The Other Double Standard: On Humor and Racism in Feminism


Like Morril, The Onion’s defenders seem to make zero effort to understand or honestly engage with the criticisms of these jokes. The one exception is Molly Redden, who concedes that The Onion’s joke used Rihanna as an “object” and “passive comedy device.” But even she concludes that it was more “valuable” to make the joke than to “not make [Rihanna] collateral damage.” Good satire “occasionally [does]…disservice to victims.”

The implication: these individual white feminists know what anti-black misogyny looks like better than black women do--even that black women should thank the authors of this piece, almost certainly one or more white dudes, for doing the work of our liberation. This is not so different from white male comedians who think they get to decide what is and isn’t sexist or harmful to survivors.

To build on Molly Knefel’s argument about rape jokes, there’s another dangerous double standard at work here. Black women are expected to rally behind causes when prominent white women lead the charge, but when we raise issues that matter to us, we end up having to divert resources and energy from challenging already considerable erasure, violence, and exploitation to dealing with feminists--supposed allies--telling us we’re doing it wrong and actively undermining our efforts.

What Redden, Wakeman Rosin, Nolan Brown, Redden, and Vanasco suggest is that we prioritize humor as a tool to make a point over the actual people feminism is supposed to most support--girls and women. But in a just feminism, girls and women aren’t fodder for jokes that “serve a higher purpose.” Supporting and centering survivors shouldn’t take a backseat to shaming abusers at whatever costs. In a just feminism, black women wouldn’t have to deal with attacks from feminists whitesplaining how we fail to understand humor on top of challenging racist, misogynist comedy.

T.F. Chalrton is a freelance writer, editor, and founder of Are Women Human?

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