Friday, March 20, 2009

laugh awkwardly when white comedians talk honestly about whiteness

[Not-safe-for-work language alert]

In this clip, comedian Louis CK makes some unusual jokes about whiteness. I think they're unusual because they're coming from a white male, and they're all about how relatively great it is to be a white male. His historical bit is messed-up, since whiteness hasn't actually been around nearly as long as he implies it has, but he makes some great points and gets the crowd to laugh.

The laughter seems awkward to me, though. If it is, maybe that's because the crowd isn't used to hearing jokes about whiteness that acknowledge and describe white male privilege.

Do you find the laughter awkward? And do you know of other white comedians who honestly describe and joke about white and/or male privilege? If anyone comes to mind, please let us know in the comments.


  1. Perhaps the laughter was awkward, in the sense that many whites in the audience probably never thought of their whiteness in that respect before. I also construed a certain "when you're right, you're right" vibe from the audience.

    A while back, I actually thought of what time travel would be like for blacks and other people of color. Would I *really* want to travel back to 1940s America? Survey says, "no".

  2. Yes, a "when you're right, you're right" vibe is a great way to put it. I think I heard that too.

    Speaking of time travel for people of color, Octavia Butler wrote a great novel, Kindred, about a black woman who travels back in time. As you and Louis CK imagined, it's not a happy journey.

  3. I don't know. The Laughter didn't seem that awkward to me. I guess I was expecting a couple of uncomfortable chuckles in a sea of silence or something.

    As for the comedian's routine, I must say that it is bold and unique. It’s like Bill Shakespeare said in Mach Ado about Nothing, "Many a truth is told in jest." I can’t see any black guy wanting to travel back to any time between the 1490’s and 1970’s (if we are strictly talking about American or New World history).

    Like you though, I don't believe that white privilege was something that existed since time immemorial (in the grand tableau of history, it’s still a very young and recent phenomena). It is quite likely that things would not be great for a time traveling white guy in the year 2.

  4. Very good clip--both hilariously funny and very deep and true. I'd never seen this comic before. I especially love the time machine bit.

  5. Heh heh. Good insights too, more white comics should say those things!

    As for others, well, there's The Whitest Kids You Know, like "Dear Black People" (also not safe for certain ears):


    That bit of theirs made me laugh, but maybe not about white male privilege.

  6. I have a problem with when he says that white people can travel to any period in the past and it will be great. He seems to forget about the following historical events:

    1) White people were held as slaves by Africans for thousands of years.

    2) Parts of Europe have been under Muslim occupation for many, many years (e.g. Italy, Spain, etc...)

    3) Europe has been under Turkish (Ottoman empire--Muslim Arabs) occupation for a lot of years.

    4) Europe has also been under Mongolian (Asian) occupation as well for a loooooot of years.

    I wonder if he'd be that ecstatic to travel to any of these periods when Europeans were enslaved, raped, murdered, etc... by Africans, Asians and Arabs.

  7. FAIL! Anonymous, your understanding of history is even more messed-up than Louis CK's. Prior to 400 or so years ago, there were no white people. The whole concept of a "white race" is a fiction.

    And btw, if you're going to reply here, use a name, and identify yourself as the person who left a comment under "Anonymous" (despite my written request above the comment box that people not do so.)

  8. Macon, we do not know how people identified themselves in the past; there's nothing to tell us that they did (or did not) refer to themselves as White, Black, etc...

    Anyway, my point was that Europeans were also under foreign (Asian, Arab, African) occupation for hundreds of years, so that comedian is wrong to say that Whites could travel to ANY time period and be sure that they would be treated right.

    History points in the other direction, so I was taking issue with his statement.

    PS: written by anonymous

  9. Actually Ana, we DO have detailed accounts from antiquity that address how people viewed themselves and others in those times. Though the concept of black,white, etc was not lost on those who lived ancient times, people more often than not tend to segregate themselves based on family, clans, tribes, or nations. So there were Spartans, Romans,Macedonians, Francs, Goths, etc but there were no "white people" (in the way that we view the term today).

  10. This reminded me of a skit I saw some time ago on Mad TV. Two couples, one black one white, went to a diner that was set in the 1950's like Johnny Rockets or Medieval Times and the waiter wouldn't serve the black couple because if they were being authentic, black people weren't allowed in the establishment during that time. It was hilarious because the white couple kept saying play along until they asked for a diet coke and when the server stated that diet coke didn't exist yet, they decided that it was time to leave because they couldn't patronize a restaurant that didn't have diet coke but could treat their black "friends" as garbage; very telling.

    It's also like the Will Ferrell special on George Bush when he says "Kanye West said that I hate black people, I don't hate black people--in fact I don't think about them, at all."

  11. If I were to travel back in time, I wouldn't pick the 1700s and up. I would pick a time period that was before the Europeans came to the Americas. Also you have to know what country's time period you would travel from.

  12. Well Mr Norface, hundreds of years ago we also didn't have multiculturalism and people didn't get in touch with each other so much as they have recently. Transportation and communication methods were limited; preventing contact.

    As well, you can't say that race is a European invention. I'm pretty sure that every race had a notion of their skin culture versus others.

    For example. Arabs thought (think) that Africans were (are) inferior, and conquered them (e.g. Egypt, Somalia, etc..).

    As well, the Chinese believe(d) that they were (are) the superior race to everyone else.

    Therefore, race is not an exclusively European invention; only all the attention is on the Europeans.

  13. i think it's important to point out that the comedian is referring to a eurocentric history--he's talking about going anywhere in time, but i think that refers to europe and america in terms of place. it doesn't seem like it occurs to him to travel back in time to some other place...i dunno. maybe that's just me.

  14. Did anyone else pick up on the homophobia in his comments about white people in the future getting "fucked up the ass"? Also, the aforementioned comments by Anonymous/Ana along the lines of "racialized people are racist too" yeah, we get that but this particular comic is commenting on white priviledge...and while all racism needs to be challenged etc. the most historically recent or current forms of racism/discrimination/oppression/ etc. have their roots Europe - here I am referring to things such as slavery, colonialism and imperialism - and that is why Eurocentrism and white privildge are being commented on. Also, this blog is called "Stuff White People Do" and that's why posters are looking at the behaviours of white people!!!!

  15. Thanks for pointing out the homophobia, Elizabeth. That's SO common in entertainment and in mainstream culture in general that it sometimes slides past me, or at least ends up being something that, regrettably, I let slide with comment (as in this instance).

  16. "Did anyone else pick up on the homophobia in his comments about white people in the future getting "fucked up the ass"?"

    Speaking as a straight male who is in no way homophobic, getting fucked in the ass unwillingly is in no way to be misconstrued as a purely homophobic statement. If rape is, at its core, about power (as the modern interpretations want us to believe) then anal rape is quite possibly the epitome of that. The ass was not meant biologically for sex (yeah yeah, i know what you're going to say, don't bother, I know that doesn't mean it's "wrong"). Therefore even voluntary anal sex is painful. Add the use of nonconsentuality and force and you have what is probably the most vivid portrayal of being dominated to a straight male, and maybe even a goodly amount of women as well, straight or otherwise. Ask anyone who works near a prison, anal rape is often more about punishment than sex.

  17. The comedian was wrong about White people never being oppressed. If you count Jews as White, they've had a pretty hard time. Also, the Irish haven't done too well in relation to the British. There was also the conquest of Spain by the Muslims.

    If you're non-White, you could have privilege depending on who you are and what time you're considering. The Persians had an expansive empire. The Arabs, Turkish (Ottoman), Mongolians, Chinese and Indians as well. I think he's overestimating the power imbalance here.

  18. Here's another clip of Louis CK talking about whiteness, amongst other things.

  19. Do Jews consider themselves apart of the white race or a Jewish race?

  20. Jews are a religion, and ethniocultural groups, not a race. I am mixed race and very much Jewish. I am black and Russian/Polish Jewish. I follow the European (Ashkenazi) form of Judaism. There are Jews of every race and nationality.

    Read this:

    FYI, most Jews are very offended when people refer to us as a race. We're a religion with various cultural and racial groups. We aren't a separate race. The last person to support the idea of Jews as a separate race was Adolph Hitler. We know how that turned out.

  21. I didn't think the laughter was awkward. The only other comedian that immediately comes to mind is Rich Vos. I saw him on tv once and he said, "Where are the Jewish people at (he's Jewish)?" And then some people in the balcony cheered and he said, "What kind of business do you own?" If I remember correctly, that got an awkward reception, because while we've all heard comedians say "White people ____" jokes about Jewish people are much more rare.

  22. I wanna second what It's All Just A Ride said. Nonconsensual anal sex isn't fun, regardless of your sexual orientation.

  23. Actually, as a redhead, he may have been regarded as the devil's spawn in certain rural white environments. If I were him in that time machine, I'd stick to cities.

  24. As my husband and I dig through some interesting, somewhat inflammatory (to us), Jewish texts from many centuries ago, we definitely get a sense that whatever they had back then, there was a sense that "black" was bad, "dark" was bad and you didn't want to be considered either of those things..

  25. Since Louis CK has made specifically homophobic jokes before (see episode 6, Heckler/Cop Movie, of his show) it's hard to say that the ass rape joke isn't also part of his homophobia. He could have just said "fucked" rather than "fucked in the ass"... but when he refers to "we", he probably isn't including women. Why does anyone like this guy?


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