When Everything Is Racist In Comedy, Is Anything?

There’s been a lot of discussion on political blogs about the way folks react to allegations of racism when they do something like call Obama a “food stamp president,” or dramatically misquote Attorney General Eric Holder. So it’s interesting to see Neda Ulaby take on (the blog post has the story embedded) the expansion of “that’s racist” as a meme in popular culture. Whereas in politics, people insist that there’s nothing that can be properly described as racially motivated, Ulaby suggests that in comedy, tossing around “that’s racist” as a catchphrase rather than as an actual argument waters down the accusation to the point of meaninglessness. Obviously, the scene she cites from Community is funny because it actually is about stereotypes — it starts with Jeff implying something white people probably shouldn’t say about black people, that they’re naturally athletic, and ends with Troy saying something about African-Americans that may not be true, but that he can get away with saying because he’s black:

Similarly, the first-season 30 Rock episode she cites is funny precisely because it’s about Liz Lemon tipping too far over the liberal white lady precipice, and getting so invested in what she thinks is her understanding of a broken educational system and poverty that she comes to the conclusion that Tracy can’t read. It’s funny because it illustrates the reach of racism, that it’s not just a matter of thinking, say, that black people are stupid, but that because people grew up in certain kinds of circumstances, they must be a certain kind of victim.


In other words, I think racial humor that maintains some actual sting, some actual revelation, is probably going to be funnier than a gif of a little kid, or newlyweds on Parks and Recreation tossing off the idea that sorting laundry is racist.