Racial Jokes Make ‘News’ in America

AFP, Oct. 30, 2008

As Barack Obama closes in on his bid to become the first African-American US president, racial politics have burst into mainstream media with the release this month of two “news” shows anchored by black comedians.

But while some applaud the emergence of minority viewpoints in prime time, others worry that even in jest, the negative stereotypes show just how little has changed when it comes to racism in America.

On the debut of “Chocolate News,” a half-hour sketch show on the Comedy Central cable channel, comedian David Alan Grier wasted no time joking about Obama’s mixed race heritage.

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Grier, 53, came up with the idea for the show more than a year ago, after seeing Jon Stewart, the host of the Daily Show, get an uncomfortable response when he tried to make a joke about Obama.

“David heard that and thought ‘Wait a minute, I am the person who can absolutely make jokes about Barack Obama,’“ said Lauren Corrao, president of programming at Comedy Central.

In contrast to the brash, curseword-laden skits on “Chocolate News,” comedian D.L. Hughley’s weekly show on CNN aims to meld a comedian’s viewpoint with a mainstream news channel.

The first episode of “D.L. Hughley Breaks the News” featured the 45-year-old reviewing popular Hollywood images of black men as president, interviewing white supporters of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, and enticing former White House press secretary Scott McClellan to announce his endorsement of Obama.

But not everyone was a fan.

A writer on the blog blackpoliticalthought.com called it “an offensive show that perpetuates the negative stereotypes that have dogged blacks in this country for too long.”

The blogger criticized Hughley’s comments that an Obama health care plan would provide “grills,” or metal teeth caps for all, and the appearance of a guest dressed as a pimp who said “politicians are pimps and the electorate are their ho’s (whores).”

A CNN spokeswoman referred AFP to a statement that said: “This is a comedy show and there is no expectation that people will agree with D.L. all the time.”

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While the emergence of racial comedy on mainstream news is uncharted territory, controversial jokes about race and prejudice have long been fodder for comedians including the late Richard Pryor, Paul Mooney, Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock.

Comedians can use humor to raise discussions rarely heard elsewhere in society, according to Gary Weaver, a professor of cross-cultural studies at American University.

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