Joking or not, the comedienne used her stage to play and profit off race while people of color bear the brunt of racial violence, say David Leonard, associate professor and chair of critical culture, gender, and race studies at WSU, and coauthor Stacey Patton of American University.
Several people have rushed to comedienne Amy Schumer’s defense, arguing that she can’t be racist because she doesn’t intend to be. But the motivation of the joke-teller and what compels laughter is not at issue. What matters is the costs and consequences of these “jokes” to those being objectified, say Leonard and Patton in their invited op-ed in The Washington Post. Invoking the “it’s just a joke” defense denies the social, historic and cultural implications of racial humor. It ignores the ways that disparaging jokes provide a safe vehicle to share stereotypes, release inhibitions and spread racism.
This rhetoric isn’t just ugly. It contributes to a worldview that justifies a broken immigration system, mass incarceration, divestment from inner city communities, that rationalizes inequality and buttresses persistent segregation and violence. Yet nobody wants to take responsibility for spewing rhetoric that breeds the fear that results in soaring gun purchases, that “inspires” monsters like Dylann Roof to craft a manifesto with deadly consequences.
Comedy has always played an instrumental role in advancing social justice, in pushing society to look into the mirror, to reflect on the inconsistencies and contradictions. Schumer herself has shined a spotlight on rape culture, misogyny and sexism. But when it comes to race, she betrays this tradition.