. If you need to say that your comment was a joke, it definitely didn't work.

Comedy and racism have a long history in this country, with most of it not very funny. There has been a litany of racist jokes, images, stereotypes, artistic renderings, songs, staged performances, cartoons, comics, films, radio and television programs, and, of course, the general public all making fun of minorities.

It would be one thing if that were it and it was just the fact that these things existed. But it really goes beyond that. Because people behave based on atmospheres. If it's perfectly fine to make fun of the shape of someone's eyes, the color of their skin, and other elements of who they are, then people will continually do that. And if that happens, there is no sensitivity. There is no empathy. There is no understanding. That's really the reason "Political Correctness" came along: to stem the tide of such commentary.

It's interesting that many people, most especially some high profile politicians, are now making comments about tossing away "political correctness." Really, isn't being "politically correct" is just another way of saying you're being polite? Really, jokes made at the expense of those less fortunate are never a positive. The phrase "don't kick someone when they're down" was created for such a situation. And that's why it's so puzzling to see a kind of resurgence in this sort of material.

Again, not to assume any of this is straightforward narrative, but when you don't understand the racist atmosphere we collectively live in, it's difficult to understand the actions of black people and why they are offended that there are no dolls that match varying skin tones for their kids to play with or why there was such an outcry over the forty Academy Awards acting nominations over the past two years being all white. This is more than just a joke.

But, of course, all of this is why we need to have an open discussion about racism in America and why we can no longer continue to ignore these issues. It's time to start talking about how these issues affects and impacts all of us, not just minority people, because that contributes to both how we see each other and how we see ourselves.


Previous thinkposts in this series:

1. Day One - I'm Colorblind
2. Day Two - Bootstrap Theory
3. Day Three - Reverse Racism
4. Day Four - Blame The Victim
5. Day Five - The White Knight

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