Can’t anyone take a joke anymore?

19 Sep

In the wake of newly hired and more recently fired Saturday Night Live comedian Shane Gillis, a lot has been written. In it all, I appreciate Andrew Yang’s statement directly to Gillis:

“I prefer comedy that makes people think and doesn’t take cheap shots. But I’m happy to sit down and talk with you if you’d like.”

I’m not interested in weighing in on whether Gillis should or shouldn’t have been fired. That’s a question for a company or organization to make, based on their values, facing their pressures, fears and aspirations, and discerning how to do what’s right for their employees and the public they serve at the individual and collective levels.

I appreciate that Yang (who, btw, doesn’t think Gillis should have been fired) named the issue with making comments like “Let the fucking chinks live there” and makes a distinction between the action and the person. Let’s stop with the “nice racism, good racism” (McGillis’ words) but not write off the person.

And you know what? Even as I write that, I know it’s hard sometimes. What Yang doesn’t unpack is that there’s a history and a current culture of socially acceptable anti-Asian racism that have helped to spawn and facilitate McGillis’ comments, and the defense of his comments. (Notably, in his own campaign rhetoric, Yang plays with the racist trope of Asians being “the model minority.”) McGillis words are not “just a joke” to me.

And.

I agree with Bryan Stevenson, who wrote in Just Mercy, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

So here I am, quoting someone (Yang) I don’t always agree with, whom I think has some helpful ideas even while I think he says some damaging things in public, about someone (McGillis) whom I don’t think deserves a bigger platform than, say, peers who can be funny without relying on racist stereotypes and sentiments, but whom I also hope has the resilience to learn, grow and become funnier. Not just to people who look and talk like him.

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