How Comics and Comedy are Reflecting Black Lives Matter

By From Advocacy to Activism Archives
Cover image for  article: How Comics and Comedy are Reflecting Black Lives Matter

As we all know, unrest in the Black community has been steadily growing for years now, mainly due to the regularly occurring unjustifiable deaths of people of color during interactions with law enforcement. Specifically, the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, both at the hands of law enforcement in Minneapolis and Louisville respectively, became the catalysts for the recent reinvigoration of the Black Lives Matter movement. The camel's back has officially been broken. Of course, for those privileged enough not to somehow have a horse in this race, it can seem like all of this came out of nowhere. It did not. The people of color who do have platforms from which to speak – the same people we turn to for escapism from the harsh realities of our own lives – have been pretty damn vocal about almost every racism and prejudice-base disuse that's been brought to the forefront of our nation's mind during these tumultuous past few months. Let's take a moment to listen to some of these voices and what they've been saying very plainly this entire time.

"Why do black people always have to get over shit so quickly?" Comedian and SNL writer Michael Che asked this question during a set from one of his Netflix specials.

"Right? Why do we always gotta get over sh*t? Every time we bring some sh*t up. Slavery. 'Oh, that was 400 years ago.' Segregation. 'You guys got Black History Month out of it. C'mon, we gave you February.' Police Shooting. 'That was two weeks [ago]. C'mon! Still? Still?' 9/11. 'Oh, never forget!'" The crowd explodes with laughter at that point, and for good reason, because it's funny as hell. But like any joke, the part that makes it funny is the relatable part -- the real truth of it all – which in this case is that Blacks aren't being heard by the people they explain their plight to. Who are said people? They're the same ones who scream 'All Lives Matter' all the time.

Che reinforces this point as he finishes, "That's why this September I'm getting a t-shirt that says, 'All Buildings Matter,' and I'll see how that works." His point is made, and the crowd goes wild.

James Davis, another comedian, felt he had to explain the Black community's true relationship with rioting. "They like to put this whole rioting narrative on the Black community, like that's our thing. And like rioting is not a Black thing. Resilience is a Black thing. Overcoming the odds is a Black thing. Frying chicken, barbequing, Du-rags – that's black sh*t!" Funny, but a solid point none the less.

He goes on. "Rioting is not Plan A, it's Plan C. Plan A is tellin' America, 'Ay, there's some messed up stuff going on,' and we hope they hear it. Plan B is showing footage of the messed up stuff we had been talking about, and we hope that's digested. But if Plan A don't work, and Plan B don't work… (Groans). We gon' have to burn somethin'." This again echoes the sentiment that Black people are, and have been for a while, very vocal about the atrocities that have been, and are still being, committed against us. Furthermore, it illustrates the unrest, and frustration that's been building for, I don't know, 400 years?

Black people -- and not just Black entertainers, either – have been trying Plan A and Plan B for so long to seemingly no avail. I literally sat in a room and screened Netflix's American Son, a play-turned-film about an interracial couple whose Black son has a negative interaction with law enforcement. In that room were the stars of the film (Kerry Washington & Steven Pascale), the director (Kenny Leon), a bunch of people like me (TV critics and media personalities) and finally, a slew of people representing individual social justice groups and movements, including the mother of Eric Garner, the man killed via chokehold by then-NYPD Cop Daniel Pantaleo.

To sit in that room, having just seen such a powerful piece of art, just to learn that Garner's mother was in the room the whole time really took it to the next level for me. It had to be painful for her to be there, but she was, and her presence alone spoke volumes. This was real. This is real. This is a real mother who lost her real son to the deplorable actions of real people our taxes really pay to protect and serve us. ALL of us. This wasn't just a movie, or some story I saw on the news. It could happen to me. It could happen to my son.

The point is that, like the colloquialism states, "Closed mouths don't get fed," but it seems like Black mouths have been open about these atrocities for decades now (at the very least), and yet when we aren't being ignored, we're being outright dismissed. We aren't being metaphorically fed, and now we're starving. As illustrated here, its very much so being reflected in one of most truthful mediums in existence: Comedy. The irony of how unfunny this all really is isn't lost on me either.

This feeling of unrest, of frustration, of flat out anger at this point, will continue to bubble and boil until we see some significant change. We have to arrest and charge Breonna Taylor's killers. We have to demilitarize the police. We have to identify, attack, and destroy the roots of systemic racism that this country was literally built on. This will not be a comfortable process, but dammit, it's necessary. Before any of that happens, though, people have to start listening.

Photo courtesy of Ainsley Andrade

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