Sarah Silverman and the “Minority Card”

Henry Jenkins article touching on Sarah Silverman’s use of racial stereotypes brings into account a new form of comedy coming from many white comedians- “enlightened racism.” Many of the stereotypes and images portrayed by Silverman, especially during her time on the Conan O Brien show in 2001, would be seen as racist without the connotation of why Silverman is using employing this style of humor. This notion of attacking racism through blatantly racist remarks is in turn a symptom of the common age, where younger generations are seeking to restore race relationships and create a better understanding of the struggles that minorities face in society. The tricky part, however, lies in white comic’s intent of incorporating race. Comedians must know that these issues are very sensitive, and even if they’re trying to portray their joke through a sense of understanding, it may be hard to come across as so. There is also the not-so-new concept of the “minority card”, where minority comedians are given a pass on using racial slurs and stereotypes. This concept is crucial in comedy as it establishes lines, and allows comedians to realize when they can push the boundaries and when certain material is best left to comedians who have personally experienced a struggle as a minority.

The classic counterargument that I’ve heard many a time is best portrayed by Michael Scott in The Office. Michael gets into big trouble for trying to recreate a Chris Rock bit. Michael perfectly represents the innocent white male who doesn’t understand why he can’t say the same thing that someone like Chris would be able to say. While the episode itself is hilarious, the overarching theme that the episode creates helps to show why racial comedy is crucially centered around the race of the comedian. Not only do the jokes come across as authentic, but by playing off stereotypes that minorities face through comedy, they can help us understand through a different lens what it is like to walk in their shoes. While I don’t find Sarah Silverman to be all that entertaining, and think that her use of racial slurs are justified in her overarching argument of using “enlightened racism” for the better good, her presence has helped push this topic into the forefront. My hope for Sarah Silverman is that she can realize that her words, even though they might be coming from a place of informing the greater public, have damaging effect on minorities and could be incorporated in a better prepared manner.

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