Jokes on Racism

I think it’s very interesting to see how the jokes about race that seem to resonate the most are jokes about racism. As I mentioned in class, Key and Peele are two very popular comedians who are known for making jokes about race. They do a remarkable job of reaching both black and white audiences with genuinely funny videos that have strong political messages.

First, this is the video I discussed in class about racist zombies. Even after a zombie apocalypse, the white zombies are still racist:

This second video starts with unreasonable police brutality that is clearly a serious problem in the United States. A black man who is arrested is magically transported to “Negrotown.” It’s a place where “you can wear your hoodie and not get shot,” where “no stupid ass white folks touching your hair or stealing your culture and claiming it’s theirs” and there is “no one trying to get in on the latest trend/ by making you their token black friend.” It is truly a video version of How to be Black. This video overtly comments on experiences of everyday racism and more serious problems of police brutality, all in a funny and accessible way.

This final video is a great reversal of the section “Where did you get that name?” section of How to be Black:

The power of these videos is they use comedy to reach both black and white audiences while seriously addressing real issues of racism. These are jokes about racism, not about race. The humor doesn’t come from making fun of black people or dividing black and white people. The humor comes from parodying the serious problem of racism.

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3 thoughts on “Jokes on Racism

  1. The first and third Key and Peele video are two of my favorites due to such great humor, but I think as a biracial female, watching two biracial men switch between two racial groups is quite relatable. I think addressing racism in such a humorous way makes it honest and relatable. Viewers of any race watch these videos and find themselves laughing, and then have an internal “Oh wait” moment, because these are the realities of society. They have the scene of a person (presumably) used to the shelter and homogeny of their all white low, crime suburban neighborhood locking their car window when a black person walks by, white parents pulling their children away from a black man on the street and of course the ending communion of black people at a barbecue playing what can be commonly identified as soul music.
    These scenes are all familiar to us either by watching movies or living through them personally. Key and Peele not only create a hilarious clip for viewers to enjoy but force viewers to deal with the reality of these situations. If racism was not so present in society today in these forms, their would be less accountability and comedians like Key and Peele would not be as successful.

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  2. The last video is comedy gold. As you write in your blog, the skit isn’t about race at all but about the ignorance of racism in and of itself. In fact, I truly do not believe that the video would have been funny if it were a white man purposefully mispronouncing black names. By reversing the racial roles, we firstly see – as the audience – how easy it is for white names to be “mispronounced” in the same way that black names often are. In other words, we see that name pronunciation is not an issue of racial identity but of the racial inequality that permeates the United States. Secondly, the video demonstrates – in a very subtle way – systematic oppression. Specifically, we see how society (the professor) often decides the way a system works and how individuals within the society (the students) learn to engage with that system. Throughout the video, the professor was forcing the idea that he was pronouncing the students’ name correct and would not accept any other pronunciation than his own. Moreover, he continued to pronounce the names incorrectly until the students accepted the butchered name. Imagine going your entire life with people mispronouncing your name until you have no choice but to accept it. This video is hilarious because we all know how to pronounce names like Aaron and Jaquelin and can almost write it off. However, when it comes to names racially distinct names like my own, Niyi (pronounced KNEE-YEE), this is the harsh reality in which people live and I only laugh about because it’s true – not because it’s actually funny.

    The video is hilarious. It provides us with a way to start talking about the way racial inequality is produced and reproduced in our society. I encourage whoever watches it to take the following away from it: next time you meet someone, learn how to say their name correctly and not make any irrational assumptions of your own.

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  3. It’s really interesting to watch the last video now, within the context of this class. The first time I watched the video was last year in Turkey, where I was spending the year as an exchange student. My Turkish host sister showed me the video and thought it was absolutely hilarious. At the time, I recognized the complexities of the racial critique within the skit but did not stop to think about the fact that she probably didn’t. Turkey obviously has incredibly different racial dynamics, and additionally does not have as many distinct cultural groups; while there are indeed many different ethnic groups that lay claim to the area of Turkey, the ethnic identity of the “Turk” is the prevailing cultural force and there thus would not be as many issues with name mispronunciation, etc. as all names sound pretty much the same. Looking back now, I think my host sister was laughing at the fact that the teacher was mispronouncing the names; she found it comical that anyone could ever mispronounce names like Aaron or Denise. However, that completely misses the point of the skit, which as Niyi pointed out is that the way certain names are considered normal while others are always questioned and mispronounced reflects the power and normalizing force of whiteness in American society. We discussed that it is important to recognize where laughter at racial comedy comes from, and in this case I think my host sister, while not with malicious intent, did not understand the broader critique and thus her laughter served to reaffirm, rather than challenge, prevailing cultural norms of what names are normal and acceptable.

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