This So-Called Post-Post-Racial Life

February 19, 2009

Humor in Post-Post-Racial USA: Ur doin it rite, akshully

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — pprscribe @ 6:05 am

Nation’s Blacks Creeped Out By All The People Smiling At Them:

WASHINGTON—A majority of African-Americans surveyed in a nationwide poll this week reported feeling “deeply disturbed” and “more than a little weirded out” by all the white people now smiling at them.

First witnessed shortly after President Obama’s historic victory, the open and cheerful smiling has only continued in recent months, leaving members of the black community completely unnerved.

…According to the poll, more than 92 percent of African-Americans have noticed a dramatic increase in the number of beaming Caucasians in their vicinity, as well as a marked rise in the instances of white people making direct eye contact with them on the bus, engaging them in pleasant conversation, and warmly gazing in their general direction with a mix of wonder, pride, and profound contentment. All respondents reported being “petrified” by the change.

“Yesterday, I’m pretty sure the cashier at the Giant Eagle winked at me,” said Eddie Wilkes, a Pittsburgh resident who described himself as “not a politics person.” “Then she said something about what a happy day it was and tried to bump fists. The whole thing gave me the willies”…

Discussion here before about the complexities and challenges of joke-making in this so-called Age of Obama. Joke-tellers everywhere may find themselves walking a thin line between forging new paths in comedic observation and retreading old paths of racist humor. Joke-listeners everywhere may find themselves challenged with their reactions to such jokes. When is offense and indignation justified? When do we allow ourselves to lighten up?

The above Onion satire is, in my opinion, a good example of a hopeful direction in this comedy and is well worth a full read.

Why it works: Like many Onion pieces, this one has an air of borderline (at least) plausibility. Polls like this are taken, names of people and organizations are real and familiar, and the behavior described is not wholly unbelievable. The joke can stand as an observation of the (perhaps temporary) goodwill and brother-/sisterhood towards humans that seemed to sweep many quarters of the country in the time leading up to election night right through inauguration day. Viewed deeper it also subtly pokes fun at the notion of a “post-racial America”: Blacks and Whites still have different views of the same phenomenon, some Whites are still clueless as to their impact on people of other races. The simple regard for Blacks’ humanity is shown simultaneously as previously missing from much interracial contact and likely just a blip in such interactions.

Who might find it especially funny: Some Blacks who have experienced these kinds of reactions might be especially inclined to laugh uproariously at this piece, similar to how I reacted the first time I explored the Rent-a-Negro and Black People Love Us websites. Others who are fighting the feel-good idea/myth/wishful thinking of a post-racial world might also find the piece humorous, regardless of their race and ethnicity.

Who might have problems with it: Some people may take offense at how the butt of the joke is mainly White people and, perhaps more specifically, the largest segment of White people who supported Barack Obama during the campaign (urban, well educated, young). Obama-age humor will be particularly prone to having a “strange bedfellows” quality to it. In this case, both some Black people–both who did and did not supported Obama–and some White conservatives and others who did not vote for Obama may be laughing. But for different reasons.

Let’s try another one. This one is from the popular user-generated Pundit Kitchen site. It depicts a loving moment between the Obamas. Michelle is saying, “Let’s play Naughty Nurse meets the President again.” Barack responds, “Okay, but this time I get to be the President.”

//punditkitchen.com/2008/12/05/political-pictures-obamas-naughty-nurse/

"Let's play Naughty Nurse meets the President again." Pundit Kitchen-LOL builder, http://punditkitchen.com/2008/12/05/political-pictures-obamas-naughty-nurse/

Why it works: Classic comedic reversal of expectations. Because Barack is, in fact, the President–and, is male–the initial assumption from the first line is that when the two play this game Michelle is the “Naughty Nurse” and Barack is “the President.” Of course, the second line throws this expectation on its head.

Who might find it especially funny: Someone who feels that Barack Obama is too “soft” and Michelle Obama too “manly.” So, this might be funny to some detractors of the Obamas. But also, the joke might be funny to someone who believes in the empowerment of women, the positivity of sexual expression, gender egalitarianism, or other such notions. Particularly the empowerment of Black women, the positivity of sexual expression in Black couples, etc. Again, different segments of people will be laughing for different reasons.

Who might have problems with it: Someone who is troubled by what they see as the sexual fetishism that seems to be directed toward this particular President and First Lady, and the racial overtones involved in it. Black women as sexually loose and emasculating, Black men as sexual studs, etc. Also, some feel that this type of joke-making about the leader of our nation is inappropriate no matter who is in office. The presidency should be held in high esteem, according to this view, so this kind of focus on the President’s sex life is disrespectful and inappropriate.

Me? I find both of these examples extremely funny. Hard times are here, with harder times to follow. We’ll all get through them a lot easier if we are able to laugh at ourselves, each other, and our leaders.

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