Jan 182014

Often I’ve enjoyed youtube clips that feature people stating things I already believe in a powerful way.

It is rare, however, to see something that actually modifies my perspective, as this video has:

I have long suspected that reverse racism was a dubious concept, but Aamer Rahman brought it home in a way I failed to understand before. Yes, it would be different—very different—to mock the way white people dance, if white people were a historically oppressed ethnic group, whose native home had been decimated by slavery and plunder over the centuries. It would be cruel and highly insensitive. It would, in fact, be an entirely different thing than what it actually is.

So. Rahman’s point is well taken, and it got me thinking about how all humor is contextual. A joke that goes over well at a wedding could be mortifyingly inappropriate at a funeral. Also, who tells a joke, and to whom the joke is told, are critical elements of context. For example, a black comedian poking fun at black culture means something different—and has a completely different emotional impact—than a white comedian attempting the same thing, even if the “material” is identical.

This issue of context extends beyond humor of course. And here is where it is possible that I might have a small disagreement with Mr. Rahman.

In the video above, in a backhanded, satirical way, Rahman demolishes the concept of reverse racism. But I do think reverse racism exists. The reverse racists I’ve known are white. Again, it’s all about context.

In another one of his comedy clips on youtube, Rahman begins by saying, “I have a question for white people in the audience; it’s a general question that’s been on my mind for a while, for white people. Umm . . . what the hell is your problem?” This lands pretty funny coming from a black guy. From a white comedian, of course, it would make no sense.

Similarly, when I’ve seen dramatic movies or documentaries that illuminate racial oppression in America—and then a white friend says to me something like, “What exactly is wrong with us white people?”—it makes absolutely no sense to me at all. A black person could say that and I would understand. But for a white person to say something like this (and maybe it’s just because I lived in Berkeley, CA for decades, but I’ve heard this kind of talk on multiple occasions), it just strikes me as a peculiar expression of pointless self-hatred.

And that is my definition of reverse racism.