WNYC Presents: Funny Or Racist?

by Kendra James

There was a lot of good discussion on racial comedy at last night’s panel featuring Arun Venugopal, Desus NiceCrissle West, Jeff Yang and Guy Branum and we’ve summed a good deal of that up in our Livetweet Storify below. The panel was broken up into sections with each new topic introduced by a different video or comedic soundbite, and everything was going along swimmingly with very thought provoking (and hilarious) banter tossed back and forth between the participants.

It was during the Q&A that things got, as one might say, quite real after a discussion about Sarah Silverman’s use of blackface on her Comedy Central show.  A realness which made for the highlight of the evening as West was forced to keep it all the way 100 with an audience member who really did try it. The exchange can be found around 1hr 19min in in the livestream link, but also transcribed in part below:

Audience Member: My name is Alan Rich, I’m a discrimination lawyer … Crissle, one thing that you said about Sarah Silverman– I get the impression that you take her work at face value.  And I think that so many comedians who are really funny — I don’t think that she’s making fun of black people in any way shape or form about black people when she does blackface. Because those of us who know the history of blackface is that not only white people did blackface, black entertainers had to do black face to get jobs.

Crissle: Wow, so you have to be really white to make that statement. That is just the whitest thing–

Audience Member: It’s a comment about how ridiculous we as a society can be.

Crissle: Can we not? I’m really not about to do this.

Audience Member: I’ve never walked out on Paul Mooney, so you have to give me a pass.

Crissle: And you’re a discrimination lawyer? Holy God. Sooo… I’m  gonna go ahead and address that by saying first of all that I can absolutely say that you’re racist for being a white woman in 2014 or whenever it was that she did this to put in blackface and go on television. Yes I can absolutely call you racist for that. you know the history behind it and you did it anyway. That is racist. I can say that. I’m a black woman, I’m gonna just go ahead and take my word over yours on that. That’s racist. And I don’t like her for it.

Audience Member: [Sic] Tell her! But you don’t know her. You don’t know what’s in her mind.

Crissle: Where is my access to Sarah Silverman? I don’t have to know her– I don’t have to know what’s inside Sarah Silverman’s head. I’m looking at her actions because her actions are what she’s presented to me. She didn’t put put a book called Sarah Silverman’s Diary here read my innermost thoughts and see how I came to these fuck ass conclusions that I have here today. She got on TV in blackface and decided that that was funny and it was not. And you as a white man trying to tell me that my feelings are invalid because I don’t know her is a crock of shit … and that’s why I get on my show every week and say what I need to say because white people like you feel like you have a goddamn point.

Panel Q&A sessions can be difficult for anyone with Acute Second Hand Embarrassment Syndrome (ASHES, in my opinion the worst kind of ashiness a Black person can get), so I really appreciated how the situation was handled. Plus, having only just started listening to West’s podcast The Read (which she records alongside Kid Fury) about a week ago, I felt particularly privileged to be able to hear her give a Read live and in public.

It is a nonnegotiable fact in  my life that white people in blackface constitutes a racist act.  Context, intent, the word ‘subversive’, and the names Tina Fey and Sarah Silverman do nothing to change my mind in that regard. Context and intent don’t change the fact that there comes a time in every Black parent’s life where, for instance, they have to do something like sit down and explain to their children why there are radically different pictures of Black celebrities such as this,why one image is better and more appropriate to imitate and aspire to, and why such a beautiful woman was forced to allow herself to be treated as such.

Josephine Baker

Hi.Lar.I.Ous. (Images of Josephine Baker)

I suppose things are funnier when you have the luxury of skipping conversations like that altogether.

Colour commentary aside, WNYC and The Greene Space hosted a great night for us and all in attendance for their continuing Micropolis series. Readers of The R can look forward to another livetweet from the space next week when we head back to cover a live recording of Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu’s podcast “Another Round,” which will also feature The Butter editor Roxane Gay.

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Memorial Day: Remembering Soldiers of Color [The Throwback]

In honor of the U.S. celebrating Memorial Day today, we are reprinting this 2012 piece featuring veterans from many of our communities

We’ll begin with a video that was shown here in San Diego earlier this year, at a celebration of the Congressional Gold Medal awarded two years ago to the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and and U.S. Military Intelligence Service (MIS). The unit, composed mostly of Japanese-Americans, would see heavy action during World War II in Europe, and would go on to produce 21 Medal of Honor recipients. This unit’s exploits were chronicled in fictional form in the film Only The Brave, the trailer of which can be seen here.

[Note: One video under the cut auto-plays, but is SFW.]
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Quoted: Race + Waco, Texas’ Real Life FX Drama

One of the most distinct characteristics of white privilege is the privilege to be unique. When white people commit violent acts, they are treated as aberrations, slips described with adjectives that show they are unusual and in no way representative of the broader racial group to which they belong.

In fact, in much of the coverage of the Waco shootings, the race of the gang members isn’t even mentioned, although pictures of the aftermath show groups of white bikers being held by police. By comparison, the day after Freddie Gray died in the custody of police officers in Baltimore, not only did most coverage mention that Gray was black, but also included a quote from the deputy police commissioner noting Gray was arrested in “a high-crime area known to have high narcotic incidents,” implicitly smearing Gray and the entire community.

How did press reports quote the police in Waco? “We’ve been made aware in the past few months of rival biker gangs … being here and causing issues,” Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said. Causing issues? Cops were reportedly so worried about the bikers gathering in the Waco strip mall that they had 12 officers as well as officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety stationed outside the restaurant.

Now there’s word that the biker gangs have issued repeated threats against the police in the aftermath of the Waco “melee” as The New York Times headline called it. During the uprisings in Baltimore, I saw a flurry of tweets about black people disrespecting property and throwing rocks at police. Now that these biker gangs have issued actual death threats, why am I not now seeing tons of Twitter posts about white people disrespecting the lives of police?

Waco Coverage Shows Double Standard on Race, by Sally Kohn; via CNN.com, May 19, 2015

 

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In His Own Words: B.B. King (1925-2015)

Compiled by Arturo R. García

I would sit on the corners, and people would walk up to me and ask me to play a gospel song, and they’d pat me on the head and say, that’s nice, son – but they didn’t tip at all. But people who ask me to play the blues would always tip me. I’d make $40-50. Even as off in the head as I am, I could see it made better sense to be a blues singer.
The Telegraph, 2009

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Henry Zbyszynski, via Flickr

The Hollow Promise of “Inclusivity”: Saida Grundy and Boston University

By Tope Fadiran

It’s hard out there for white men on college campuses. At least, that’s what American media would have us believe, given its coverage of the current controversy swirling around Dr. Saida Grundy, a Black scholar recently hired (effective July 1, 2015) by Boston University as an assistant professor of Sociology and African American Studies.

In reality, the way in which Dr. Grundy has been unceremoniously shoved into the spotlight proves the exact opposite: Black women on our campuses, even those who have reached the highest levels of educational achievement, are political and cultural targets simply for existing. There is no other explanation for the fact that this all began with a white man whose response to Grundy’s hiring was to go in search of something he could use to undermine her intellectual and professional standing.

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Harlem to Ferguson

Watch: Jay Smooth and Race Forward Break Down Systemic Racism

By Tope Fadiran

Our colleagues at Race Forward, the racial justice organization that publishes Colorlines, was one of the organizations that pushed back against Starbucks’ hastily conceived “Race Together” initiative in March 2015.

At the time, Executive Director Rinku Sen penned an open letter calling for a national conversation on race that centers systemic rather than individual forms of racism. Race Forward is now building on this statement with “What is Systemic Racism?,” a new 8-part video series.

The videos star, and were written by, Jay Smooth of Ill Doctrine famewho does double duty as Race Forward’s Video and Multimedia Producer. In a minute or less, each video introduces a different facet of systemic racism in the United States: mass incarceration, housing discrimination, the race and gender wealth gap, infant mortality, and more.

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Why History Supports The #DiversifyAgentCarter Campaign

By Arturo R. García

It’s telling that, within minutes of ABC quelling weeks of suspense and announcing that Marvel’s Agent Carter was getting a second season, many of the well-wishes were mixed with a call for the show to introduce more characters who weren’t cis-white hetero, a campaign that quickly gained traction under the tag #DiversifyAgentCarter.

It’s also telling that “fans” of Marvel Entertainment and/or the show quickly rolled out the same tired, insidious arguments against it becoming more diverse: that it would be “diversity for diversity’s sake;” or even worse, that it would be “historically inaccurate.”

We say “fans” because, even if you don’t question their enthusiasm for the show or for star Hayley Atwell, you have to wonder what kind of fandom they inhabit when they insist that people of color would be “unrealistic” in what Anna Cabe rightfully described last week as a show that was originated by the fight between a chemically-enhanced US serviceman and a German antagonist with his own altered skull exposed to the world.

You also have to wonder about their particular worldview when they argue that seeing of people of color would be “unrealistic” in New York City at any point in recorded history — let alone the period following post-World War II.
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JAMES AUSTIN KERR, HAYLEY ATWELL, NEAL MCDONOUGH, EDDIE SHIN

Unburied but Forgotten: Asian Bodies in Agent Carter

By Guest Contributor Anna Cabe

Like many feminist-cum-superhero fanatics, I eagerly awaited the Marvel Cinematic Universe mini-series, Agent Carter, the company’s first real attempt at a female hero-driven property. In many ways, it delivers. The show makes good use of its 1940’s setting with strong costume and set design and snappy period music. The cast are mostly wonderful and show great chemistry—with the standout, of course, being Hayley Atwell, the titular Strategic Scientific Reserve (S.S.R.) Agent Peggy Carter.

Agent Carter Premiere Poster

Agent Carter Premiere Poster, via Marvel Cinematic Universe Wikia.

As Agent Carter, Atwell kicks multiple men’s (and one equally badass woman’s) asses, wrings tears from viewers’ eyes, makes us laugh with an archly delivered quip, and looks smashing in an evening gown and red lipstick. She flips the script of the superhero’s girlfriend—She doesn’t die! She isn’t always being rescued!—and has her own adventures after her boyfriend, Captain America, “dies.” When I finally finished the season (I live overseas with sketchy Internet so I’m slow to catch up to broadcast shows), I sang its praises all over Twitter and Facebook.

That said, Agent Carter has not escaped criticism for limitations when it comes to both race and gender, namely a painfully white and very male cast. Defenders of the casting have deflected this criticism in the name of “historical accuracy,” as though American history is exclusively white unless the subject is slavery, immigration, and the Civil Rights Movement. And of course, this is a show set in an alternate timeline in which superhuman Captain America is the United States’ first line of defense against a Nazi supervillain named Red Skull. A few substantial brown characters hardly seems a stretch of credibility or a distortion of history by comparison. Continue reading

Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World