Trainwreck star Amy Schumer has been widely criticized this week for what some have dubbed “a blind spot” as it pertains to issues of race. The star of Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer is known for her brash brand of comedy and has earned a lot of attention over the last two years for being outspoken; but a joke about Hispanic men that traded on an ugly stereotype has gotten her in some hot water. Schumer’s “I used to date Hispanic guys, but now I prefer consensual” joke was criticized by The Guardian and by many on social media. Initially, the comedienne responded with defiance to the criticism. Initially, Schumer basically told her critics that they don’t get her humor.
“I ask you to resist the urge to pick me apart. Trust me. I am not racist. I am a devout feminist and lover of all people,” she wrote in a note addressed to her critics. “I am a comic. I am so glad more people are laughing at me and with me all of the sudden. I will joke about things you like and I will joke about things you aren’t comfortable with. And that’s ok. Stick with me and trust I am joking. I go in and out of playing an irreverent idiot. That includes making dumb jokes involving race. I enjoy playing the girl who time to time says the dumbest thing possible and playing with race is a thing we are not supposed to do, which makes it so fun for comics. You can call it a ‘blind spot for racism’ or ‘lazy’ but you are wrong. It is a joke and it is funny. I know that because people laugh at it. Even if you personally did not. I am not going to start joking about safe material. And don’t ask that of me. I love what I do and won’t let anyone take that away. I ask you to resist the urge to pick me apart. Trust me. I am not racist. I am a devout feminist and lover of all people. My fight is for all people to be treated equally. So move on to the next person who is more deserving of your scrutiny and not the girl in your corner. Sincerely Amy (a dirty half Jew)”
Schumer has a movie opening this weekend and her stock is on the rise in Hollywood. So after that first response, she’s apparently decided to be a bit more contrite about her racist jokes. She says the “Hispanic guys” joke was written years ago and she’s evolved and is attempting to be more thoughtful in her comedy. “Once I realized I had more eyes and ears on me and had an influence I stopped telling jokes like that onstage, I am evolving as any artist. I am taking responsibility and I hope I haven’t hurt anyone. And I apologize if I did,” she explained to a fan via Twitter. And she’s said that her act is a part of her satirizing white women. “Definitely more than anyone, it’s white women in their 20s and 30s, just [believing] the universe is thinking about you,” she said during an interview with “CBS This Morning.”
White feminist comediennes apparently don’t have to understand much of anything about racism or race dynamics–just know what it means to be white and feminist and that’s good enough for their base. Schumer is just the latest in a long line of celebrated white feminist comediennes who are heralded for their brazenness and championed by the media, despite the fact that they are almost always tone-deaf or exploitative on matters of race. The standard retort to any criticism against the Schumers and Sarah Silvermans and Chelsea Handlers of the world is that those who are offended don’t “grasp” the irony of the joke–that we’re supposed to be laughing at the ignorance expressed in it. But the problem with that line of thinking is that it refuses to admit that many people who do laugh also don’t grasp the “irony;” they just laugh because they’re racists and think jokes about Hispanic rapists are funny. And we can’ no longer pretend those people aren’t there.
When 21-year old white supremacist Dylann Roof opened fire inside a black church in Charleston, S.C. last month, he told his victims “You rape our women. You’re taking over.” Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump has offered his bigoted view of Hispanic men when he announced his bid for the Oval Office last month. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best,” he said during the speech. “They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they’re telling us what we’re getting.”
Both Roof and Trump represent very real segments of America–they are not on the fringes. So what happens when the people who admire outspoken feminist Amy Schumer hear her echo these very same sentiments in her humor? How can white people who benefit from white privilege claim to be satirizing racism with an approach that trades on racist beliefs? They can’t, really–it’s a disingenuous claim that only appears to be subversive.
The current racial climate in America demands that artists–even comedians–be a lot more mindful of what they say and endorse. While legendary comics like Jerry Seinfeld bemoan the world becoming too “politically correct,” these growing pains are a necessary part of our evolution as a society. Undoubtedly, there were some vaudeville performers who didn’t want to give up doing blackface, but times change and entertainers can and must adjust. Shifting social standards don’t create insurmountable obstacles for comedians, they just create different avenues in which those comics have to work. It’s not impossible to change, Jerry.
Seinfeld himself has come under scrutiny for his own “blind spot” as it pertains to race and comedy. When he was criticized in early 2014 for not including more women and people of color in his web series Comedians Getting Coffee, the sitcom legend became irate at the suggestion that he’s biased towards old white guys. “Oh, this really pisses me off,” Seinfeld said. “People think it’s the census or something, it’s got to represent the actual pie chart of America. Who cares? It’s just funny. Funny is the world that I live in. You’re funny, I’m interested. You’re not funny, I’m not interested. I have no interest in gender or race or anything like that… To me, it’s anti-comedy… PC nonsense.”
The word “political correctness” has become a dirty expletive that privileged or entitled individuals toss around indignantly whenever they are held accountable for troubling behavior. In the case of Seinfeld, his claim that he only cares about whether someone is funny–yet apparently only believes “funny” pertains to white men–is comparable to casual racists who don’t understand how saying “I don’t see color” is part of the problem. You need to see color, you need to understand race; otherwise you won’t understand racism. Not even your own.