-By Warner Todd Huston
MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry must have thought she was getting “edgy” in a recent segment on her show when she turned to the topic of “race jokes.” But instead of Maury Povich or Jerry Springer she ended up with sanitized PCism and another prosaic, partisan attack on whites and conservatives–the latter the only subject MSNBC ever seems to discuss.
To open the February 18 segment, Harris-Perry suggested that a good way to talk about race is to do so with humor. “Maybe race jokes are the place where we can actually talk about race,” she said.
One wishes that Harris-Perry had taken just a minute to define what she meant by “race jokes,” though. After all, there is humor based on damaging stereotypes and humor based on amusing, even affecting ethnic eccentricities and the two are not the same. In fact, when Harris-Perry asked the panel to throw out their best “race jokes,” her offering was a classic Jewish joke, a joke that wasn’t so much “race humor” as warm, cultural humor.
There weren’t any conservative comedians on the panel, of course, so naturally three of her four panelists reeled off jokes that attacked white people and conservatives.
Palestinian-American comedian Dean Obeidallah thought it was funny to lambast white people for becoming a minority in the US and laughed about the day when they can celebrate “whitey week” like African-Americans celebrate Black History today.
Daily Show co-creator and liberal comedianne Lizz Winstead decided to attack Herman Cain saying that a Cain presidency would be fun because it would spark mass suicides in the KKK.
University of Pennsylvania Professor Anthea Butler also slapped at white people saying that as college students when they felt “poor” it meant they had $500 in the bank but when minorities felt poor that meant they had no money at all.
For his part, African-American comedian Elon James White brought up some ethnic humor written by comedian Dave Chapelle. White’s allusion to Chapelle’s jokes were the only ones that seemed to hew to the idea of a “race joke.”
As to Harris-Perry’s joke, it was the classic Jewish chuckler of the boy who brought three women home to his mother and bet her she couldn’t pick which was the one he wanted to marry. The mother immediately pointed out the correct girl causing the young man to ask how she knew. “Because I don’t like her,” the mother replied. Funny, that. But is it really a “race joke”?
Sadly, the jokes were more about political correctness than actual race humor. If Harris-Perry meant to get into a serious discussion of race humor and its possible role in cross-community understanding, the segment was not very successful.
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Warner Todd Huston is a Chicago based freelance writer. He has been writing opinion editorials and social criticism since early 2001 and before that he wrote articles on U.S. history for several small American magazines. His political columns are featured on many websites such as Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com, BigHollywood.com, and BigJournalism.com, as well as RightWingNews.com, RightPundits.com, CanadaFreePress.com, StoptheACLU.com, AmericanDaily.com, among many, many others. Mr. Huston is also endlessly amused that one of his articles formed the basis of an article in Germany’s Der Spiegel Magazine in 2008.
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