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That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore

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This morning I woke up to the news of another casualty in the culture war. A dusty, 20-year-old skit of late-night comedian and SNL alum Jimmy Fallon donning brown makeup and a wig to mimic African racial features, in a Chris Rock impersonation, went viral. And just like clockwork, Fallon is on Twitter performing the self-flagellation ritual that is demanded of him by the anti-racism Sanhedrin

My first instinct, as I suspect is natural for a race-conscious white male, is to roll my eyes and complain about the hypocrisy of it all, and to wish away the toxicity of “cancel culture” and political correctness. Like most of you reading this piece, I am usually not the least bit offended by humor that parodies white racial stereotypes. Indeed, it is a flaw (yes, I said flaw) of the European character that we are able to laugh at such mockery.

As a matter of fact, this weakness has been exploited for decades by one of the “standard-bearers” of modern western humor, the NBC program Saturday Night Live, the very archives from which the controversial Fallon blackface skit was “uncovered.” It is also no small cohencidence that SNL is produced by one Lorne Michaels, born Lorn David Lipowitz.

When I read the news of the social media outrage directed at Fallon for his transgressions, my thoughts immediately went to the famous whiteface SNL skit that Eddie Murphy performed back in the 80s, “White Like Me.” The humor was irreverent and undeniably funny — perhaps most notably and brilliantly for the way it poked fun of both blacks and whites for stereotypes that underly just enough truth to make them uncomfortable, but at the same time, expose absurdities and assumptions that stretch the truth beyond rational limits.

Allow me to summarize a few highlights of the skit, and illustrate why it cuts both ways. In one scene, our hapless undercover character, “Mr. White,” is seen boarding an NYC bus. In his whiteface stealth, he is accepted as just another busy white New Yorker, and is accompanied on the bus by only one other black. Everyone on the bus is well-behaved and polite, keeping to themselves and following typical white social protocols. The black man gets off at a stop, and when the bus is absent of any blacks other than our hapless “Mr. White,” the white commuters break loose and start dancing to disco music, and one woman removes her stuffy garb to reveal a cocktail waitress outfit and offers Mr. White a drink that he uncomfortably accepts.

In another scene, Mr. White visits a newsstand and offers the appropriate pocket change to the attendant in payment for a newspaper. Alone, without any suspecting blacks to hinder the exchange, the newsstand attendant beckons Mr. White to take the paper without payment, insinuating that this is what whites always do when blacks aren’t around. Again, taken aback, Mr. White leaves the newsstand a little bit wiser to the supposed “privileges” that whites extend to one another in private.

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In another hilarious scene, Mr. White haggles with a black loan officer at a bank over his loan application. No credit, no collateral, no stable work history, the black loan officer is explaining why he must deny Mr. White the loan. Overhearing the exchange, a white bank executive excuses the black loan officer from his desk, and tells him to take a break. When the “coast is clear,” the executive offers Mr. White as much money as he needs, and even tells him there’s no need in paying the loan back.

Of course, all of these interactions are incredulous and absurd. White people don’t get free stuff when blacks aren’t around, just because we are white. Our whiteness doesn’t relieve us of the need for collateral or solid credit history when dealing with a bank. A room absent of blacks doesn’t automatically turn into a cocktail party.

Eddie Murphy artfully used racial humor in that skit, not just to poke fun at stiff, stuffy, prim and proper white society, (in itself a trope) but also to take digs at black assumptions about whites by using extreme, unlikely scenarios that many blacks halfway, if not completely, believe to be true.

But I digress, because I’m allowing for an intellectual and unbiased review of the skit, even offering a positive critique, when my enemies do not afford Jimmy Fallon even the slightest bit of wiggle room. The usual suspects claim that the two skits are incomparable, because “reasons.” The main reason offered is because the Murphy skit was “hard-hitting social commentary,” which of course absolves Murphy of any culpability. Fallon’s skit, along this line of reasoning, was pure hatred, most certainly crafted from the deepest and darkest layers of unfettered bigotry. Because of Fallon’s privilege, he must repent before the altar of social justice, and because of Murphy’s oppression, he must be hindered by no restrictions on his comedic commentary.

A rational (or perhaps naive) mind might question this and suggest that Fallon was being light-hearted, and that fellow SNL alum Chris Rock (who was heir-apparent to Murphy’s role as irreverent black humorist) probably approved of the skit, because it was all in good fun. One might consider that Murphy’s supposed “hard-hitting social commentary” undermines the true purpose of racial humor, which is to trivialize stereotypes instead of politicizing them. Or one might decide that this is all bullshit, and that politicizing either skit or either comedian is a bridge too far.

But this is one area where white people fail miserably and why GOP-approved conservatism is in its death throes. We laugh uncontrollably at Jewish-written-and-produced racial satire such as “The Jerk,” starring another SNL alum Steve Martin (and produced by Rob Reiner’s father, Carl and co-written by Carl Gottlieb), while they rake in millions by attacking white racial weakness, which is our ability to laugh at ourselves. Yet, when the chips are down, who gets dragged through the mud? Will Carl Reiner, his son Rob, or their kinsman Lorne Lipowitz ever suffer or be made culpable? Will they ever offer up their millions as recompense for the harm they’ve caused?

It is becoming ever more clear that we are fighting a losing strategy by “whining” about political correctness. In a perfect world, we would be allowed to laugh at the Richard Pryors, the Dave Chappelles, and the Wayans brothers of the world, without having to sacrifice the Robert Downey Jrs. and Jimmy Fallons on the political correctness altar. But as long as these age-old tribal grievances exist, we will not be afforded that luxury.

Therefore, it is time to stop complaining about political correctness and cut straight to the heart of the matter. Every comedic stunt that mocks whites is a racial attack on whites, even when the comedian performing the gag is white him or herself, or “white,” as it were. We should be unrelenting in our demands that these tropes be disallowed. We should not afford our cultural enemies one inch of ground when they use our weaknesses against us.

This is one area in the culture war where we are sure to lose if we don’t start coming together with like minds. Every stereotype about southerners, “Karens,” Trump voters, incels, etc etc is an attack on white people. It may feel feigned and disingenuous to attack anti-white humor, but is it not obvious that this attack on Fallon is feigned and disingenuous? Isn’t pretty much every “viral” trend on Twitter that galvanizes the Internet “Justice League” a feigned and disingenuous response to the event that transpired?

Every “wow just wow” tweet decrying the oppression of minorities is being proliferated over $1000 smartphones via the WiFi and comfort of an upscale urban coffee shop. Every candid video of a “racist” interaction is recorded with the prior knowledge that the supposed “victim” will be celebrated while the supposed perpetrator will lose their job, their friends, their reputation, and possibly their family.

How can we win this culture war if we continue to rationalize the very weakness that has been weaponized against us?

We can’t. And we must simply stop allowing it and fight back.

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  1. Dennis
    Posted May 28, 2020 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    Don’t forget another Eddie Murphy SNL skit from the ’80s, where he played a Bob Marley-wannabee, reggae-singing rastaman, doing the song “Kill the White People” in the school talent show. The refrain, which we were all meant to find hilarious, was simply, “Kill the white people, we’ve got to make them hurt.”

    In light of SNL people being pilloried and made to submit to Maoist struggle sessions online for past jokes, I’d like to see someone hold Eddie Murphy to the same standard as white comedians. Yeah, fat chance.

  2. Pidgin Ebonics
    Posted May 28, 2020 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    The white man voice that so many black comics use when making fun of whites, they never get it right. Even the very talented mimic Murphy never got it right. You know that they’re trying to do a white voice, but if you didn’t know and heard it on a tape with no visuals, it wouldn’t sound like a white man.

    • James O'Meara
      Posted May 29, 2020 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

      This always annoyed me, long before I became a “hater.” There’s a folk etymology that “honky” derives from the honking, goose-like voice of white people. Of course, white people don’t sound like that at all; the only people who sound like that are black folks, and often not even when “imitating” whitey — it’s a very common inflection taken on by excited ghetto dwellers. Like their masters, They accuse YOU of what THEY are doing.

  3. HamburgerToday
    Posted May 28, 2020 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Agreed. Viral, capillary attacks require viral, capillary responses. See something. Say something. Everywhere.

  4. John Wilkinson
    Posted May 28, 2020 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    As I was writing this a few things occurred to me that I wanted to mention, but it would have sidetracked the theme of the essay. So instead, I’d like to just appendix in the comments section some thoughts about the narratives in this skit.
    As I said in the essay, we can’t intellectualize and rationalize away these cultural moments. A cheap laugh is not an acceptable price to pay for the cultural rot that this vector of attack has helped create. We must push against it.

    Having said that, there are some narrative nuggets imbedded in this skit that affirm race realism if you are savvy enough to notice.

    Let’s start with the bus scene. The superficial (as I’m sure it was intended) joke is that blacks must wonder how white people act when no blacks are around. So Murphy wrote in an absurd reaction, an impromptu cocktail party. Dem rayciss whiteys wouldn’t ever invite darkie to their shindig!

    But if you “unpack” this a little, there is a nugget of truth. White people in close quarters with blacks on busses, subways, etc do experience a little anxiety. For some it may be honest fear of violent behavior. For some, it may just be concern that the blacks will be loud, obnoxious, and behave “ghetto”, which makes the ride less comfortable for whites. In our current paradigm ,removed from the early 80s, we wonder if there will be a confrontation with cell phones recording it and a viral report on CNN. The fewer blacks on the bus, the more relaxed we can become because of “safety in numbers” so to speak. No, we don’t have cocktail parties when all the blacks get off, but we do possibly breathe a sigh of relief.

    The newspaper bit. The superficial joke that Murphy aimed for was that white people must be more generous and giving to each other when blacks aren’t around. He’s not directly saying it, but many blacks *do* have a deep seeded desire just to take from Whitey. “Reparations” in their mind. Look at the Minneapolis riots today. The looters are getting their recompense. But this segment cuts even deeper than that without Murphy’s intention. White society WOULD likely be more generous and trusting if it was homogenous. Look at some European countries, they successfully implement social programs and remain prosperous, mainly because the white citizens don’t carry the resentments of slavery and the desire for reparations. Since there are no grievances lurking behind their social programs, there’s less abuse and those programs thrive. Whitey does, in fact, have to behave differently (and more miserly) in the face of diversity. It is my belief that this is the main appeal of fiscal conservatism for white people. It’s their way of complaining about the system that takes from whites and gives to browns.

    The bank scene. This one is particularly noteworthy in light of future events (the 2008 housing crash). The truth behind this skit is that up until the 80s thru 90s, bank lending practices created high barriers to home ownership. Down payments were an expectation that excluded a lot of people, including low income whites. But blacks were particularly shut out of that system for obvious reasons. As is always the case, the solution wasn’t to hold blacks to the same standard as whites to give them motivation to improve their lot. The egalitarian leftist solution was to lower the barriers, dismiss the need for down payments, good credit, and ultimately this created the subprime bubble that wrecked the economy.
    Murphy simply wanted to create a cheap laugh that targeted the suspicions blacks had that it was literally their skin color that kept them from getting loans in the early 80s. Yes he was playing both ends of this to get the laugh, which makes it even more brilliant. It’s the underlying absolute truth underneath it though that also makes it tragic for whites. We can always depend on our economy to get wrecked from time to time because of the diversity tax we pay.

  5. Vagrant Rightist
    Posted May 28, 2020 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    This is somewhat off topic, but the image you have there is reminiscent of Laurence Olivier’s Othello. It’s almost uncanny actually. I’m sure there is some kind of interesting parallel here to unpack, although the virus malaise has dropped my IQ to the point I’m not sure I will be able to.

    Othello is a place where this sort of stuff is often reinforced. The idea of a white man playing Othello in a major production in black face in The Current Year would be generally be met with great hostility by our overlords and their minions.

    Of course the left have concocted their ‘oppressive history of black face’ and so on to tell us why all this stuff is bad and taboo, but I don’t believe that’s the real issue. That’s just a smokescreen to stop us getting at the truth.

    The truth is when whites imitate blacks there is simply no flattering way of doing so that’s consistent with everything we consider human, graceful and cognizant, and harmonious with our civilizations and life. There is no way to create an impression of blacks without commenting on the deficiencies of blackness and the chasm between us. There is no way to explore blackness in this way without laughing at it. It’s really impossible.

    To keep that genie from coming out of the bottle special allowances are constantly being declared for blacks instead: where they are awarded a dignity and solemnity – with this special exemption from depictions of their blackness by non-blacks, that they simply do not deserve.

    And consider the wigger: even he, in his sanitized form of black imitation has to effectively act ‘down’; behave in a way less that’s less intelligent and more animated about stupid stuff than his natural white self would. Wiggerness is a really interesting phenomenon, when you start looking for it you see it in way too many whites, even sometimes people on our own team.

    And actually although it would be deeply unpopular in The Current Year, I do think Olivier did as good as job as anyone could.

  6. Matt Jackson
    Posted May 28, 2020 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    I agree. Jokes seem harmless, which is what makes them so effective in a culture war. It’s cathartic for white people when Chris Rock flagellates them. They get off on it. But if someone like Corey Booker cracks the whip, it stops being fun, and people cry out for Trump.

    What white people don’t realize is they are laughing out loud as their enemy strikes them. And not only are white people laughing, they’re willing to pay for the punch line.

    I’d call it brilliant if it weren’t so sad to watch.

  7. Jimmy Stewart
    Posted May 29, 2020 at 1:05 am | Permalink

    This is why I objected to jef Costello column recently praising Dave chappelle.

  8. James
    Posted May 29, 2020 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    I’ve not been following this story. Has the skit writer or the makeup person or their boss, with his presumably strict creative control, also come under fire?

    • John Wilkinson
      Posted May 29, 2020 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      Lorne Lipowitz will never be held accountable, and he is NOTORIOUS for being extremely controlling of his performers, and having feuds with more right leaning alum like Dennis Miller, Joe Piscopo, Norm McDonald, Victoria Jackson, etc.

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