The Amy Schumer Controversy: ‘Washington Post’ Op-Ed Leads The Witch-Hunt
“This rhetoric isn’t just ugly. It contributes to a worldview that justifies a broken immigration system, mass incarceration, divestment from inner city communities, that rationalizes inequality and buttresses persistent segregation and violence. Yet nobody wants to take responsibility for spewing rhetoric that breeds the fear that results in soaring gun purchases, that ‘inspires’ monsters like Dylann Roof to craft a manifesto with deadly consequences.” So states a recent Washington Post column written by Stacey Patton and David J. Leonard. Surely, they must be talking about the Council of Conservative Citizens, an organization directly cited by Roof as inspiration for his twisted worldview? Or maybe it’s the recent racist comments by Donald Trump, whose abhorrent proclamations against Mexican immigrants reflect his decision to use the platform of his farcical presidential campaign to tap into a dangerous xenophobic nerve in American politics and culture that fuels white nationalist ideologies and encourages the armed extremists who have taken it upon themselves to secure our border.
The article does bring Trump into the mix, but only to service the authors’ egregious central argument: to conflate the hateful rhetoric of a Republican presidential candidate who, at least ostensibly, is seeking the reins of power to enact a rash of nativist policies with a couple of off-color jokes cherry-picked from the decade-long career of Amy Schumer, a liberal comedian best known for her subversive brand of feminist humor as showcased in her stand up acts and Comedy Central series, Inside Amy Schumer. Schumer has recently come under fire on social media after a Guardian article accused her of having a “shockingly large blind spot around race,” unearthing some of her racially tinged material to make its case. While the jokes aren’t very good and do indulge in racial stereotypes, the Washington Post opinion piece overstates its case to the point of absurdity. This isn’t a case of strange political bedfellows brought together by the irresistible pull of their shared racist beliefs, as the authors would have us believe — this is something The Onion would run if they were trying to satirize the dizzying excesses of political correctness among certain segments of the establishment left.
I agree with the general sentiment expressed in the quote I cited at the beginning of this post — there is a definite connection between overt or covert racism in our public discourse and enduring policies of institutional racism. I also agree that such rhetoric can validate, if not inspire, the ideology of violent racists like Roof — after all, he wrote in his own manifesto that the Trayvon Martin killing helped “awaken” him, and one cannot help but imagine that the savage coverage by right wing media personalities of the Martin case and their decision to constantly empathize with George Zimmerman while demonizing Martin contributed to Roof’s perspective on the matter.
But this Washington Post column reveals itself as an overzealous witchhunt from its opening paragraphs: “Wouldn’t it be funny if Donald Trump and the wildly popular feminist comedian Amy Schumer joined forces and ran on the same presidential ticket in 2016?” Writer’s notes: I don’t understand your sense of humor, how would that be funny? Are you pitching an alternate reality television series here? Maybe a goofy Adult Swim cartoon? “You might not think this duo has much in common, but they certainly share similar views about Mexicans. Whether joking or not, both draw on shared cultural stereotypes and use dehumanizing language that gives life to an ecosystem of racial fear and violence.” Oh, I see, you were actually seriously suggesting that this somehow makes sense in reality. I don’t know, I’ll try to be delicate and diplomatic like they taught me in editorial etiquette class — you just might be reaching a bit here.
Donald Trump has repeatedly stated without equivocation, apology, or retraction that Mexican immigrants are mostly drug dealers and/or rapists who are bringing “tremendous infectious disease” into the country; Amy Schumer once made a joke that she used to date Hispanic men, but now she prefers consensual. It’s not a great joke in my estimation and it is deliberately offensive; I guess if you are completely blind to context, it would be easy to lump these two together and claim that someone like Dylann Roof sat at home taking notes for his manifesto while watching Schumer stand up specials. But there’s something called nuance, a concept that seems to be lost on the writers of this Washington Post column. From Schumer’s social media apology: “I wrote this joke 2 years ago. I used to do a lot of dumb short jokes like this. I played a dumb white girl character on stage. I still do sometimes.” There you have it — by making jokes rooted in racial stereotypes, she was attempting to comment on the implicit racism held by the type of individual she was characterizing on stage. I’m pretty sure it’s a common thing in comedy to assume sometimes ugly personas onstage, and that it’s pretty far removed from the rantings of a man who has a history of injecting racism into our political discourse.
Maybe you find that joke funny, maybe not, and maybe you find it to be effective satire, and maybe you don’t. Divergence on matters of taste and opinion is fine, and it’s fair for one to be offended by any comedian’s material, but I’m not sure what kind of mental gymnastics you’d have to do to opine in one of the nation’s biggest newspapers that, because of a few jokes you didn’t appreciate, Amy Schumer deserves a portion of the blame for perpetuating a culture of hate that leads to the kind of horrific mass murder that occurred in Charleston. All that this accomplishes is to discourage comedians from taking risks with their material for fear that, when some jokes inevitably fall flat, they will take a beating in the court of public opinion and even be accused of complicity in murder by writers at The Washington Post. Beyond that, the reasoning employed by the authors feeds neatly into the stereotype of left-leaning members of the commentariat being fanatical enforcers of political correctness, which in effect trivializes instances when public figures like Donald Trump actually do need to be held to account for their repugnant comments and worldviews.