I remember when we laughed at racism. Like when the first TV interracial kiss happened.
The kiss occurred on the sitcom “All in the Family,” where Archie Bunker, played by Carroll O’Connor was the “Conservative.” Norman Lear painted Bunker as racist and bigoted, but made him just tolerable enough for America. We laughed at racism.
On an episode with Sammy Davis, Jr. appeared, America was greeted to its first interracial TV kiss. Davis surprised Bunker by kissing him on the cheek. That kiss, believe it or not, was big news the following day in almost every media outlet.
What got me thinking about when we laughed at racism was something I read about the movie Blazing Saddles. This has always been one of my favorite movies, as the movie poked fun at the nonsense of racism.
As Mel Brooks explained:
Nothing about “Blazing Saddles” was politically correct. Were you worried that the studio wouldn’t let you get away with it?
One of the suits saw a preview of it and threw me into the manager’s office and then threw me a legal pad and a pencil and said, “Write ‘no farting . . . no punching an old lady, no punching a horse.’ ” He gave me about 26 notes, and if I did everything he told me, I would have had a 13-minute movie. Most of our movie was in such bad taste. [Producer John] Calley was with me, and when I [later] crumpled up those notes and threw them in the garbage, Calley said, “Good filing.” He said, “Mel, the minute it makes its first million, they’ll go nuts for it.” And I had final cut, so legally, they couldn’t cut the movie.
Blazing Saddles may be one of the most quoted movies of all time, and certainly made fun of the racist stereotypes. Consequentially, the movie moved race relations forward decades.
Other iconic comedians have made fun of race.
Richard Pryor walked that line quite effectively, as he discussed race issues. Pryor was loved by blacks and whites, and was the de facto top comedian of his day. He worked with sidekick Gene Wilder, where they both continued to make fun of racism and race stereotypes in their movies. Again, because of these men, the discussion of race in pop culture moved race relations forward.
Dave Chappell took the baton from Pryor. Chappell perfected race humor with sketches like Clayton Bigsby, the blind black leader of the KKK. And what of The Niggars, a sketch about a white family from the 50’s who had a black milk man. Chappell’s verbal hi-jinx around the family name left audiences howling.
Again, in all of these examples race relations improved, because we laughed at racism.
Being able to laugh at something means you no longer will allow it to hurt you. That’s what America had managed to do, pre-Obama. Those days are long gone, as we have devolved back to the ’60s.
Now, hardly a word can be spoken that doesn’t offend some minority group. The tactic is intentional. The only way we can thwart this is to wholly ignore it. But when you can’t ignore it, don’t condone it. Fight back.
America can make race fun again. We are all one race; the human race.
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