Leon Wieseltier’s Head Just Exploded
Ladies and gentleman, Jazmine Hughes, in your new New Republic:
I love making fun of white people. I do it every day. It garners laughs, which, as a humorist, is what I want most in this world. (The thing I want second most? For white people to stop trying to pass off casseroles as real food.)
But as a black woman, there’s also another, more elemental reason for telling jokes at white people’s expense. The reason is not that I hate white people (some of my best friends are white!) but that this sort of racialized humor is an instrument that people of color can use to placate themselves in the face of the overwhelming reality: It’s just better to be Caucasian. By making fun of white people, people of color can, in a small way, push back against stereotypes, opposing racial humor by inverting it.
No, this is not the most effective way to fight prejudice. But it is one of the most enjoyable. By way of example, let’s do a search for “white people be like”— one of the most popular vehicles for these jokes—on TwitterandTumblr:
“White people be like ‘40 degrees F is the perfect weather to wear basketball shorts and flip-flops.’”
This is how the party ends—with white people wanting in on the joke so badly that they create a separate category of “cool” white people who mock their own whiteness in an effort at solidarity. “White people be like ‘white people be like,’ but they be the white people that white people be like!!!!” as one Tumblr post neatly summarized.
I’m not trying to bar white people from being self-deprecating—far from it. But when a source of solace for people of color is co-opted this way, does it lose all its power? Is it funny anymore? And if it is, is it still OK to laugh?
Let me get this straight: The New Republic published an article criticizing white people for laughing at themselves, thus depriving black comedians of the pleasure of offending white people for being unable to laugh at themselves.