Illustration by John Krause
When I started doing comedy on the Southside of Chicago in 2008, there existed a belief from my comedian friends on the
Northside White side of town that "Black audiences don’t like gay people." I have never subscribed to this theory. First off, every Black crowd thinks they're the Apollo. Second, Black audiences, by and large, just didn't want to come to a comedy show to hear about OTHER peoples struggle.
"Don't expect us to feel sorry for anybody with all the sh*t we got going on. Be funny!" – Black crowds
I don't want to go through a list of problems Black people face in America, but its a lot. Facebook has had an option to change your profile picture to support every victim except those of police brutality. So, when we go to a comedy show, the hope is to for that one night, to laugh at and fight back at whatever had us beat down for the previous six days.
Black comedy is an attack sport.
Early on, when I would do the open mic at Jokes and Notes (Lil Rel, Deon Cole, Vanessa Fraction) , I would hit my punchlines with a little more aggression. I pointed the finger at "whitey" a little straighter, I was pissed at my ex-girlfriend a little harder, and I wanted to kill the disrespectful teenagers I taught a little more violently-ler. I didn't understand WHY the crowds responded to the angry jokes so much more than a joke I had about Coldplay, but I was trying to get booked. Maybe it was the two drink minimum, or maybe they just wanted the guy with the microphone to speak to the reason they even came to get a laugh in the first place: revenge.
"Tell us how you, the comedian got over on the thing thats been pissing you off all week. Maybe it will help us deal with what we're going through, or the joke will be so funny that we forget what we were going through." – Black comedy crowds
However, times are changing. Understanding is the new empathy. Michael Che, a comedian who happens to be the first Black Weekend Update anchor on Saturday Night Live tells a great joke about empathizing with the transgender community in his special “Michael Che Matters”
So, with the recent discussion on WHEN/IF a transgender should reveal that they are transgender, there has been a litany of arguments/opinions about how a person should discuss they're personal business. What’s missing from these discussions is the empathy. Its how both sides should enter any discussion about social justice.
A man was reported to have stabbed a woman over 100 times after finding out she was transgender. Comedian "Lil Duval" went on The Breakfast Club and said he would murder a woman who did that to him. whoa.
Let's be clear, a person does not have to reveal anything about their personal history. DOES NOT HAVE TO.
However, I speak for a lot of less than educated brothers who wonder "why wouldn't you want to tell them?"
After talking to my friend Dr. Saida Grundy, a feminist sociologist professor of African-American studies and Spelman College graduate, my eyes were opened a bit. From her work in the arena, she says “most straight men who date trans women, intentionally date trans women. These first interactions aren't at a bar or in the line at CVS. But these people meet online in areas where they are LOOKING for trans women to date. The ‘I didnt know’ crowd is a small number. Yet, the guilt of getting what they were looking for causes transgender people to be a largely overattacked, and underattended to group in society.”
The numbers show that violence against trans people, especially M to F, happens whether they reveal their story or not. Its a hate that equates to how the same politicians who propose the strictest sanctions against homosexuals, are caught tapping the bathroom stalls and not allowed within 50 feet of Game Stops across the country. They hate themselves for what they like. So, to cure themselves, they want to kill the THING that they like. Its a sickness…not the attraction to transgender people, but the internal hate for ones own self.
Black dudes, if every time you were pulled over by the police, you had the option of telling the police you were Black, would you tell them right away, wait until you've had a few words with them, or just continue interacting with them as an upstanding, tax paying, responsible citizen?
That being said, I live under the idea that there are three factors to consider in any situation of conflict or social injustice. 1) How things should be, 2) how I want them to be, and most importantly, 3) how they are. Things SHOULD be civil enough that a man or woman can be openly attracted to whatever they wants, without the dredges of toxic masculinity telling them its wrong. I WANT things to be where noone should feel threatened by a person they are intimate with, whether gay, straight, transgender or professional athlete. But, unfortunately, things ARE NOT quite that way yet. The definition of empathy is putting yourself, or someone close to you in the shoes of the victim. If I had a close friend or relative questioning whether to reveal to a potential new fling, I would tell them to "do it right away, even before they meet this person for a date." Not because they have to, but because I care about that person and people are undeniably crazy. As a comedian, I would say "ask them how they feel about transgender people" …performers call that feeling out your audience. As someone who has been to therapy, I would tell them "ask how they feel about themselves."
"Ni**as fear what they dont understand. Hate what they can't conquer. Guess its just inferior men." – Nas
I talk a lot of shit about injustice in this country. One thing I try to do is be prepared with enough information to back up WHY its an important issue. Calling someone "lazy" because they have questions about the thing you're advocating for just isn't going to cut it anymore. I have no problem telling a racist exactly why they aint shit. It is to educate them. The comment section may not be the best place for it, But in those instant message sidebars, the explanation is where the learning begins. Though it may be tedious to break down to people, or potential trolls, what they can easily google, I feel its a duty to the cause we are fighting for to say privately, what people might not want to ask publicly. We can’t continue to shame ignorance, and expect people to change. These are PEOPLE we're talking about. To paraphrase Che's joke, a lot changes when you add a "why" to something.