Should I be offended? Race-based comedy

I love comedy. Not doing comedy, but watching comedy, either in film or stand-up. Laughter is good for the spirit.

I like all kinds of comedians—from early Bill Cosby to Jon Stewart. I especially enjoy comedy that makes you think. Comedy can broach taboo topics like racism and stereotypes and make them fair game for open commentary. If done well, these comedic monologues on race can reveal the absurdity of people’s belief systems.

Comedian, Ahmed Ahmed
Comedian, Ahmed Ahmed

I searched YouTube for examples of race-based comedy that strikes a nerve and found a wide gamut. Will some of these clips offend some people? Maybe. But if you can push yourself outside your comfort level, looking past the profanity and at times crude subject matter, seriously (or humorously) consider what the comedians are trying to do. Are their jokes healing, even when they point out painful truths? Does a line exist, even for comedians, that should never be crossed, or can anything be made fun of in the context of comedy? Is it easier for a comedian who is a person of color to incorporate race in his/her act?

Getting race issues into the open is important. Comedians have an uncanny knack for taking on difficult subjects and making it okay to both laugh at yourself and see the world as it truly is.

*Mature language warning applies to the majority of videos featured below:

Have you ever considered what it is like to go through airport security as an Arab American in a post-9/11 world? Watching Ahmed Ahmed and Dean Obeidallah will give you a glimpse of what it is like. Also view a great video about the founding of the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour.

Korean American Margaret Cho relates her experiences of mistaken identity, in protest of the idea that all Asians do not look or act alike.

Chris Rock’s observations on how Native American populations have been decimated by racism are worth hearing.

Indian Canadian Russell Peters often turns his comic eye on shared immigrant experiences and cultural clashes.

Early Eddie Murphy was raw but honest, even poking fun at himself for his over-the-top moments of vigilance against racism.

Some time before Barrack Obama took office, Dave Chappelle pondered the risks of being the first black president and how to insure his safety. Chappelle also demonstrated what an openly racist society might look like.

More recently, in January 2012, a video by Franchesca Ramsey called “Sh#t White Girls Say to Black Girls” went viral and has been viewed more than eight million times. Comedy was the catalyst for getting people to talk openly about race.

And to end with a song (audio only) from the musical Avenue Q, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” not only is this true, it is also an extremely healthy confession to be able to make. This is a shared problem—let us continue to find ways to raise awareness, talk openly, and laugh when we can.

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