Is it just me, or are there a lot of protest rallies these days? Certainly the South has lit up with marches and displays of the Rebel Flag now that the Palmetto State has taken it down from the Statehouse. There seems to always be something going on somewhere and some of them are from groups or people pushing something that others may find offensive.
What to do about it? The one thing you can’t do is let ‘em get to you – the moment you are offended and act out in a way you might not otherwise is the moment they gain power over you. The key is to laugh, to deflate the moment and dissolve the tension in a roaring guffaw.
We have to start with this video of a KKK rally in Columbia, South Carolina. One man who is obviously a Palmetto State native who has seen this before made a point of not acting up to stop them. In fact, he joined the march – with a Sousaphone blasting away for great comic relief. Watch the video for a march that took on a totally different feel the moment he started blaring.
And if they have the right to march, anyone with a Sousaphone does, too!
There are many variations on this, such as a trombone playing “Arkansas Traveler” to great effect. But the point is that funny wins the day and totally takes the edge of intimidation or power off of those making the show.
We’ve talked about this here before – what makes funny and why it works so well. It’s what Larry Wilmore does in his brilliant Nightly Show – takes the incendiary tension of race relations and make it into fodder for gut cutting comedy. This is the only way that we will get past lines of race and belief and whatever divides us as a people. The more we laugh and the less we shout, the more united we will be.
You may say to yourself, “But this is no laughing matter! Don’t you know that (black, trans, immigrant) people are dying!” Yes, that’s true. But let’s go back to the song that toppled the Pinochet regime in Chile. You have to stay upbeat and you have to deliver a hopeful message of the future by being together.
In “Chile, la Alegria ya Viene” there is my favorite stanza, “Get over death, / This is an opportunity to overcome violence / With weapons of peace. / Because I think my country needs dignity, / For a Chile for all, we say no!” With up to 3 people per day disappearing at the hands of death squads, the upbeat nature of the song almost seems disrespectful. But the point was that the nation had to move on to a happier day.
This is what good leadership can do for a movement – keep it focused on the strategy, develop high impact and fun tactics, and write good schtick. It’s not a traditional view of leadership by any stretch, but it’s one that works – and isn’t too different from what Saul Alinsky advised. Keep your people engaged until you win, and there’s no better way to do that than to make it fun.
Yet fighting with funny may still not work for some people. But let’s say you’re a pale male like me with a life full of privilege that is easy to deny. How can you help? How can you be a “race player” and show everyone that not all people like you are jerks? Deflate the situation, of course. Show that you deny your natural role of power and instead are more comfortable in the jester’s role. Why not?
It still might rankle some people to see a hot issue turned into a joke, so you do have to be careful. You don’t want to diminish the struggles of people you want to support so don’t even go close to their world. Stay in your own and laugh about your kind.
For example, how many white people does it take to throw a party? Three. One to read “The Wall Street Journal” out loud and two to dance to it.
This is what I learned in Miami, a place bubbling with racial tension. We were all tense all the time, especially the white people. See, being tense about stuff is what we do, and it’s funny as all Hell. Make a joke about how tense you are and suddenly you’re sharing a laugh with a person you felt you had nothing in common with seconds earlier.
Does laughter cure all? No, but it does put a stop to the KKK rallies and other things that aren’t helping one bit. It’s gets us all over ourselves, which is helpful because it ain’t about us – no matter who we are.
Fight it with funny – for a good and productive time beating oppression. It’s the best weapon against hate there is!