On St Paddy’s Day, everyone dresses in green, there are shamrocks and leprechauns everywhere and even green beer. So on MLK’s birthday, I fix up some fried chicken and watermelon and suddenly the NAACP is on my ass!
Okay, folks, that is a racist joke.
But allow me to digress for a bit.
Here’s something most of us did not know:
After black people were emancipated (I use that term instead of freed because black people in America have really never been freed) women would sell fried chicken and other home-cooked foods to hungry white folk at train stops. At the same time, watermelon became a cash crop for black farmers, giving them financial independence, which to the white Southerners was an affront to their sense of dominance.
Suddenly grotesque characterizations of blacks and the foods they used to empower themselves appeared in the South, in cartoons and elsewhere, but since the newspapers were syndicated, these images migrated about the country. And because these foods were traditionally eaten with the hands, the meme that black people were uncouth, unclean, spread too.
Now I once owned the book, “Jewish Jokes for the John,” and one of my favorites is:
A young man was late for work, and as he approached a corner, he took it a little too sharply knocking down an old Jewish man. He reached in his backseat and pulled out a blanket. He ran to the old man, and covered him with the blanket, and kneeled down beside him, asking the old guy, “How ya doing, Old Man?”
The old fellow replied, “Ehh, I make a living.”
When I tell that joke, someone is bound to tell me that I’m promoting a Jewish stereotype.
Okay, but what about Polish jokes? Do you know where they started?
Hitler started the Polish jokes.
It’s been said that the first casualty of war is the truth. And the first truth we kill off is that the enemy is human. Dehumanization the enemy precedes all wars. In Vietnam it was much easier to kill dinks, gooks, slants, slopes than to kill human beings.
Hitler had done the same thing. Polish jokes spread throughout Germany and soon it was right and proper to think of the Poles as less than human. Invading them was for their own good.
Even in Iraq the enemy was referred to as towel-headed-sand-ni**ers, by both black and white troops.
Stereotypes tend to dehumanize. That is a fact.
But then . . .
Polish jokes started taking a backseat to Italian jokes, and so one day the Poles and Italians decided to have a football game (soccer) and the outcome would determine which nationality would take the brunt of those jokes from then on.
The score was tied with ten minutes left on the clock when a factory whistle blew and the Poles walked off the field thinking the game was over. It took 8 more minutes for the Italians to score the winning goal.
I laughed like hell when I heard that, and I’m part Italian. In fact, most of my life friends called me Wop or Dago and it never stung. I knew they were words of disapprobation, but there was a little pride in knowing what my ancestors had gone through to get here. My grandfather went through Ellis Island twice. The first time he was sent back because he’d lost his sponsor.
So . . . where are we today? Are we all so sensitive that any joke referring to our beings, race, background, sexual affiliation, hair color, etc are off limits?
Dave Chappell has taken a lot of criticism for his humor. It’s okay for a black person to make black jokes, but he’s been joking about the trans community, even though one of his biggest fans, who became a good personal friend of his, was trans. And when she took her life, it truly hurt him and thus for him, his trans jokes are a tribute to that friend . . . but not well received, it would seem.
Just the other day, someone jumped on stage and tackled Chappell. No one knows the attacker’s motive, but is this a harbinger of things to come?
I want to hear from all of you out there. Can we still laugh at ourselves? Is self-deprecating humor unfunny? For Hannah Gadsby it not only got to be unfunny, it started to cloud her own personal history, which for her, became a downward spiral to self-destruction.
Can we still laugh at ourselves? Is every joke about race, religion, or sexual orientation told mean-spiritedly?
Don Rickles once pointed out Bob Newhart and his wife in the audience by saying, “There’s my friend – an alcoholic dentist from Chicago and his prostitute wife.”
No one got slapped.
Here’s another question: should the teller of a joke always consider the audience?
I’m curious as to your responses.
And please keep in mind: There are no right or wrong answers, just opinions. And one more thing: There is a bit of racism in each and every one of us. To deny it is to be a racist. To accept and learn and grow from it is to move into a kinder and gentler future.
Please log in again. The login page will open in a new tab. After logging in you can close it and return to this page.