A good deal of twentieth-century Negro humor, then, continued the process familiar to us from the trickster tales: the outer world was reduced to pygmy proportions; the situation was dwarfed; and the joke-tellers and their audiences were allowed to set aside, or at least to minimize, the pain and defeat imposed upon them by the external world.The Baltimore uprising forced back today's episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show with guest Joe McKinney until next Tuesday. I want to see how matters develop this weekend so that I can be sure that my opening comments on the podcast are appropriate.
It has been a busy week. I have had two pieces on Alternet (last week and a new one today on white America's historical amnesia about its own mastery of anti-black and brown riots and other violence). My essay on protecting the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. was also picked up by Salon and should be appearing on Alternet as well.
[Salon also republished my Alternet piece with a damn heart punch title and subheading. Impressed. Very impressed I am, in my best Yoda voice.]
Sigh, it is unfortunate to have to do truth-telling about such foul matters. Alas, the racism beat must be walked if we are to get closer to a more just world.
Love from the Incredible Hulk? Writing about the Elder Gods, MLK, and White America's expertise in rioting? All in one week? Fate has a sense of humor.
The newest--and quite predictable effort to spin, distort, and otherwise obfuscate the killing of Freddie Gray by Baltimore's police--involves their leaking part of an official report which suggests that he somehow severed his own spinal chord.
Of course, this is bovine scatology. It only makes the police look more guilty and will fuel the roars of the young lions that have taken to the streets across the country in support of justice for Freddie Gray and against police brutality, more generally.
[From Freddie Gray to Victor White, apparently all black men are naturally gifted contortionists, the heirs to Harry Houdini.]
The fictions about Freddie Gray's demise are evocative of the classic Jim Crow era joke where two white sheriffs discover a black man hanging from a tree with a knife in his back. The first sheriff observes, "hell of a thing." The second sheriff says, "how boss?" He answers, "I get how the nigger hung himself, but how the hell did he manage to stab himself in the back?"
Black folks and others who have suffered under power use humor as a survival mechanism to negotiate the institutional and quotidian struggles of life in an unfair society.
For example, historically, Black Americans responded to the absurdity of white supremacy by engaging in acts of subaltern resistance through cultural and symbolic politics. These were not separate from more formal types of political activity in the public sphere; rather, they often complemented one another.
Some classic jokes in the African-American comedy tradition that can help to manage the smiles and cries in the aftermath of the Freddie Gray killing include those collected by Lawrence Levine in his classic work Black Culture and Black Consciousness.
- A white man driving a convertible in Mississippi runs into two Negroes, hitting them so hard that they fly straight up into the air. One lands in the back seat of the convertible and is charged with illegal entry, while the other lands about 150 feet down the road and is charged with leaving the scene of a crime.
- Getting off a bus in a strange Mississippi town, a Negro visitor saw no members of the race around and asked a white man, Where do the colored folks hang out here?" Pointing to a large tree in the public square, the white man replied, "Do you see that limb?"
- A negro got off a bus in the South, penniless, hungry, and lonely. The first person he saw was a white policeman, whom he approached politely and asked what time it was. The policeman hit him twice with his club and said, "Two o'clock nigger. Why?" "Nothing, capum," he answered. "I'se just glad in ain't twelve."
Any jokes to share?