Monday, September 3, 2012

Finding Humor in Racism: Discussing Erasure

Welcome back to AAL! Next Tuesday September 11th we'll be discussing Erasure, Percival Everett's wryly humorous take on racism in the book business. But is racism ever  funny? Or should it be?

Generations of writers and comics have found inspiration in the absurdity of human nature, and  few things are more absurd than racism. Making fun of racism has been a staple of African American theater, literature and folklore since slavery days, as attested in several recent histories of the genre.

Laughing at racism from a black perspective has served as a defense mechanism, a safety valve, and corrective to demeaning portrayals of African Americans in the larger culture. Godfrey Cambridge, Dick Gregory, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Will Smith, David Alan Grier and Chris Rock: all use humor to deflate stereotypes about African Americans, while Grier and Rock also challenge fellow African Americans not to fall into the same patterns of sloppy stereotypical thought and behavior.

One of the most innovative current practitioners of comedic racism bashing is stand-up comedian W. Kamau Bell, whose routine, The W. Kamau Bell Curve Show: Ending Racism In About An Hour, takes on closet racism in a fresh,  TED talk style.

Click the above video, "2 Questions That You Never Ask Black People about Their Hair" for a taste. (WARNING: the language gets a bit raw.)

Poking fun at racism can defuse tension and open dialogue around an uncomfortable topic, according to anti-racism educator Damali Ayo. In her book How to Rent a Negro , Ayo claims that "all blacks have been "rented" at some time, placed in the role of token at work or in a social setting, or drafted to represent the entire race with an opinion on a current race-related topic". Her "renter's guide" satirizes this phenomenon, allowing "renters" to see themselves, laugh at themselves, and perhaps experience a little consciousness raising.

I hope our discussion of Erasure will be fun, funny and (thought) provocative. To get a copy, please call us at 847-448-8620, (mention that you plan to attend AAL!)