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Posted under: Opinion Editorial Desk

Who's Allowed To Tell Certain Jokes About The Black Community?

This goes way deeper than being politically correct.

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Some jokes are funny and others are just not. In the world of comedy, few things are considered taboo and many comedians use anti-PC ideology for pushing their brand of humor.

For many minorities, the punchline can feel like a sucker punch hitting a little too close home. Often, marginalized folks are left wondering if a joke is really just a joke. 

At the 2017 Academy Awards, host Jimmy Kimmel made a few insensitive jokes at the expense of people of color, including Oscar winner Mahershala Ali. In two separate bits, he mocked Ali’s name for sounding different, reminding Ali, and all of us, of his otherness as a black man and a Muslim. Kimmel also made fun of an asian woman for having an ethnic sounding name.

Kimmel received some backlash when critics took to Twitter to check him for the microaggressions he was passing off as comedy.Photo: Twitter (screenshot)

Photo: Twitter (screenshot)

In February, George Lopez verbally attacked a heckler at his comedy show when she playfully called him out for his anti-black joke. “There are only two rules in the Latino family,” he said. “Don’t marry somebody black and don’t park in front of our house.”

Most of the audience laughed along with Lopez, except for the brave soul who dared to challenge him. Lopez’s routine was an example of a non-black POC perpetuating anti-blackness, which, even as a joke, is not OK. 

Lopez yelled obscenities at the woman and said if she couldn’t take a joke then she was in the wrong place. It’s the response that most people use to defend off-color humor. Anonymous trolls online will argue about that “snowflakes” are policing humor with their political correctness. 

London-based writer and comedian, Oliver Chinyere, said that comedy is supposed to push boundaries, but within reason. 

“I think comedians should have a right to tell offensive jokes and make people question their privilege or ugly truths, but if your joke is just constructed so you can say an offensive slur on stage, you're not very good at comedy,” said Chinyere.

Sometimes offensive jokes are funny, but it depends on who is telling them and what the intent is behind the joke. Black comedians like Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock are known for their dark humor and highlighting issues of race in their work. Their comedy is more than making jokes at the expense of white people, because it's based on their cultural experiences and serves as social commentary.

“White comedians lack the shared experience of the marginalized groups they are looking to lampoon or make jokes about,” Chinyere said. “Because they lack a lot of [the] context and shared history, they're writing from the outside looking in, which means there are more opportunities for the joke to drift into a tone-deaf or insensitive space.”

There’s no definitive line of what is or isn’t acceptable, and truly funny comedians take us outside of our comfort zones. Still, it’s important to note that not every comedian can tell the same joke and get away with it. Kevin Hart would have a pretty challenging time getting away with an Amy Schumer routine and vice versa.

No matter who's telling a joke, if you're a lazy comic who relies on stereotypes, your audience is laughing at you, not with you.

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Freelance culture writer based in Brooklyn, NY.