D.L. Hughley, co-author of How Not To Get Shot: And Other Advice From White People, one of the original Kings of Comedy, is a wildly successful comedian, radio host, actor, and political commentator. In the early 1990s, he was the first host of BET’s Comic View and later went on to produce and star in the sitcom, The Hughleys as well as appear as a television correspondent on the Jay Leno Show, among many other accomplishments.
In today’s scorching social and political climate, when we struggle to openly discuss racism and police brutality, Hughley takes a different approach: satire. Historically, satire has been used to scrutinize societal views. A basic web definition describes satire as “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.” Hughley indeed draws on irony to discuss how largely white audiences explain the topic of police brutality while also offering prescriptions for how People of Color (POC) should carry themselves when encountering police officers while having little to no relevant first-hand experience.
In How Not To Get Shot: And Other Advice From White People, the authors devote entire chapters to some of the following “prescriptions” offered by white people for not getting shot: 1. Comply with police orders; 2.) Don’t Talk Back; 3.) Don’t Match The Description; 4.) How To Do Your Hair; 5.) End White-on-White Crime; 6.) How to Be Nice and Quiet and 7.) How To Not Be A Reverse Racist. (Nevermind, though, that “compliance” does not guarantee protection from police violence, a point Hughley drives home throughout the book). Hughley’s clever use of satire and sardonic wit enables readers to infer the ridiculousness of offering overly-simplistic and misinformed “solutions” to complex problems.
Now, you’ve heard of “mansplaining,” right? See, “mansplaining” describes the phenomenon of men attempting to dominate debates centering around cultural norms and realities that negatively impact the lives of a majority of women but while having no first-hand experience themselves. We can hopefully understand what is inherently flawed in a system in which those who are least impacted attempt to silence those who are most impacted, yes?
And it behooves me now to offer the disclaimer that the act of identifying and validating a societal ill is by no means a condemnation of, in this case, all men. So there. Glad we got that settled.
But by the same token, the term “whitesplaining” –hardly an accusation against all white people (come on, now)–describes the phenomenon of white people attempting to dominate discussions about racial profiling and police violence having had little to no relevant experience in that department. At it’s core, this book pokes fun at whitesplaining, and I happen to think it does a marvelous job. Imagine if I attempted to explain to Deaf individuals how they should conduct themselves in interactions with hearing people? Or if I presumed to know how LGBTQ individuals should carry themselves around their hetero counterparts in order to fend off discrimination? Really, even apolitical examples work to illustrate that it just doesn’t logically hold up that a non-expert would exude any respectable amount of authenticity in matters he or she is not experienced. And, no, oversimplifying these matters as some partisan ploy in identity politics is hardly a legitimate reason to fight against fair representation – that only occurs when we are willing to listen to and validate experiences that are different from our own.
Really, the message is simple: how about, at the very least, we humor our fellow humans enough not to try and shut them up or worse–call them crazy–when they speak up on topics with which we ourselves have little experience? How about we give our fellow humans the benefit of the doubt without gaslighting them, especially when we are dealing with issues reaching critical mass. I don’t know about you, but I want to live in a society that listens to and validates the experiences of its members.
Enter comedy. Only a skilled comedian is able to shine a light on brutal truths about humanity and elicit, of all things, laughter when tears are the more appropriate response. Why? Because a comedian, like a scientist, scrutinizes and magnifies painful truths about society and humanity s/he shares with a wider audience. During that time spent together, the comic and the audience laugh together at what is wrong with the world and for that brief moment in time creates an environment of hope and possibility. Comedians unify audiences through the use of humor and I am astounded at how successfully they can, at their best, create transformative atmospheres and opportunities to facilitate genuine, life-changing understanding. To me, comedy can help break down barriers that prevent us from listening to our fellow human beings with an open mind and, if we’re lucky, having a genuine understanding with one another.
Check out this interview from NPR with D.L. Hughley as he discusses his book!