Film / TVRace

black people upset with tina fey got her joke, they just don’t want it at this time

August 22, 2017
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Last week on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update: Summer Edition, Tina Fey made another one of her newsworthy guest appearances. But unlike her famous skewering of Sarah Palin in 2008, this appearance was mired in more controversy than celebration.

Fey returned to comment on the shit-show that was Charlottesville, which, as co-host Colin Jost reminded viewers, was “personal” to her having attended the University of Virginia.

During the segment, Fey made a joke about Thomas Jefferson raping his underage slave Sally Hemings, calling Hemings “that hot light-skinned girl over by the butter churn,” predictably causing outrage among Black viewers.

In Fey’s defense, some have pointed out that comedy is a special brand of social commentary, one that should not be judged by the same standards as, say, news. In comedy, lines between offense and subversion are bound to be blurred, and just because someone encourages you to laugh at something doesn’t necessarily mean they condone it.

But Black people aren’t stupid. We understand what comedy is. Some of us just don’t think making basic jokes about raping slaves is funny.

In fact, we might just think it is terrible excuse for humor, and part of our power as viewers is to push for something better, which is exactly what expressing our disgust is doing.

You see, this wasn’t the first time Fey has crossed this line, and though there might be an excuse for making a side-eye worthy “joke” about race once or twice, Fey’s Weekend Update moment falls in line with a host of other anti-Black tendencies that some of us just aren’t here for. Not only did she make a similar joke about Sally Hemmings being raped in her book Bossypants, anti-Blackness has been the buttress of her comedy time and time again throughout her career.

As Megan Garber points out, it was Tina Fey herself who helped show the world the power of comedy, after researchers found that her impression of Palin had changed the public’s perceptions about the vice-presidential candidate. “It’s just a joke,” argues Garber, “doesn’t account for the Fey Effect: for comedy’s power to shape the way people see the world.”

And, regardless of how funny you think she is, Black people have a right to respond to and critique how Fey’s humor shapes the way the world sees us, especially when the world continues to use these perceptions in such brutally violent ways.