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Op-Ed

Black is white; two is one

November 24, 2021

When, if ever, will today’s news be a suitable subject for humor? Never.

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

As I walked out of my corner liquor store the other day, about to be half a pint of Canadian Club the dumber, I saw a young biracial couple tipping the stroll, hand in hand.

“Hey, you!” I shouted.

They looked back, alarmed, to see me pointing my right index finger at them.

“Quit having so much fun!” I yelled.

They cracked up.

“Racial relations” is a misnomer in U.S. policy today.

It’s like saying “Addition and Subtraction relations.”

The best sentence I’ve ever heard about race relations in the United States came from the great basketball player and decent U.S. Senator Bill Bradley, who said, in 1997: “If you haven’t talked to someone of a different race about race in the last 30 days, you are part of the problem.”

That was 25 years ago, my friends.

I would like to say today: If you are white, and never — not in the past 30 days, but ever in your life — had a conversation about race with someone of a different so-called race, then how in the hell can you believe that you know what you are talking about?

You don’t. You’re the problem.

And quit whining.

I like some race-based jokes, if they’re true and funny. I’m a white Jewish guy and a retired jazz musician, though I ain’t actually Jewish, and I never played jazz that well. Anyway, the only way race jokes can be funny is if they are true and the jokester knows what it’s like on both sides of the problem — and the joke.

This is why most of the best comedians in the United States for two generations have been black. I don’t have to name them, but I will: Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, Dave Chapelle. I’m not dissing Steven Wright or Jerry Seinfeld or the late Mitch Hedberg or any other white comedian by saying this.

It’s because humor is one of the last, best resorts against pain and suffering and injustice.

But there comes a point when humor is inadequate: the Rittenhouse verdict? Innocent — of exactly what?

And the guilty verdict in the Ahmaud Arbery trial — praise God for small favors — when, if ever, will it be OK to make jokes about these dual travesties? Never.

And who, if anyone, would be qualified to make the jokes?

Not me.

Not anyone alive today.

But you know, as well as I do, that sooner rather than later, these gross injustices will come to be alluded to in jokes. Not by me.

Human life has become so cheap.

Throughout my life, my last resort — first resort, usually — has been humor. But it’s so hard for me, as a white man, to find humor — any humor at all — in what’s happening in our country today.

OK, here’s a joke I just made up. Maybe you’ll get it if you know anything about 20th century history: Voting Republican Will Make You Free.

Enter the gates. Watch your head. Better duck down.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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