Laughing at White Privilege and White Guilt

Louis C.K.

Here’s a fun one.

First, instructions from The Last Psychiatrist:

If you haven’t heard this before, pay close attention to your reaction to this clip; and then pay even closer attention to how it does/does not change at 1:30. Also think about how this would all be different if you were surrounded by whatever race you’re not.

Second, please share your reaction(s) below in the comments. You may want to do so before reading my comments or even the comments on The Last Psychiatrist blog.

Third, watch the short video clip :

In China? No YouTube? Here it is on China’s Youku, just skip directly to 26:45 (and see if your reaction changes at 28:15):

My reaction:

I LoL’ed, and I continued laughing past 1:30. I don’t think I’d stop laughing if I were surrounded by people of a different race. In fact, it’s hard for me to understand other people not laughing, but that’s probably because I recklessly assume that others know and think the same as I do which, obviously, is often not the case.

One person on The Last Psychiatrist commented:

Only an American could have written this bit, and only an American audience would think it is funny or poignant.

Asian girl holding sign that reads: "Asians Against White Supremacy".

Hah, that's cute.

…which is interesting as well. Are these Louis CK jokes about white privilege and white guilt something only those who have lived in the context of American society can understand and appreciate? This wouldn’t be the first time people have suggested that Americans hold a special emphasis on race-relations relative to other people in the world, sometimes as a by-product of the United States’ history or a strange sort of political correctness.

I’ll be blunt and trust everyone to know the limitations of my following comments:

Race, along with ethnocentrism and nationalism, plays an unfortunately large role in the divide between many Asians (such as the Chinese) and Westerners (usually referring to Euro-American Caucasians).  White people begrudgingly fear Asians and Asian people begrudgingly envy Whites1. Asians know they live in a world dominated economically, politically, and culturally by White society and have ever since the Industrial Revolution. Whites, for their part, have cause to worry about Asians threatening their position on the ladder of life. Nowadays, it’s the Chinese — all 1.3 billion of the little, yellow-skinned, slant-eyed, job-stealin’, toothpaste-poisonin’, intellectual property disrespectin’, brainwashed, tiny-dicked, commie bastards — but not too long ago, it was the Japanese.

It isn’t hard to understand the simultaneous envy and resentment — conscious or subconscious — non-Whites feel towards Whites, nor should it hard to understand the insensitivity and entitlement Whites take for granted over non-Whites.

Or is it?

Louis CK’s jokes hinge on how self-aware and self-conscious we are of our own race and how it affects ourselves and others. For example, if we’re White, whether we consider it “privilege” or “guilt” may depend heavily on just how angry we are about other people noticing. Being able to laugh at these jokes, continue laughing when it suggests some eventual karmic punishment, and still laugh regardless of what race we are and are surrounded with requires a certain measure of humility and security in ourselves…and what we had no control over.

In fact, the jokes don’t even have to be about race, but only about states of widely known or suspected inequality. Replace White people and non-White people with men and women, or Han Chinese and Uighurs, and the jokes still work…but only if we’ve already accepted our role in it, and that however unfair it is, we must live with it anyway.

So then, I guess, it’s really about how we live with it.


  1. Yeah, I said it! — Chris Rock []


51 Comments

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  1. William

    “Louis CK’s jokes hinge on how self-aware and self-conscious we are of our own race and how it affects ourselves and others. ”

    I’d tend to disagree. I think the joke hinges more on how white people rarely reflect on white privilege, and by bring it up explicitly, in an over-the-top sort of way, he’s making white people aware of something they probably already know, but haven’t really spent much time reflecting on.

    But, of course, I may be wrong…

    Interesting post though…

  2. S

    hmmm…My first reaction was that it was funny. But I can see people in India getting confused by his comments. They might say – What does it mean that he would always have a great time to go to in the past? Has he conveniently forgotten how “poor and barbaric” his ancestors were compared to Asians? Do white people really think that they were flourishing before the industrial revolution?

    • Yeah, strictly speaking, some parts of Louis CK’s joke here arent historically accurate but the gist shouldn’t be lost on anyone.

      For a lot of white people, their historical perspective works like this: On one level, you have general ignorance of what the world was like “back then”. Above that, you have some knowledge of what Western white civilization and was like (Greeks, Romans, Middle Ages, Renaissance, Enlightenment, Exploration and Colonization, Industrial Revolution, Imperialism, Pax Americana, etc. etc.) but unfortunately relatively little knowledge of the corresponding Asian civilizations and cultures for each time period. More well-learned types, like many of the commenters here, might approach literacy in both but this group is definitely a minority in the general population.

      Knowledge is one thing, but subjectivity is another. Another confounding factor is that historical superiority can be artificially framed. There have certainly been great empires and civilizations both East and West, but determining superiority rests on actual clashes and the victor of those clashes, whether militarily or culturally. Our current world order is largely premised upon the the era of colonization and then imperialism where “the West” (the white Euro-Americans) did, in fact, “win”. The world has largely been made in their image ever since and remains to this day. Today’s reality can thus be invoked as validation of historical superiority, and many people do this.

      We can hear echoes of this sentiment each time a white Euro-American trots out his bemusement with China’s nut-clutching claim of 5000 years of history, right? “Yeah, maybe you were great once but look at you guys now. So much for that, eh?”

      Like I said in the post, it shouldn’t be hard to understand both sides in these racial dynamics.

      • William

        Interesting points. As an American, I think your right that the average educated American generally only has a knowledge base about American and Western Civilization. And most history related to other culture only is taught when the US/West contacts a country (ie, the first time we learn about Korea is when the history book comes to the Korean War). This is really a tragedy, but it has a lot to do with the curriculum at most high schools and colleges in the US.

        On the other hand, China has a very similar problem. Chinese students tend to know a lot about China and Chinese history, but very little about other countries. Some educated Chinese do know a bit about Western Civilization, but not too much. I lived in South America for a year, and I’d often try to talk to Chinese people about South American countries, but almost no one cared (mainly because they saw little reason to study and emulate South America, I think). Also, some educated people, especially government official types, seem to be obsessed with 國學, and other patriotic forms of national history. (Of course, there are Chinese people who are very knowledgeable about foreign countries, but in my experience, they tend to be a tiny fraction of the population).

        On the one hand, I think this general ignorance of the other is somewhat specific to the US and China, because both countries are huge geographically, culturally insular, and generally monolingual.

        But, in another sense, I think only a certain percentage of people (regardless of nationality) have an innate curiosity about other cultures (maybe 5-10%). In any society, people tend to focus on the countries that influence them (ie. Americans care about developments in China, Ukrainians follow what is going on in Russia, people in Israel care about developments in Iran…etc). But these cares and concerns are almost always skewed because they tend to focus on threats, and not the societies and cultures themselves.

        I think this has fairly important practical implications. For example, Noble Prize winner Amartya Sen has shown that Indian civilization has tended to have many of the most important things needed for a democracy: widely accepted heterodoxy,social pluralism, a spirit of argument and public discourse, acceptance of opposing views…etc. When looking at the areas in which Indian democracy has done well, some Westerners (or Chinese) may tend to attribute it to “what the Indians learned form the British”, or by viewing the extent to which India has “Westernized”. While British influence is important, it would be a huge mistake to not look at many other social factors. Without doing this, one may be inclined to see democratic success (or failure) simply in terms of the degree of Westernization. This not only reinforces “historical superiority” (as Kai Pan mentioned), but also creates misleading distinctions between “us” and “them”.

        Similarly, I think liberal forces in China could have won the 普世價值之戰 had there been a broader and wider appreciation of world history and liberal history within China, and the anti-liberalism wouldn’t have been able to cloak itself so effectively in nationalism.

        • Hey William, yes, being taught and learning more about what relates more closely to yourself is normal, practical, and par for the course around the world.

          As for general ignorance of the other being limited to the US and China for the reasons you cited, I’m definitely much in agreement.

          Great comment, especially about people’s predisposition to focus (even care) only on what influences or affects them, and usually only in relation to how that influences or affects them rather than those things themselves. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Jay (a different one)

    Being white in China is a mixed-bag at best. Sure, the officials mostly leave you alone, and people are usually more friendly to you than if you were Japanese or African or Indian. But on the flip-side, almost everybody only sees a walking-wallet with a bulls-eye painted on it. Not getting screwed at every turn is hard work and actually being appreciated —let alone befriended— for who you really are is damn-near impossible. And that sucks big time.

  4. F

    I love Louis CK, he’s hilarious all the way through and in that bit too. I’m pretty sure I’d laugh with people from a different race around me. It’s funny.

    I also agree with William that the joke works because it isn’t something we think much about, and it surprises us in some way (as jokes have to) – white people tend to take white privilege for granted. And Louis himself is suggesting we shouldn’t – why is why the joke works perfectly. Of course, we need to be in some way aware of and sensitive to our status too – otherwise we might just not get why the joke is funny in the first place, and definitely not laugh at the karma.

    I remember thinking that it can’t be true that white people going back to any time would find themselves welcomed, or in a good situation, but for the joke I guess we can allow a bit of artistic license.

    Actually on Douban a Chinese girl contacted me about comedy and I recommended her Louis CK (and Bill Hicks of course). I’m not sure if she liked it too much but she said she guessed the audience could only be all white males…. I think that’s more to do with the majority of his jokes about being fat and sexually frustrated though ;)

  5. Jones

    Yeah, there’d be people out there that wouldn’t understand the context, or the Western or American senses of humor. Happens all the time.

    As for the point of this post, I’m not sure I get it. Are we talking about white supremacists? Or white people feeling entitled or guilty? Or is this simply just joking about our race? I mean, I see a comedian joking about being white, and then a picture of an Asian girl holding a sign that says “Asians against White supremacy”. I hope that’s not what this is about. That’d be disappointing.

    • The point of the post is simply to share and then discuss how we reacted as per The Last Psychiatrist’s instructions.

      By self-selection, we’re a different demographic than his usual readership, and it’d be interesting to see how our demographic of “people who kinda sorta follow what’s going on with China” react to the concept of white privilege/white guilt which arguably rears its head in many contentious discussions involving China. As a fellow chinaSMACK commenter, you and I both know that very well.

      The Asian girl with the sign ties into my text, in two ways. One, it relates to where I say Asians envy Whites. Two, it’s some college girl at an American university, which ties into the earlier question about whether or not all this race and racism stuff is something only Americans give so much a damn about.

      But going back to the point, what was your initial reaction? Did it change when Louis CK suggested that whites were eventually going to get it — in the ass! — one day? Would your reaction be different subject to who was around you?

      • Jones

        Oh, I thought it was pretty funny. Sorry, I read this early in the morning before my shift ended. I was tireds. Anyway, I don’t think my reaction would be that much different.

        What exactly does a “guilty”-feeling white person do? I’ve never really felt guilty for being white. Why should I be guilty for something that happened way the hell before I was born, and that I certainly did not participate in or even agree with? Same argument for those that feel victimized by 200+ year old history that has since very much changed.

        • In my opinion, a white person SHOULDN’T feel guilty for simply being white. It wasn’t their choice. As far as we know, there wasn’t a menu of races to choose from before being conceived.

          However, there is a choice about how we live with the race we’re given. We can say other races can make you feel guilty for being white or, more accurately, you can respond to other races by feeling guilty. Or not. Whether you do or don’t given any particular stimulus says a lot about how you think, how you perceive your relationship to others.

          Consider:

          White Guy A walks next to a black guy on the street and feels guilty for being white.

          vs.

          White Guy B walks up to a black guy, engage in a conversation about this or that where unequal treatment or experiences due to race gets brought up and White Guy B feels lucky (or guilty) that he’s white.

          The reaction here says many layers of things. For example, just how preoccupied the white guy is with race. For another, how aware he is of how race affects him and others. Do we say White Guy A is too preoccupied with race? Or do we say White Guy B is not preoccupied enough? What defines appropriate sensitivity?

          It goes on and on, but the point (for me here) is not really about race as it is about how we approach interacting with other people who are different from us, often in ways that they too couldn’t have helped. This isn’t about race, it’s about sensitivity and tact.

          You’re not directly responsible for what happened ages ago, but you’re seen as a beneficiary of it. No one really starts off as a blank slate. We’re all born with some kind of spoon in our mouths. Other (for example) races will, as I said, simultaneously envy and resent you for your’s. You won’t have a choice but to live with it. Whether you feel “guilt” or “privilege” is up to you. Warren Buffet, for example, feels privilege. He knows the circumstances of his birth and life gave him advantages and opportunities that the vast majority of people on this planet could never imagine. How well you’ll get along with those who envy and resent you will depend on how you live with the facts of your existence. Many people will consider a white man’s refusal to acknowledge himself being a beneficiary of the past and denying others their victimhood will be seen as insensitive at best, ignorant at worst. The white man who never interacts outside of fairly homogenous white society won’t be faced with these problems, but that’s not really the demographic this blog interacts with.

          • Jones

            I’d say the guy is too preoccupied with it on both situations. If we’re speaking in terms of living in the US, for example, there’s absolutely no reason for a person to be that “excited” about seeing or being around another race that they have to bring up their race immediately.

            As for approaching people about race…why do it? Why unless it’s absolutely necessary? If I’m out with one of my black friends and I see something about slavery, I don’t feel a sudden urge to retreat to the underside of a rock in shame. Hell, I’m only 3rd or 4th generation American. I don’t hide my head in shame whenever I see Jews just because half of my family boated over here from Germany. I don’t see why anyone else should, either, regardless of the race or nationality.

          • No one is suggesting that white people (or anyone) approach people about race for no reason at all. The idea (as in the second hypothetical situation I gave above) is all about how the white person reacts to situations involving race, both internally and externally. There’s also no suggestion that a white person should crawl under a rock of shame by the mere suggestion that they’ve likely had it better in this world. Rather, again, the idea is to question whether one feels privilege or guilt, or anything at all, and what that might mean.

            Next question: Is it preoccupation or empathy?

            And would people’s answers change if we changed it to Han Chinese Guy and Uighur Guy?

  6. W Strickland

    I grew up in a white neighborhood in Birmingham, Alabama, during the bombings in the 1960’s. I love this comedy and think it is a healing-type of moment for US working-class whites. The people I still know in the American South have a hard time laughing at themselves and accepting change, even if they support the ideals behind the change. The American aspect is probably crucial to understanding the depth of the need for letting go of our hang-ups, given the Civil War and the hatred and self-loathing that still hasn’t loosened its death-grip on the southern psyche. It’s complicated!

  7. .”…and the jokes still work…but only if we’ve already accepted our role in it.”

    We? Accepted? White man’s burden/guilt? Utterly rejected, one and all !

    Personally speaking; No burden, No guilt, No need.

    Seriously, Kai, did one of those nasty caucasians wind you up today? This sounds like a thinly-veiled ‘the chip on my shoulder is my birthright’ thread?

    And someone tell the girl in the pic to get over it, too (unlike LCK, that sign gave me a good laugh, though).

    • Nah, stuart, I just found this entire thought experiment interesting ever since it came through on my feed subscription to The Last Psychiatrist.

      Your reaction to Louis CK and this post isn’t uncommon, and that’s interesting as well. I’m glad you shared.

      • LCK wasn’t ‘unfunny’ – it just didn’t hit the LOL spot.

        Off on a tangent – there are two problems with the sign the girl is holding. One is ‘ASIANS’, the other is ‘WHITE’.

        To be against supremacy is fine, but once you start making sweeping statements about who has been doing what to whom you descend the tricky slope of sweeping accusation and victimhood entitlement. Plus, your argument loses credibility.

        She seems to be saying: “I’m Asian and I’m the victim; you’re white and you did this to me. Now we’re going to punish you big time”.

        She looks in the mood to do it as well.

        • stuart, there is much irony to be mined here.

          • I always try to provide good raw material.

            Are you on a diet of herbal tea by any chance? You seem totally chilled out since that minor altercation at the start of this project.

          • What minor altercation?

            And I only drink the liquefied remains of the finest kittens.

        • Jones

          I just figured “Asians (race) against White (race) supremacy” is a little racist. Especially since I would bet money that she’s in one of those “aZn” groups, the most ethnocentric, jealous, racist, and retarded groups in the US, especially the Vietnamese wing (75% of the [bowel] movement itself). No, wait, I’m sorry. Not Vietnamese. Americans who’s ancestors are Vietnamese, and they wish to somehow act like they grew up there.
          (WARNING: Contains a few graphic images and NSFW content) http://encyclopediadramatica.com/Azn

          • friendo

            If the Vietnamese gangsta wannabes are the most ethnocentric, jealous etc groups what are the Crips, KKK, MS-13?

            You have to realize that the Vietnamese grew up in predominantly black neighborhoods where they are tormented on a daily basis by hordes of blacks. This is systematically ignored and covered up by largely non-“Asian” authorities.

  8. yangrouchuan

    While Asians simmer at the concept of “White privilege” and love to promote “white guilt”, they have created their own “yellow man’s burden” complex in Africa, crowing about how they are Africa’s only friend while referring directly to the Dutch and British East India Companies’ manuals on HR practices in Africa. And then turn around and justify the abuse because “white people did it as part of their development”.

    Asians will lament Whitey’s arrogance and looking down on Asians while also cracking about how the Euro-crackers were living in caves while Asians were launching bamboo satellites and playing video games (using minority slaves).

    We will just ignore Stonehenge and the Italian Ice Man’s acupuncture markings that pre-dated Chinese medicine by 1500 years.

    Non white societies look for the clues that Da Whyte Man used to get ahead, when they miss the intense tribal competition that occurred before and after Rome. The Han held onto and dominated most of mainland E. Asia, Japan was isolated. Rome fell and everyone scrambled for dominance, which even after 1500 years of minor conflicts and two world wars, no one in Europe has come to completely dominate (UK, France and Germany still push and pull).

    That is how chez whitey came to cook up western civ’s dominance. That and you have to tip your hat to the foil hat crowd’s theories on the Illuminati, etc. who allegedly have been keeping the best of every empire since Egypt to bring forth ancient wisdom into modern times.

    Now go make me some ji dan bing my little sleeping dictionaries!

    • Your sequence of events is wrong. Asians (or do you mean China mainly?) are not in Africa BECAUSE white people were. They’re there for the same reasons white people were: access to desired resources. The “you guys did it too” response only comes AFTER white people criticize them for it, as a chafing reaction to perceived hypocrisy. It isn’t as if Asians do something just to spitefully emulate white people.

      Furthermore, the “Yellow Man’s Burden” is pretty arguable. Much of white society genuinely believed they had a spiritual responsibility to civilize the uncivilized non-Whites. We can argue that Imperial Japan advanced and may have genuinely felt a similar sentiment towards its expansion and domination of the rest of Asia, but I don’t get that much of a feeling from the vast majority of Chinese when it comes to why they’re in Africa. In my experience, it has really boringly been about business, about getting something and giving something in return. I don’t hear much rhetoric about Chinese people seeing it as their duty, their “burden” to manage African cultural development.

      Your juxtaposition of fragmentation is also wrong. Just as Europeans clashed amongst themselves with waxing and waning of powers, likewise with the Chinese and Japanese in their times. This is precisely what I was referring to about Westerners knowing something about their own history but less about Eastern history. However, yangrouchuan, I suspect you know plenty of Eastern history, as you’ve let on before, but you’re selectively withholding it here to present a biased argument in rebuttal to the straw Asian man you’re building.

      Your last two paragraphs just lost the plot, but that’s kinda why you’re fun to have around at times. ;)

    • friendo

      http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/demonizing-china-pundits-get-its-role-in-africa-wrong

      See here on why your rant is laughable. The Chinese treat the Africans infinitely better than whites did. They also don’t pretend to be “helping them” like those oh-so-pure Good, Moral, Christian Whites who pat themselves on the back for coming out of their segregated communities every second Sunday to toss some scraps on the floor for some poor black girl to nibble on.

      China says it’s investment and business partnership, and that’s what it is. Their track record as far as supporting dictators and derailing development is much better. Must be humiliating for such an “advanced” society like the Euros, who were spending all their time lifting up cave man stones while the East Asians were wearing silk, drinking tea, developing writing, fermenting drinks, establishing agricultural societies and harvesting salt.

      Asians were launching bamboo satellites and playing video games (using minority slaves).

      Fun fact, slavery in the Han Dynasty covered 0.6-1.2% of the population at its height. The Romans had 15-20 million slaves toiling in latifundia to feed itself, even though it had the richest land of any contemporary empire. They chose slavery over ingenuity, such as China’s moldboard ploughs, seed drills, terracing, erosion control, sophisticated system of granaries/canals, etc.

      60% of these slaves were war criminals (genetic analysis matches invading populations) and 30% were noted as being domestic criminals.

      Italian Ice Man’s acupuncture markings that pre-dated Chinese medicine by 1500 years.

      7 or 9 dots out of 57 doesn’t mean anything. This is just typical “THE ARYANS DID IT!” nonsense- what’s really more telling is the racial elements in the artwork of so-called precursors to Western civilization. After all, we know that Uralic speakers populated Eastern Europe and Northern Scandinavia before outsiders displaced them.

      That is how chez whitey came to cook up western civ’s dominance.

      It’s not an accident. You’re correct on one point, it was the product of roughly 30,000 years of warfare, displacement and genocide (starting with the Basques and Uralics).

  9. gag

    The status of race in the U.S. and how it plays out socially among U.S. residents (citizens plus long-term Mexicans) is a different question than how white and presumably capital-rich foreigners are treated in China. The two “white privileges” or “white guilts” do not map onto each other.

  10. I laughed and became rather unfocused at 1.30 because the joke seemed to have reached its climax – in all of my arrogance I suspected any further improvisation would only put a morgage on the punch line already delivered, so I didn’t really absorb the ass part.
    In a context of social conflicts humor often arises from a conception of superiority- history shows people have always used humor to express their racial bias. As imperialism flourished, western humor was often fuelled by the enjoyment of a supposed inferiority of others. It todays enlightened reality this might still be the case more often than not. Popular humor frequently contains more or less well concealed malice. Therefore it probably takes an acquired taste to fully appreciate american stand-up comedians like Louis CK, Chris Rock or Lewis Black, who are using similar rhetoric devices to address specific cultural phenomena like racism; yet their portrayed self-parody often means to convey the exact opposite of what is actually being suggested.
    I would imagine the concealed meaning that lies beneath this specific rhetoric style of hyperboles and political incorrectness will not be obvious to any random observer.

  11. lilian

    Didn’t lough. It wasn’t very funny
    Not that I thought it offensive in any way, just not particularly well said and a bit obvious, but this is my opinion about most American comedians.

  12. hm

    Video is amusin’…

    What does it mean to be White in America and to be White in Europe? I once heard a “White-American’ claim she didn’t want to be categorized as White because she’s European-American.

    As for the girl with the poster, I sympathize with her. She represents the minority in America who are struggling to get on top but get knocked down by their race. Even if Asians have successfully entered top American schools, even if there are minorities who have made it to the top, even if there is Obama.

    Some places in America may have changed, but other places haven’t. Racism is a big issue in America and nobody should “get over it”, especially if there will always be propaganda out there saying “Chinese commies are gonna come get you!” or “Illegal immigrants are evil because they take our jobs!”.

    And why is it that most schools with a high majority of students that of the minority the ones that are failing?

    • Richard

      Entertaining clip and quite funny.

      I agree with most of the comments, though I would also factor in this inferiority complex that Asian people have in Asia. This in turn could turn to hatred towards white people.

      I say this as I see an inherent love hate relationship with white people in China. Maybe due to the education, or the fast westernization of China, Chinese people follow the trends of westerner and at the same time they feel that they are indeed inferior. Though I don’t think any educated or open minded white people think that Asian people are inferior.

      In regards to Africa: China through out history have a tendency to avoid any conflict at all cost and normally use money and marriage to gain favors (see ancient China). Culturally or for the vast geographical reasons, China never ventured out of Asia to find new lands. Even now in Africa, we do not see any military presence or showing of hard power, but instead China still use soft power and money to gain entry.

      Thus culturally speaking, a nation’s people would develop certain belief of inferiority. This together with propaganda white supremacy lead to certain anger and hatred towards white people.

      • yangrouchuan

        @ Kevin:

        “I quickly tire of and avoid ethnic humor because it often has too much negativity for me to feel justified in spending my time. (And the more awareness one has about ethnic realities, the less funny this jokes often are) ”

        And yet Chris Rock continually does so well. How about Jackie Mason? Carlos Mencia?
        They all use a formula that makes us laugh at ourselves…and the stupid things that we as people, an ethnic or religious group do. What really hits people is that the jokes are funny because they do apply to even a small group of people and at the same time make poignant criticisms about a group’s behavior.

        What is very unfortunate is that only in a few countries can comedians get away with this without being jailed, killed by a mob or face other such punishment. You could say that a society’s ability to withstand and accept that kind of comedy is a testament to its underlying strength and stability.

        No doubt there are some Chinese comedians who could have Chinese audiences holding their stomachs in convulsive laughter about the things that Chinese people do. Comments I’ve heard from Chinese (and other Asians) like “our people are only on time for food” just scratch the surface. I hear there are a few Muslim comedians who have broken that barrier in the ME but do watch their back wherever they go and have to mind “The Man”.

        Unfortunately, many of these societies as a whole are too thin skinned and the governments are too paranoid to allow such comedy.

        • @yangrouchuan

          If your point is that ethnically-charged humor is popular, then I won’t disagree. But I think your point is conflating three things: 1) what *is* a general trend in comedy preference, 2) what *is* my own preference, and 3) what *ought* to be the approach of comedians.

          1 and 2 are observations. 3 is normative, arguing for change in one direction or another.

          I think you and I both have similar views of reality — numbers 1 and 2. That is, ethnic humor is popular, but Kevin generally doesn’t like it. Where we may disagree is 3.

          I would say this on the “ought”: I believe fiercely in free speech and the right to make jokes in the style that Mencia and others do. And as you’ve outlined above, I am thankful that these rights exist. But just because we have a right to do something without sanction doesn’t mean that we *should* do it! By making shallow, easy jokes all of the time, a comedian is not somehow a leader of the human right for free speech. They are, I would argue, taking advantage of that platform to spread a message that is of little help to most — making quick, ungeneralizeable judgments on groups and exploiting it for easy laughs.

          And that brings me to the subject of the popularity. Again, just because something is popular does *not* stand as a testament to its worthiness or righteousness. There are countless examples of popular human behavior that we can agree was neither ideal for society or individuals. Some quick examples of the top of my head: Anti-semitism in Germany and elsewhere, slavery, and most fast food.

          So, the upshot here: I agree with you in that we should protect a comedian’s right to speak freely. But I don’t agree that this self-evidently supports the comedian’s efforts to waste that right on divisive or unthoughtful humor.

          • yangrouchuan

            @ Kevin

            Well known as nanheyangrouchuan, I am trying desperately not to debase the conversation by pointing out your lack of exposure to working class black and latino backgrounds in the US. Chris Rock’s stand ups aren’t just funny, they are blatant criticisms of a large portion of the black community in the US. He’ll make a half joke half criticism by telling Flava Flav, live on TV, the night before the Nov 4 election, “nigga, for once in your life, put on a suit! Put on a suit for Barak Obama!” The audience roars with laughter because his delivery is funny, but his message is dead serious. Same with Mencia and Jeff Foxworthy. Do you know the difference between a redneck and a hick? Soap, water, a razor and spitting into a container. Funny, yes. Sadly, also true.

            And your lack of exposure to advanced comedy also blinds you to the fact that Jackie Mason and Dezie Arnez were engaging in ethnic and religious humor when Mencia and Rock weren’t even glimmers in their parents’ eyes.

            Comedians play a much more important role in society than just humor, the best ones make us laugh at ourselves. A few societies can take it, most others can’t. How about Margaret Cho’s lampooning of immigrant Asians, with her own parents as the subjects?

            What you and I like personally is up to personal taste (with mine being far more refined and intellectually superior).

            As to what comedians “ought” to decide, please don’t descend into panda licking and announce that some cultural committee ought to set agendas. Free market forces work well for the social critic type of comedian, Mencia and Rock aren’t just funny, they are very rich because people want to pay good money to hear them. As is Seinfeld who has no problem poking at Judaism, ala Jackie Mason.

            All have seen the value of making us take a humorous look at ourselves, which improves society.

            In other countries, this type of humor does not play well. Legend has it that the Cultural Revolution started when a Beijing cross talk group took some shots at Mao.

          • yangrouchuan, you’ve make a lot of good, solid points about comedy and its power to affect self-reflection, but I think you’re trying too hard to conflate the insecurities of those in power with the how “thin-skinned” any society “as a whole” may be.

          • yangrouchuan, you know a good deal about me, apparently. I’ll just stick to the issue at hand below; your own personal qualities don’t really interest me.

            I think you may be spinning stereotypical comedy a bit too positively here. While Chris Rock may provide some worthy social commentary, his skits — and Mencia much more so — are filled with hasty generalizations (i.e. stereotypes). And I’m not sure the subject group matters, either. That is, being black does not give you a right to wrongly stereotype other people with black skin. In fact, some might say that a black comedian’s heightened knowledge on the diversity of black people might make them more likely to notice diversity within a subgroup. For comedians, stereotypes are just easier because they, by definition, don’t have to be factually based. Thus my lack of admiration.

            Logically, you continue to love this fallacy: you still implicitly argue that the popularity/fame of comedians is evidence of their profound righteousness or knowledge on reality. No. Popularity equals neither right nor true.

            To expound on this point, you say, “Mencia and Rock aren’t just funny, they are very rich because people want to pay good money to hear them.” How is paying good money to do something evidence of truth?! People pay good money to feed heroine addictions; this isn’t evidence that heroine is a beneficial addiction. People pay good money to eat raw whale; this isn’t evidence that it is good for society or the whales.

            Actually, both of these examples are instructive in another way. Both heroine and expensive whale sashimi are popular among various populations because they are hedonistically pleasurable pursuits for the consumer. Divisive comedy is similarly popular in that way. In the case of some comedians, it allows the audience members to laugh at others because it makes them feel good. This isn’t “good” for us or society; it simply shows an inability to think how those ideas may affect others (i.e. empathy). It’s self-centered.

            And this should not be confused with self-reflective. As you mention, the good comedians make us reflect on ourself — e.g., the subject comedian of this article, Lewis CK. But when Carlos Mencia derides “black people” as a group because “you’ll get on a bus to go to the Million Man March but you won’t get on a bus to get away from Katrina”, how is that useful, true, or funny? Then he moves on to deride the white people who wouldn’t laugh at that joke because black people were around. Well, I can sit here and watch it on my computer and still find the bit so lacking in reality that the juxtaposition isn’t even worth a chuckle.

            And this is the crux here, perhaps. Humor: A juxtaposition of reality. So, by definition, it depends on your view of reality. If you have less information on reality (i.e. ignorance) or are unwilling to see reality from different angles, then your reality will be narrow. It will be easy to place a joke outside of your scope of reality and, thus, easy to make you giggle at something about which you don’t or aren’t willing to fully understand.

            On the point of censorship: I explicitly said the opposite. “I believe fiercely in free speech and the right to make jokes in the style that Mencia and others do.” Conversations don’t work unless you are willing to listen to (or read) the other’s view.

            This particular thread is getting away from the point, though. It’s not about the bad comedy, for me. It’s about the good stuff, like Lewis. As I said originally, it was hilarious for the very fact that it pointed out something that more factually reflects reality.

      • friendo

        I’d say you’re gravely mistaken, Richard. Respectable Chinese people do not have either an inferiority or superiority complex.

        Yes, they can have a love-hate relationship with whites. Chinese people are usually quite kind by default, but this is often strained by the arrogance and ignorance of many white expats, which leads to a constant shift between positive and negative views of whites in China.

        Too much contact with whites, no matter who it is being “contacted” by them, leads to a hate-hate relationship. Arabs used to like whites, now they hate them. Indians used to like whites, now they resent them. Latin Americans, Central Asians, Africans and Polynesian all express their hatred of whites in different ways- farm murders, Kill Haole Day, kidnappings. Really, East and Southeast Asians are the only ones who do not utterly despise white people. But this is changing, as whites continue to take this for granted.

        To be clear, if all you have is media exposure to whites and no in depth personal relations with the average white person, it’s the opposite. People are often dazzled by the photoshopped images of tanned white people who have undergone rhinoplasties.

        If you suffer from media conditioning and occasional experience with the common white, it becomes love-hate. The “love” of whites among some in China is a result of media conditioning and propaganda, the “hate” of some whites is from personal experience and objective reasoning contrasting sharply with Hollywood’s aggressively marketed image of the “perfect white”.

        • friendo

          A thing to note is that one of the reasons why “Asians” hate white people less is because they’re not as jealous of them as some groups (Mid Easterners, Latin Americans, Indians) who sometimes wish they were white. This creates a backlash among those with pride in their nations.

  13. Before I give me reaction, I have to commend you, Kai, for fielding the responses above. You could argue that this is your “responsibility” given the mission and platform to which this blog aspires, but it requires not small measure of time/effort to muster up thoughtful responses to so many disparate opinions. So kudos, props, etc.

    To the issue at hand. What was particularly interesting to me here is the way in which the joke was fashioned. As a general rule, I quickly tire of and avoid ethnic humor because it often has too much negativity for me to feel justified in spending my time. (And the more awareness one has about ethnic realities, the less funny this jokes often are) Moreover, it’s just “easy comedy”, which turns me off of the comedian.

    But despite the unrelenting focus on ethnicity — maybe it’s my sociology background that has indoctrinated my (stupid?) resistance against using the term “race” — in the comedy skit above, it was genuinely funny to me (white, 23, raised in Ohio, living in Taiwan). I am still analyzing this style to figure out why I’m not labeling it “shallow” and putting it out of my mind, like countless other comedy routines.

    Perhaps it’s the focus on self, which, as you mentioned, shows humility more than arrogance or a lack of empathy. Lewis CK, by focusing this joke on his own privilege, he is not tearing down others. (Do I sound like a mushy heart yet?) And by focusing on his own position, his juxtaposition of reality (i.e., humor) is not being produced at the expense of lowering another.

    Indeed, if someone who is watching this is particularly sore about about their own position in the social hierarchy — say, an Asian or black American — then this comedy routine would, more likely than not, *give them a boost* because it would be appealing to their view of reality.

    Perhaps there two groups of people who would be hurt by this clip:

    1) White people who have yet to accept their own privilege. See some comments above for evidence.

    2) White people who don’t have it as well as Lewis implies through his comedy. For example, those people in the once-Eastern bloc who starved and suffered under the Iron Curtain. (Whether or not other white people were oppressing them is less important than the fact that, in the recent past, these were fully “white” — i.e., Europeans — who were in a pretty crappy position despite their relatively privileged physical appearance.) And this just highlights, even more, the social nature of this issue, hence my (unreasonable?) reticence on using “race”.

    But I think that I can agree that most white-skinned people of European decent have had it good. And to point it out only can hurt me if I am in denial I’m not. Therefore, I (and others who analyze their comedy too much) could enjoy the joke fully without too much questioning about how this derided others.

  14. yangrouchuan

    Just to deliver the message of “whiteness” and most importantly, American whiteness, home to the rest of the world, I bring you:

    http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/

  15. lolz

    “White people begrudgingly fear Asians and Asian people begrudgingly envy Whites”

    Hehe this is totally true. In the last few centuries Asians do try pretty darn hard to be like white folks even if they don’t want to admit it.

    • friendo

      The truth is that whites begrudgingly “fear” Asians, but also want their money. Some “Asians” have many reasons to resent or outright hate white people, but it is kept in check by their inherent kindness and cultural upbringing that values cooperation.

      Take, for example, how graciously the Vietnamese and Laotians have suffered white atrocities. Even when whites go to Vietnam and insult the locals they “seem” to tolerate it.

      • Wait, “inherent”? I think you’re going a bit too far here. I really don’t see any significant inherent kindness or cultural upbringing that values cooperation amongst the Chinese or Asians over and above white people.

  16. yangrouchuan

    @ Kai,

    There is logic in fusing general thin skinned mentalities and restrictive governments. Certainly there are plenty of thin skinned individuals that despise Rock, Mencia or even more severe, Dave Chappelle. But many find them funny and poignant. Restrictive governments enhance the sensitivity of the population because no one is used to hearing or seeing that material. Thus, more are offended when someone tells and accurate joke regarding typical behavior of a group of people in that country/culture.

    @ Kevin

    Jackie Mason and Groucho Marx, as well as the Monty Python troupe, have been doing this kind of comedy for a long time. Today’s comedy may involve more dirty language, but the content is just as loaded.

    As Seinfeld and Mason have put it, Jewish comedy often involves poking fun at itself and they say that is why so many famous comedians are Jewish.
    Are you telling us that you’ve never laughed at a WASP joke or humorous stereotype? The two guys who put together “Stuff white people like” are rich and becoming famous. And I would bet every non-white and quite a few white readers of this thread are howling with laughter after reading just a few of the inputs on that site. And they all know white people who act like that or even funnier, non-white people who act like that after hanging around white people.

    It does take a certain level of intellect to appreciate that kind of humor and see past any immediate insults.

    As for your comments about Rock’s and Mencia’s targeting their own and other ethnic groups, both of them have insights into their own ethnic groups that outsiders don’t and that adds to the “inside joke”. If Rock was just being a self-hating racist as you suggest, he wouldn’t be performing in the Apollo again, and again, and again. Mencia would be an outcast in the Latino community. I did grow up around enough black people in my life to know that Rock hits the nail on the head, especially as the black community has divided into the educated and well off who still enjoy R&B and rap and the “keepin’ it reeeeeeel” crowd who used to stand out as representing “black America”. Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle applaud the black nerds, executives, etc while lampoon and lambaste the pouting gangster man-children associated with hip-hop culture. They do it in the same way that Jeff Foxworthy lampoons red neck culture.

    At the same time, only white comedians face a taboo of making any jokes about non-white behavior in the US while non-white comedians have open season.

    So get off of your PC high horse and face reality. Pointed humor at subsets of cultural groups also forces the targets to take a hard and unflattering look at themselves in the mirror, which is good for humanity as a whole. The world doesn’t need poutty gangsters, chollos, village idlers and hicks. They are a drain on all societies.

    Likewise, Margaret Cho lead the way for Asian comedians to poke fun at the groups who spend their days becoming video game experts and racing little neon Hondas and at their immigrant parents with all of their own racist beliefs and inability to assimilate.

    Let me guess, you are trying to paint yourself as a PC “middlenut” to launch from Taiwan into doing business in China via old hands and Taiwanese.

    The Taiwanese already see your game, having a white face representing their company is the only card you’ve got with them. If you follow the path of the old hands I’ll tell you it is a path to personal ruin. Get used to the stool at the “talking bars”.

    • LoL, it amuses me to no end that this “middlenut” term we coined is getting some traction (at least with you). SCORE ONE FOR CHINA/DIVIDE.

    • friendo

      Likewise, Margaret Cho lead the way for Asian comedians to poke fun at the groups who spend their days becoming video game experts and racing little neon Hondas and at their immigrant parents with all of their own racist beliefs and inability to assimilate.

      Koreans don’t represent all people from the continent of “Asia”, just as Ethiopians don’t represent everyone from Africa, Europe and the Middle East combined.

      Even if Koreans are racist, which I haven’t really noticed, “Asians” are still less likely to oppose programs benefiting blacks and Hispanics and the least likely to oppose interracial marriage.

      I’ve gotta say if your deep seated hatred of China and the Chinese people is based off of your perception of West Coast Koreans then I just have to shake my head.

  17. Henry

    I think the level of white privilege white people feel depends on where they are and their socioeconomic situation. 90% of places in the U.S., it’s easier being white. However, I’m half white and half Chinese and since I spend most of my time surrounded by Asians, sometimes I’d rather look Asian instead of white (most Americans think I’m white or latino). Anyway, in the dating game at least, white privilege is very very obvious, as several studies have shown. Also, I think most white people in the world subconsciously treat Asians with less respect, maybe because they think Asians are unassertive.

  18. friendo

    asian isn’t a race. I don’t think the sentiment would be called envy either, do you envy someone who blows up your house?

  19. The debate on this page is extremely American, no other advanced country has quite the same level of hang-ups over race, in every group. This is not to say that other countries don’t have their own equivalently awkward hang ups (such as class in the UK, for example) but this is essentially a debate about America, and meaningless in the context of China, where the general reaction to a skit like Louis CK’s would be confusion, and perhaps anger.

    • FOARP,

      Thanks for commenting. This post isn’t to talk about America (though it does preemptively address whether it is unique American), it’s to consider how white privilege affects much of the divide in discussions about China and the Chinese. Of course, it isn’t limited to China and the Chinese, but it’s an appropriate frame of reference for this blog.

      Indeed, Chinese people might be confused in reaction to Louis CK’s skit (especially if in English!) and there may be anger (depending on the audience’s tolerance for vulgarity) but I’m not sure they’d fail to understand the general idea of white privilege and then the subsequent jokes involving white guilt if the delivery is adapted.

  20. Laowai

    and the 250 million people from former eastern Europe and Russia, for whom capitalist reforms have meant stuttering middle-tier economies with GDP per capita on a par with China, and far weaker economies than Japan, South Korea etc. these people would be which race exactly ?

    not to mention the sense of guilt held by some Japanese when in China, given their history, and the taking for granted and obvious flaunting of priviledge by the wealthy urban Chinese over the poor rural Chinese.

    but of course none of these factors can be explained via the political and cultural parameters of the myopic US mainstream media narrative, so White vs Asian “race” it is…

    in fact this tendency to extrapolate a domestic framing of issues onto a complex and contrary world is itself a kind of ongoing cultural ethnocentrism. the fact that rich nations have the power to set such parameters is indicative of the actual neo-colonial balance of power and influence they hold over other nations. the fact that citizens of rich nations are generally unaware that this process even exists, never mind the workings of it, is an indicator of complacency and how much is taken for granted.