by Tara Miller
Last week, I witnessed two fellow humans discuss their annoyance about “political correctness” in comedy, and I feel like this is something we need to address, ya’ll. I’m pretty sure these aren’t the only two self-described liberals out there lamenting comedian Amy Schumer’s haters’ oversensitivity to racist jokes and it’s time for us to talk about it. Again.
First, let’s clarify what “politically correct” really means: being a decent human being who respects their fellow human beings regardless of their gender, race, age, class, ability, language, nationality, etc. and does not wish violence upon them. People who strive to be that kind of human usually do not use the term “politically correct” because they understand that being cognisant of and working to challenge violence against marginalized people should be the “correct” thing to do no matter what, whether you are “being political” or not.
People who use the term “politically correct” usually do so when they are annoyed at having to challenge their privilege by changing their speech or actions in order to minimize violence against others with marginalized identities.
The deeply frustrating and saddening aspect of this critique of “political correctness” (or, being a decent human being) is that when someone spends 30 minutes talking about how annoying “political correctness” is, they are putting more energy into allowing violence against marginalized people than into combating that violence. .
As a teenager and even into my early twenties, surrounded by “good” white “liberals,” my nicknames included and were not limited to: curry, dirty Mexican, foreigner, and Tararist. The common thread through each of these nicknames (which spanned time, space, and people) is that they highlight my otherness.
White Americans are not nicknamed “Hamburger” or “Hot dog” unless they have a strong connection to or affinity for that food. I love curry, especially when my Indian mother makes it for me, but anyone who knows me would say I love cheese and a lot of other foods more. I don’t think I ever discussed curry in any way, shape, or form before this group attached the name to me. So what is the function of that nickname then? If it has no origin story other than that one half of my ancestors are from a place where that food is made, the nickname functions only to highlight my otherness in a White American’s context.
I don’t think I need to explain the derogatory nature of the nickname “dirty Mexican.” Additionally, for those who do not know, I am not Mexican. So, clearly, this nickname was born from the color of my skin (brown) and the notion that all brown people are the same, that all Mexicans are dirty. Again, highlighting my difference from the White people around me and identifying color as negative.
Foreigner and Tararist are similarly derogatory and similarly served primarily to highlight my difference or otherness. Taraist is especially disturbing, clearly suggesting that anyone with brown skin and/or South Asian identity is a terrorist.
This is not just a joke. This “joke” originates in the idea that all terrorists look a certain way and that anyone who looks that way is therefore a terrorist. It contributes to the excessive searches of brown people in airports, to South Asians being turned away from busses for “smelling like curry”, to people being literally kicked off planes for expressing their cultural and/or religious identity , to South Asian-looking people being pushed in front of trains, to brown people being physically beaten , to terrorist (yes, terrorist) attacks on mosques, and much much more.
What kind of community are we creating when one person’s annoyance trumps another’s humanity and right to safety? Racist jokes matter. Homophobic jokes matter. Sexist jokes matter. Transphobic and transmysoginistic jokes matter. Ableist jokes matter. Comedy, just like any form of speech, art, or action, does not exist in a vacuum. Jokes that diminish another person’s humanity are not only upsetting and triggering, they are dangerous. They contribute to the idea that something about people with marginalized identities is wrong. They suggest that this person is less human and less worthy of respect than people with non-marginalized identities.
When Amy Schumer jokes, “I used to date Hispanic guys, but now I prefer consensual,” she contributes to the commonly held and false belief that all Hispanic men are rapists. By contributing to this stereotype, she provides fuel for beliefs and policies that work to dehumanize latinx people and in no way differentiates herself from political candidates like Donald Trump, who has claimed that all Mexican immigrants are drug dealers and rapists.
And these statements do contribute to violence. Two months after Trump made his claim about Mexican men being rapists in his presidential candidacy announcement, two men beat a Latino man senseless in Boston, citing Trump as inspiration for the crime.
Words matter, names matter, jokes matter. So next time to find yourself annoyed at someone calling out a comedian or friend’s casual, comedic racism, homophobia or any other form of violence, ask yourself whether your moment of annoyance is worth someone else’s life. Ask yourself if you can spare a moment to truly listen to and then support someone’s concerns about a fucked up joke if it could mean maintaining a fellow human being’s life and safety.