Wednesday, June 23, 2010

tell "you people" jokes

Swpd reader karinova wrote the following comment for an Open Thread post -- I think it should be its own post instead. And so, here we go.

I have a question for the commentariat. Mostly the white portion.

Back in the rush to the aid of crying white instigators of racism thread, a commenter noted that sometimes, when episodes like that occurred and the POC left the group upset, "the reactions [...] were everyone looking at each other, and then somebody would crack a racial joke or roll their eyes and make a rude gesture, and we'd all laugh and go on with our day."

Which reminded me of something I've been ruminating on; maybe you guys can shed some light?

So, there's this joke.

It's not really new, but it seems to be really really popular in the last few years -- specifically, in movies and tv (which is sort of the apex of the pop-culture feedback loop) -- and it's taken on a... different flavor.

The joke goes like this: a WP says something vaguely or overtly racist, or easily interpretable as such. A POC hears, is offended, and objects.

That's it. That's the whole joke.

I don't get it.

But those in the televisual arts can't seem get enough of it lately. I'll call it the You People joke. It shows up in "Tropic Thunder" -- and is so effing popular, you can get it on a t-shirt, which, let's face it, officially = Meme. (I submit that that entire movie is one long You People joke. God, I'm glad I didn't see it in the theatre. I live in an incredibly white town.)

Thing is, the exact same joke showed up in (off the top of my head) "Anger Management." And in "Me Myself & Irene." There are versions of it in the (terrible!) movie "How to Rob a Bank," in "The Hangover," and in an episode of "It's Always Sunny." I could go on.

WTF? Please. Help me out.

I've asked several white people, and no matter how non-threatening I try to be, it's gone... um, poorly. But I honestly want to know: Why is this "joke" funny? I want to hear from (thinking) white people especially. I can climb inside the white mindset very very well, but I can't quite grasp this. I really feel like it's a White Thing. (At any rate, I don't understand.)

Also, while I'm at it: d'y'all think any POC (specifically, BP) would buy that shirt?

Laughing at it as it goes by in the mixed company of a movie theatre (yet again) is one thing; we're trained to go-along-to-get-along. But sporting a shirt like that seems unlikely to me. Although... it's interesting to note that in the movie, that line, "what do you mean, 'you people'?!" is spoken twice -- once by AC (a white character who wears blackface for 90% of the movie) "in character" to another white guy, and then immediately by an offended Lazarus (an actual black guy), to AC.

Which character did you think of when you saw that shirt? Which do you think the buyers of that shirt are thinking of? What would you think if you saw a BP wearing that shirt? Would it be funny? Would you laugh? (Not the same question, btw.)

I'm almost tempted to make (not buy) one, just to, I dunno, culture-jam the meme.


  1. Move the question mark to the end and stick a comma where the question mark is *now* (on the shirt), and you have a shirt with a totally different message. The back could say, in large letters, something like: WHITE PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE, TOO.


    Note: I realized after I typed my response that I may have understood the "joke" backwards, so half of my answer probably doesn't apply. I apparently could use a good thwack with the Blunt Instrument of Pop Culture Knowledge.

    As for why it's funny...y'know, I'm as baffled as you are, but FWIW, I wonder if it has something to do with shutting down the POC so completely? Like, look how trivial your complaint about racism must be if I can blow it off so quickly? I think a lot of WP wish real life were like that, and thus are amused/pleased to see it happen onscreen. Plus, the real-life version of this is usually something like:

    Person A: says a mean thing about[POC, women, immigrants]
    Person B: Hey, that was [racist, sexist, nativist].
    Person A, under zir breath: Liberal assholes.

    Perhaps our minds are supposed to substitute 'assholes' for people, and Swear Words Are Funny? Maybe?

    (Or am I getting the "joke" upside-down? Is it more like:
    A: Ugh! You people are so [negative adjective]
    B: What do you mean, 'you people'?

    In which case it is equally not funny, but I think the "joke" is supposed to be that Person B is objecting to 'you people' instead of to the slur itself.)

    P.S. I love the tag "white humor." I am going to adopt this phrase.

  2. I absolutely love this blog! It's so relevant and gives me a whole new perspective for things that I've experienced and never even considered as racism.

    To address the post at hand - as a WOC, the only reason I could think of to get that shirt (for a POC) is to either culture-jam or as an attempt to be "ironic". That said, I would not (nor do I know anyone that would) buy that shirt.

    Like you, I don't understand why that joke is funny. However, I'm not white.

    I have two friends (one white, one of middle eastern descent [who easily passes as white]) who made me watch Tropic Thunder because was it was supposedly the funniest film ever! So, I watched it (for free) with them.

    I couldn't help but feel like a killjoy because, while I didn't find it particularly offensive, I didn't find it even remotely funny. I wondered why, for all of two minutes, before just filing it into my mental "meh" category. I didn't even think of it in terms of being one big "You People" joke.

    The thing is, with this particular movie, my friends seemed almost offended that I wasn't pissing myself laughing. So what is it about this movie, in particular? Is it because it's the ever-so-funny "you people" joke that (white) people fall all over themselves for?

    Has any other POC had an experience like that?

  3. I think the funny part is the showcasing of an angry black person, along with the white person's fear or an angry black person? And I think part of the humor is supposed to be how funny it is that a powerful/funny/smart white person is afraid of a "lesser" black person even when they're surrounded by other white people?

    I don't know, honestly. I don't find it funny, either, due at least in part that I have had cause to say, "What do you mean, 'you people'?" to white people in real life.

  4. The "you people" joke allows white people to buttress themselves against charges of racism, that POC are just being overly sensitive, looking for a hint of racism in every utterance, etc. WP have to "watch what they say" because there's some mean old POC just waiting to "twist their words" and make it "about race," you know?

    This, of course, is just another way to uphold white supremacy: POC don't have legitimate grievances, and WP can just laugh them off. Notice that it's a white guy wearing the shirt. I bet any white person wearing a shirt like that will tell you that it's OK because he's totally not racist.

  5. I am a black woman and I thought Tropic Thunder was hilarious. (side note: Lazarus was the blackface character and Alpa Chino was the actual black character.) I thought that the "you people" joke was funny because I took it as Lazarus being getting offended because he thought it was what his character was supposed to do and then Alpa Chino calling him on not understanding why black people react that way.

    Out of context, such as on that t shirt, its just stupid. Unfortunately, white people like to take nuanced racial based humor out of context on a regular basis (see: Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle).

  6. I hope we get a lot of WP responses.

    And I hope people are honest about what's funny because I'd like to know.

    There are some movies/shows that fall into this group that I do find funny, and others I'm not amused by at all and for the life of me can't figure out what's so hilar. ::shrug::

  7. I don't think "you people" or "you people" style jokes are funny. To me, they play into a "BP are a monolith, and we totally understand them now thanks to the mainstreaming of what we perceive to be their culture" mindset.

    Example: Chris Rock gets on stage and tells a "Black Moms" joke, parts of the white audience look around to make sure it's ok to laugh, see black audience laughing, whites laugh too, show's over, everyone leaves. Some BP are like, "Chris Rock put on a funny show. So, what do you feel like doing now?" Some WP are like, "What Chris Rock said about Black Moms was so true. Once, I saw this lady at the grocery store..." A lot of WP are taking interactions such as this as a cultural teaching experience, a moment of cultural fact-checking. A BP is standing up there making a joke about his own observations of the world and WP are taking him seriously once he steps off the stage. If they actually REALLY knew any BP, you know, spent time with in a meaningful way, met family, hung out at each other's houses, etc. they would not seek truth in these monolith jokes. They'd know the truth and wouldn't find them so funny.

    One thing I've found as a WP is that WP really LOVE stereotypes. I've posted here about the emails I used to get, or the secret White Societal Head-Nod when POC aren't around. They love to see their expectations met - it makes them feel like they know something about the world. They love to see stereotypes inverted because it's "clever" because to them it's an acknowledgment that the stereotype being inverted was true. It's like knowing POC as a subject (white people as experts anyone?) instead of individuals.

    The shirt, to me, holds hands with my previous paragraphs' subjects. "BP say stuff like this! HAHA Isn't it FUNNY that a white guy is saying it instead?!" *knee slap* Right there is: BP are a monolith and WP looooooove an inverted stereotype.

  8. I've never heard this joke, and I haven't seen any of these movies, and I don't get it either.

    Just from your description alone, the only one that I can feel like a *sorta* understand is the one from Tropic Thunder with the humor being something about the guy in blackface mixing up who he is playing and who he actually is.

    But even that is only funny if you don't think about it very hard, or perhaps more accurately, if you don't think about it at all. When you think about it for more than an instant, you see the Angry Black Person and Reasonable White Person stereotypes being trotted out, as well as the unfortunate notions that (a) objections to racism aren't valid, and (b) only people of the targeted race are offended by racist language/actions.

    The T shirt? I have no idea. But it smells like hipster humor.

  9. I'm a WP, and I don't find the "joke" funny. I agree with what nomadologist says above.

    It's funny to the same people that hate that they have to be "politically correct." They think they live in a post-racial society, so it's okay now to make jokes/comments that are racist, because they're not -really- racist, they're just being funny/ironic. So when a POC gets offended by such an "innocuous" phrase as "you people," they're just being overly sensitive. Cuz, you know, there's no such thing as real racism anymore. Haha! Get it?

    No? Me either.

  10. I didn't want to comentate on "Tropic Thunder," because like "The Dark Knight," it's a film whose politics are so ambiguous that the Internets get dizzy from the arguments swirling around them, but OK. I hate the kind of ironic distancing I described in my previous post--I can wear a shirt that says "What do you mean you people" because I'm totally not racist--but the film added another layer to it, taking it beyond the realm of simple irony. The joke was not that Robert Downey Jr., a WP, was playing a WP playing a POC (I'm the dude playing the dude who's playing another dude), but that Kirk Lazarus was so clueless about it. The Alpa Chino character not only kept Lazarus in line, but kept the audience in line, preventing an interpretation along the lines of "yeah, black people are totally like that!" from being a valid one.

    But it's not just that he was clueless--that suggests that a more sensitive, aware WP could successfully pull off a non-racist blackface. It is a bridge that WP can't cross, and again, it goes back to white supremacy: we want everything, we want our stereotypes confirmed, we want to define everything, including "blackness," whatever that may be. This is evident in the scene in which Lazarus talks about what they are going to eat: "I bet I could collar up some of them greens. Yeah, noodle some crawfish out the paddy, yo." etc. Alpa Chino then points out the stupidity and racism in what he calls Lazarus's "Chicken George shit": "We all talk like this, suh! Yes, suh." Every time Lazarus acts out some stereotypcal notion of "black people," Alpa Chino calls him out. This is problematic in itself in that the one black character exists to keep the white man in blackface in line. But Chino points this out himself when he says, "[this film] had one good part in it for a black man and they gave it to Crocodile Dundee." Of course, Lazarus takes exception to this comment and Chino's subsequent "throw another shrimp on the barbie." Lazarus is hurt by this stereotypical portrayal of Australians, but never turns it on himself and thinks that perhaps his stereotypical portrayal of a black man might be offensive because he thinks he has become a black man.

    He thinks he has become a black man, yet he still retains an identity as a white Australian: how much does that say about white privilege? He can stop being black and start being white again any time he wants.

    I said earlier that the relationship between Lazarus and Chino prevents the audience from leaving the film with the message that white people can do blackface, that it is funny when white people make fun of black people. But that’s exactly how some people have taken it. I’ve heard kids in my class quoting the film, imitating Lazarus’s accent, in effect, doing their own blackface. One sees the same thing in some white fans of Chappelle’s Show: it’s almost as if Dave Chappelle making jokes about black people made it OK for white people to make the same jokes, taking it as almost a confirmation of their racist beliefs. Victoria said it better a few comments up:

    “Some WP are like, "What Chris Rock said about Black Moms was so true. Once, I saw this lady at the grocery store..." A lot of WP are taking interactions such as this as a cultural teaching experience, a moment of cultural fact-checking. A BP is standing up there making a joke about his own observations of the world and WP are taking him seriously once he steps off the stage. If they actually REALLY knew any BP, you know, spent time with in a meaningful way, met family, hung out at each other's houses, etc. they would not seek truth in these monolith jokes. They'd know the truth and wouldn't find them so funny.”

  11. nomadologist and Victoria are spot-on; even jokes which were meant to be taken as cultural critique, irony, or are just plain in-jokes can be inverted by people who Don't Get It.

    I always wonder about Margaret Cho's "Korean mom" impression and why some WP love it so much. I suspect it's because it re-emphasizes their stereotyped perception of FOB Asians. All the while, I was thinking that they were like me and some other Asian-Am folk who were laughing out of familiarity or a sense of fondness.

  12. Ahh, now I understand why my friends sort of get offensive when I say "you people." (even though I myself is black) I have alwaysed used this phrase when there is 3 or more people around. A subsitute for y'all if you will.
    Why when I say this phrase to my white friends, they get more offened? Is it because I, as a person of color isn't supposed to say that to white people?
    Anyways i won't use this phrase ever again. Thanks for giving me some new insight :)

  13. I understood that joke--in the context of the movie--the same way Xay took it--in that when Alpa Chino said "What do YOU mean, YOU PEOPLE?" he was essentially telling him: "You're not actually black, dumbass! You don't get to say stuff like that!"

    But on a t-shirt, it means something different; like you said, it trivializes a valid response to racist comments, in the same way people use the phrase "political correctness" to soften and trivialize what is actually racism.

  14. How odd that I never even noticed that I had noticed this phenomenon. A few years ago whenever I would have an uncomfortable racial run-in with a WP, usually over being ignored or condenscended to by one of the more obvious type racists I would go off on them, but in the most "this is unfortunate because now you're probably going to be fired once I make a few calls" way. And once they were left fuming and rolling their eyes, arms crossed, I'd suck my breath and *sigh* dramatically... "*SIGH* I know... BLACK PEOPLE, right?" And then walk away.

    I've since made it a habit of calling out whoever People the bigot in question actually mean whenever they do this eye-roll oh god not another one of THOSE people.... GAY PEOPLE, UGH! But only to make an obvious point ... I Know whatyou're thinking so I'm just going to say it for you.

    But I didn't notice til you brought it up how often WP say the whole You People thing. Precisely because they are afraid to say who they really mean. Maybe that's part of the joke? Hiding behind the ambiguity of the phrase?

    Still the phrase I've heard out of WP WAY more than "You people" is ...."THOSE people."

    As in "Now that THEY'RE not here we can talk about them behind their backs, and we're not gonna be joking either."

  15. Willow said...
    (Or am I getting the "joke" upside-down? Is it more like:
    A: Ugh! You people are so [negative adjective]
    B: What do you mean, 'you people'?

    I agree, he was objecting to the 'you people' as the pejorative. It can describe a Poc- usually black (but not excluding other Pocs) waiting for the offending person to explain his or herself (and it better be good). Archie Bunker had this habit when confronting people of color- or those of Jewish descent in general.
    A few Quotes:
    “Archie Bunker: How do youse people manage to store things in them tiny bathrooms?
    Lionel Jefferson: Well, we have this little cabinet under the table and we shove our things into it. So, Mr. Bunker, why don't you shove yours.”

    “Archie: Come on, why would youse people want to live in this neighborhood? There ain't a chicken shack or a rib jernt in miles!
    Lionel: No ribs? What is weez gwan do!”

    In that sense I get it and it was very funny to me... A false empathy if you will... the length the actor was willing to go to stay true to his character. For me the humor lay in his distinctly white interpretation of the black experience, so naturally as a man in blackface he took exception. Course then the wit was compounded by a real black man asking him, what do ‘you’ mean (a white man in makeup) you people? Now anyone of the above comments would beg the question, what do you mean...’youse people’?

  16. I haven't seen those other movies, but I remember it from Anger Management. I was fairly young and didn't know the joke. Either way, I didn't laugh. That movie wasn't funny at all.

    But I wanted to comment on the shirt. I don't think the shirt is faux-clever enough to be considered "hipster" (unless a hipster were wearing it ironically; "look at how unclever and grammatically broken my shirt is. This means I am clever.") It seems a little bit more designated for more rural lower- to lower-middle class white people-- the ones with which I grew up.

    In fact, it reminds me of junior high in my very-nearly-all-white hometown (and, to a lesser extent, high school), when it became a really popular joke for white students, when inconvenienced by a figure of authority, say "Is it because I'm black?" which is along very similar lines. It was mostly the (white) boys who were troublemakers who used it, thinking they were cleverly rebuffing teachers. The (white) teachers never called them out on this obvious trivialization of POC, that I can remember. Just for talking in class or whatever else the initial offense was.

    It seems to me like the joke behind both of these is "POC see racism when there isn't any."

  17. as far as tropic thunder goes I think the joke was definitely on white people and it was funny.

    as for the shirt, even though it's a reference to tropic thunder out of context it comes across as a way for white people to kind of make fun of the way POC get pissed off about racist comments.

    It's so vague WP can get away with wearing it and be seen as edgy by their other white friends.

    also, the joke kerinova describes:

    a WP says something vaguely or overtly racist, or easily interpretable as such. A POC hears, is offended, and objects.

    That's it. That's the whole joke."

    it's a pratfall.

    POC anger = a pie in the face of the WP. the fact that the POC was offended is of no consequence in the context of the joke. The WP is the victim.

  18. I'm a WP and while I don't think that it's the most clever of jokes, there are instances where I find this joke funny. I've generally interpreted it as a joke about WP (particularly males) and how they don't understand how their statements could be interpreted by members of less privileged groups who don't have the benefit of generally seeing themselves as the 'default.' I can see how POC would more often find this joke to not be funny (dealing with this kind of instance on a regular basis would take the perceived novelty from it). Also I would think that the fact that there's bound to be a fair number of WP who think that this is a joke about the POC would be pretty frustrating too. So, while I believe there's room for criticism of this joke, I would also argue that, depending on your perspective and sense of humor, it could also be funny.

  19. I immediately liked the shirt, but it didn't occur to me that it was a joke. It would be something I'd wear to be confrontational, because as soon as I read it, I thought of people who have referred to me in that "you people" category (for various things, primarily being not heterosexual). To me, such a shirt would be a challenge - what the hell do you mean [when you say] 'you people'? explain yourself, asshole, go ahead and spell it out for us just what a discriminatory jerk you are.

    But after reading the rest of the post, and realizing it was intended to be a joke rather than something someone in an oppressed group would wear as a way of calling out that particular line of BS, I don't really get it.

    (FWIW, I saw Tropic Thunder. The only part I enjoyed was Tom Cruise doing that dance; I remember being somewhat bored by the rest of it, and that's about all I remember. I saw The Hangover too and I found it funny, but I was so unhappy about the depiction of the Asian dude in the trunk that that overshadowed everything else for me. I haven't seen any of the other movies you mentioned.)

    Now, as for why the joke overall is funny; I don't think it's funny, personally. But I was the commenter you quoted above, and the circumstances for that were when we were a bunch of overtly racist jerks back in high school. Back then, I can tell you that we found it funny because we were a bunch of sociopaths who found it funny to upset people. (And I'm not using the word "sociopath" just to use it; we genuinely lacked in human empathy for the vast majority of people we came into contact with.) We found it funny to mess with people and offend them, and it didn't bother us that there was a real person on the other end who was feeling pain, the same kind of pain that we felt sometimes. We simply didn't care. So for us, if you could offend someone, and then pile more offense on top of it by insulting them further even after they weren't there, that was the height of hilarity. (Yeah, I'm not proud of the person I was back in high school. But I'm not going to be dishonest by pretending I wasn't that person.)

    That being the case, I'm not sure whether that specifically is applicable to the You Person joke as it's being discussed here, because our intent wasn't to protect ourselves by dismissing their complaint, it was to pile on more misery. I'd think that most people that wear that shirt, intending it to be funny, are probably doing the white-solidarity thing of dismissing PoC hurt to reassure themselves that it really doesn't matter and "it's just PoC being oversensitive". With us, we knew it mattered, we just didn't care and enjoyed using it specifically *because* it mattered.

  20. @ M.Gibson and jas0n,

    Thanks, guys. Wow, this tells you exactly how not-funnny the "joke" is--I laugh at almost everything, and I couldn't even figure out which way this was supposed to be a joke.

    @ Alex,

    Media in general is aimed at a white male audience (there are of course "chick flicks" and "Black people movies," but in general). White people, as a rule, do not believe we are racist or clueless about race matters. We also tend to think that our interpretation of the world is (a) valid (b) everyone else's interpretation as well. It's unlikely that it would be a joke *about* WM, but rather that it is one *for* them. In which case, your charitable interpretation is a bit of a stretch.

  21. I think white people see making a racist comment and getting "told" as like stepping on a rake and having the handle swing up and smack you in the face. like it's kind of our fault but mostly it's just an accident that could happen to anyone who isn't paying attention, and the POC is kind of an inanimate object we just happened to "set off"

    this joke sets POC up as an obstacle or a time bomb that WP must successfully navigate or avoid altogether. cause you never know when one could blow up in your face hahaha lookout!(sarcasm)

    I never thought about it before today but it is dehumanizing and it makes light of serious bullshit POC have to put up with all the time, moreover it illustrates that WP are not interested in understanding or hearing what POC have to say we just want to avoid getting yelled at by the angry black person.

  22. jas0nburns said:

    "POC anger = a pie in the face of the WP."

    If it's a POC throwing a pie into the face of a racist WP, I'll laugh. Essentially I think that if the joke is about mocking the offender's ignorance and seeing them get their comeuppance (rather than the reaction of the person being offended, 'oh haha they are oversensitive') then I think that's an acceptable joke and actually funny.

  23. I think jas0nburns is spot on re whites, in that most WP think the point of the "race game" is to avoid ever getting called out by POC, NOT to understand or help improve the problems POC deal with. Obviously, one way to avoid getting called out by POC is to avoid POC entirely, in this way of thinking.

  24. I think jas0nburns has pretty much nailed it... it's supposed to be funny because the plight of a WP being accused of racism is supposed to be more deserving of sympathy than the plight of a POC experiencing racism. The white character is the person and the POC is a prop.

    I feel like usually when I've seen this in sitcoms, if it's not a throwaway joke, it's the catalyst for the white character to spend the rest of the episode trying to "prove" they're not racist and encountering "misunderstandings" where they inadvertantly offend POC... and you're supposed to be on their side as if they're navigating a minefield of mystifying race issues even when the situations that they're supposedly haplessly running into are clearly their own doing.

    An example I can think of is an episode of Extras where the white character Maggie meets a black guy she wants to date, and she's afraid he'll think she's racist and not go out with her... and the mounting evidence against her includes elaborately contrived sitcom things like when she's told she can't eat on the same bus with the "real" actors, and then one of them, a black woman, tries to come on to the extras' bus to eat, and Maggie decides to take a stand about snobbery and is blocking the door and saying something like "you have your own buses and we have ours" when the object of her affections walks by. But it also includes things like thinking all black actors look alike and owning a "golly doll" -- which she goes into a white-guilt spiral over which you're obviously supposed to pity, like "sure she's a ditz but what's a white girl to do in this world where you can't even own an infamously outdated minstrel-show caricature of a black person without having to worry about what it meeeeeans."

    And of course at the end of the episode the guy assures her that he doesn't think she's a racist and what she needs to do is relax about it, despite all the ridiculous self-justifying babbling she's done in his presence by that point. And we've all learned something, except for any of us.

  25. I have never seen the term "you people" as anything humorous. To me it has also been an offensive term, since it assumes that an individual is part of some monolithic entity because of a a physical characteristic (usually race). Every time I hear the words "you people" I cringe and want to protest because of its association with racism (since it is usually followed or proceeded by a racist stereotype or assumption.)

  26. @Xay,
    Thanks for the correction on the characters' names. (I thought I might've mixed that up!)

    I get the basic mechanics of the joke— ie: "Lazarus getting offended because he thought it was what his character was supposed to do"— and I can see how it could be funny to a BP. I remember being amused by the you-people joke in "Anger Management," but I had the distinct impression I wasn't laughing for the same reasons as everyone else. (For one thing, it got a huge laugh. Whereas I like, cracked a smile.) Even in the moment, I was like, "Wait. What are they laughing at?" That happens a lot.

    Somewhat OT: Actually, I'm aware that some part of my brain does an enormous amount of work to get something out of things that I know, even at the time, are not meant for me. If that makes sense. Ex: the deliberately-offensive and nonsensical cartoon "Family Guy" (which is clearly made exclusively for white, male, assholes; I'm none of those things) had a bit where a stereotypical Latina maid says "we need more lemon Pledge." The WM she's talking to: "What? No, we're not responsible for that; you need to bring that from your own home." She replies with a vague, "Noooo..." It kind of seems like she doesn't fully understand him (nor he her, I guess). The miscommunication is part of the joke. It's not funny. But I did find it (bitterly) funny. I saw: he may think she's dumb and exploitable, but she totally groks what he's trying to pull— probably better than he does. Job Creep is a classic in that field, and she's not having it. She's gentle about it, but the fact is, she's not buying that damn Pledge. So. I cracked a bitter you-go-girl/ha-ha-on-him smile— while the rest of the room exploded in unselfconscious guffaws.

    We weren't laughing at the same thing.

    [I hesitate to link to it, but... the clip is here. (Beware.) The maid represents all Latin@ "domestics," and the WM represents all white USian employers thereof. The whole thing "n-nooo..." thing is actually a recurring bit, and it's (sigh) quite popular. Note the number of "Consuela impression" videos. But again, it's a case of what are they laughing at? (Yeah, yeah... I know.)]

  27. @nomadologist, Eva, and others:
    "It seems to me like the joke behind both of these is 'POC see racism when there isn't any.'"
    That's what I get too. Seems like it's a two-fer: it confirms that POC Are Oversensitive, and— now that I think of it, perhaps more importantly?— that Casual Racism Doesn't Exist: "there isn't any."
    There never is, amirite? Judging by tv, likable WP never say/do things that are actually (if subconsciously) racist. It's always made very clear to the audience that the WP in question is absolutely not being racist!!1! Race is only even coming up because *eyeroll* some oversensitive BP has jumped the gun once again, and misinterpreted a totally innocent comment.
    See, it's funny... cuz POC always do that! (Quietly, to themselves: "Phew!")
    The joke is on POC.
    Har. Dee. Har.
    What's extra-disturbing is, it glosses over the fact that there is a reason marginalized people, especially U.S. BP, are sensitive to supposedly-innocent "you peoples," and... it isn't funny.

    Thing is, I doubt any of this is apparent to the WP who laugh at this joke.
    I'm still curious to know what they think they're laughing at!

    And again, I wonder about that shirt. There's... a lot going on there.

    "I couldn't help but feel like a killjoy because, while I didn't find it particularly offensive, I didn't find it even remotely funny. I wondered why, for all of two minutes, before just filing it into my mental "meh" category. [...] The thing is [...] my friends seemed almost offended that I wasn't pissing myself laughing."
    I know, right?! I had exactly the same reaction, except I spent quite a while trying to figure out why I didn't "get" it. I just didn't find the movie all that funny, and I felt like I was/am supposed to— it was so incredibly popular. And not getting it made me feel... excluded. Then I started to wonder, is that the point? [I felt the same way about "The Hangover"— it had its moments, but overall, I feel like I just... didn't get it. To the point where I've been asking dudes what's so funny about it.]

  28. I interpreted the joke in Tropic Thunder as a joke against White people, namely that White people "just don't get it.". Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr in blackface) reacts based on his stereotype of Black people, and Alpa Chino's (Brandon Jackson) response was basically "STFU, dumbass". And to be honest, I thought it was funny.

    I was a lot less comfortable with its use in "Me Myself and Irene" (Jim Carrey's character is paying a Black limo driver (Tony Cox, who is also a little person), and says "Do you people take a check?". Stereotypical outrage then ensues), primarily because I found the movie to be chock full of stereotypes (The Black limo driver makes a reference to his large genitals, thus causing Jim Carrey's newlywed White bride - on their wedding night - to run off with the limo driver instead. She then has children with the limo driver, and leaves them with Jim Carrey, where they talk in overtly exaggerated cliches and stereotypes). The movie's attempts to gloss over the stereotypes by portraying the Black short limo driver as a Mensa member, and having his kids discuss calculus and geometry in "street talk" didn't help. (I haven't seen any of the other movies/TV shows mentioned in the original post).

    However, the joke from Tropic Thunder changes drastically when taken out of context (and stuck on a T-shirt) and used to perpetuate the idea of the "angry Black person". It seems that when people repeat it, they're not just quoting Tropic Thunder, they're using it to validate their internal stereotypes, just like @Victoria's example of White people's reaction to Chris Rock's shows, or @karinova's example of "Consuela" on Family Guy.

    I think the T shirt is particularly bad when the original joke in Tropic Thunder was interpreted the way I viewed it, because it's taking a joke in which a Black person (Brandon Jackson) points out how stupid a White person (Robert Downey Jr) sounds when invoking stereotypes, and instead turns it around to perpetuate that same stereotype. I was reminded of the last paragraph of this comment that @Zara made on this blog back in February: "... white reappropriation of black media -- i.e., my white friends have the unfortunate habit of listening to black comedians and repeating their jokes back to me. ..."

  29. So, I think that the pie-in-face explanation is partly right but not everything I see in "offensive statement, called out, end of joke." I also think that white viewers are ever-so-pleased to hear something truly offensive, that they might at least partially believe (like a stereotype), and not only did they get to hear it, but they get to laugh in solidarity because the writers had the foresight to give the offensive line to a buffoon.

    The fact that the offending character is a buffoon gives us free license to laugh at ANYthing zie says.

    And the writers are pretty much ass-covering by explicitly including a line that challenges the offensive remark. Never mind that no lesson was learned, which yes, is part of the joke, supposedly adding to the buffoonery of the offender and lending sympathy to the out-caller. But that is BS because the audience actually identifies with the buffoon covered in pie.

    I've noticed this joke a lot in the Office (usually used against POC) and Two and a Half Men (usually used against women).

    Finally, when I read the post's title, I had assumed that it was about Stephen Colbert and/or John Stewart. Don't they say "you people" constantly? And I'm often left wondering what IS everybody laughing at?

  30. @ Karen,

    Colbert uses it, but usually in the same over-the-top manner as his "my Black friend Alan" bit. In other words, he's making fun of WP who do it for real and don't realize it's offensive.

    (I do think that, a la class of 13, both of them have used it when talking to the audience, as a y'all substitute. IMHO, everyone could use a little more y'all in their lives).

    @ Olivia,
    >> "And we've all learned something, except for any of us. "

    I love this!

  31. In Tropic Thunder I actually interpreted it as pretty racism-aware and acknowledging. Though maybe I misinterpreted it. But you have a guy in black face, pretending to be black, and an actual black guy in his company. The racism of this guy in black face is really explicit, and the reason its funny is because you're laughing at what an oblivious ass-hat he is. The white guy in black face is the point of ridicule, not the actual black guy's response. At least that's the way I interpreted it.

    But I've also seen the joke in other contexts that are more similar to what I think you're getting at. And yeah, I don't find that funny.

  32. I had the misfortune to come across a page from a vintage 1975 Archie comic today, and it immediately made me think of this post since it actually uses the phrase "you blacks and whites". (It isn't played for laughs, but the page itself is immensely headdesk. And I'll add that these are the only lines the black people get; for the rest of the comic they're just hanging around, smiling and being black.)

    Pursuant to my earlier comment, where I was saying that there probably isn't much relation between my comment as posted in the OP and the whole "you people" joke thing, since the former involved us deliberately being jerks for fun and the latter involved more obliviousness - I'm not so sure I do actually think that, upon more reflection.

    Yes, I still think that wearing the tshirt is a white-solidarity way of reassuring ourselves that PoC are oversensitive and not anyone we have to take seriously, but I think it isn't just obliviousness; there is also an element of deliberate jerkiness. There's no way not to know that such a statement would potentially be offensive; wearing it involves *knowing* that you may upset people, and being fine with that. A shirt doesn't just magically materialize on our back, we have to make a conscious choice to wear it; so yeah, anyone wearing it is going to know it's potentially offensive, and they're choosing to do so anyway. So I do think there's some deliberate assholishness involved.

  33. I (a WP) see that joke as analogous to the personal insult followed by "he/she is standing right behind me isn't he/she?" joke. Both involve the character expressing beliefs he or she would prefer to keep secret from the person or group to which they apply. The humor derives from the the catharsis of sympathetic embarassment; we believe we could easily find ourselves in the same situation. IMO, The tension that leads to this catharsis is caused by the way many WP (I've been guilty of this too) fail to see the inherent contradiction behind thinking that we are not racist while also worrying that if a POC were to observe our unmediated selves, they would think we were racist.

  34. I agree with a lot of you people here. The joke is essentially based on a stereotype of POC as oversensitive and see racism when there isn't any. That stereotype is a comforting fantasy to people who want to be able to act racist without having to worry about being called out for it. It's connected to the way that "politically incorrect" has become the politically correct way to say "racist".

    I do like this variation on that joke though...

    WP: You people are so oversensitive, seeing racism where there is none!
    POC: What do you mean by "you people"?

  35. WP here.

    A lot of the time, it's a fear joke. A lot of WP have really exaggerated fears of saying insensitive things around POC. It ties in with the whole "Being called racist hurts worse than racism!" thing. The fear is that you say the wrong thing, even accidentally, and everyone will decide you're racist and evil and hate you. So it's the basic cringe comedy joke - you watch a sympathetic character have to deal with stuff you're afraid of. It's confusing, because it operates on the inaccurate assumptions that POC have immense power due to their race, accusations of racism are going to lead to everyone collectively lining up against you and no one trying to defend you, and that if you're found to be doing something racist, your life is forever ruined.

    Some of the time, it's the basic "Ha, ha, it's so ridiculous that they're bothered about that!" thing, with the underlying "Those people see racism in everything!" message. This version always has the POC coming to an unreasonable conclusion. The fear version - sometimes the POC is unreasonable and overreacting, and sometimes the WP is innocent, but in a situation where any reasonable person who didn't know the whole story would misinterpret things (and once the WP stops flailing around in panic and starts offering a coherent explanation, it's all okay).

  36. @DovS: I agree with a lot of you people here.


  37. @ako:

    That's what I get from the joke too! It's kind of like the "Jealous Girlfriend" skit, where a guy comments on some other woman's sexual appeal and his girlfriend gets mad at him for even noticing. The audience goes "ooooooh!", because they're enjoying him being called out and probably messing up and making it worse (sadistic humor, cringe humor), but at the same time, they're sympathizing with his position.

    Also, to follow on your comment "because it operates on the inaccurate assumptions that POC have immense power due to their race" -- exactly, and I think that's why a lot of WP like to invoke it for ourselves and print it all over TV shirts. It's a twofer joke; on one hand, it's ridiculous because a WP has no business presenting themselves as a repressed group (haha, see, it's ironic! that makes it funny!), while at the same time, I feel like that's exactly what they want to do. They wanna be in the Special Crowd and to be able to get mad and make someone cringe and scramble for an apology to them. Because, clearly, that's the only reason a POC would call out racism, right?

    re "Tropic Thunder": the thing that struck me most about this movie wasn't so much Alpa Chino and Lazarus's interactions, as the fact that not one single white person noticed anything wrong with Lazarus's actions. From the news reporters who talked about his "pigmentation surgery" as if the only thing about it was how it reflected his weird devotion to his career, to the director and other "actors" who just seemed to view him as odd and eccentric. Even when Alpa Chino is calling Lazarus out, the others stand around awkwardly in the background. It's not just that they're not willing to put their neck by calling out his racism; I honestly get the impression that every white person in that film was completely oblivious to it.

    I kept thinking "wow, this is a pretty accurate portrayal of exactly how this would be responded to in real life." 'Course, I suspect this was completely accidental on the part of the writers and directors.

  38. Speaking only to the Tropic Thunder reference, the reason that was funny is: The Robert Downey character (a white guy made-up to be a black guy) objected when another white character said the "you people" line and was then called-out on it be a real black guy. So, the the punch-line is the fake black guy was not really black but he stayed in character and acted like he was offended. When the real black guy said "What do YOU mean 'you people?" that point was driven home.


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