I am no great hand at satire. The screenplay I posted this morning was a sort of broad-spectrum attack on a bunch of different pet peeves of mine, but I’m not sure how much of that came across. So I’m writing this guide to explain the joke. If you’d rather not have it ruined for you that way, by all means skip this post.
What was the point?
The main thesis of this piece is as follows: belief that anti-white racism exists, let alone occupies a significant share of our social real estate, requires us to build an alternate universe. This alternative universe is necessarily absurd – a place where black people hold all of the positions of influence and are able to play the “race card” to get what they want out of the poor beleaguered whites who simply wish to co-exist.
The problem with this alternative universe, bizarre and nonsensical though it may be, is that people really do believe it exists, and that they live in it. Liberals and conservatives alike will readily advance the idea that if we simply stop talking about race, we will find ourselves in a meritocratic post-racial utopia where hard work is rewarded and people get what they deserve. Proponents of this view believe that racism is perpetrated only by overt, conscious, self-aware “racists”, and that as long as you are not one of ‘those people’ then you don’t have to scrutinize your own behaviour to see the ways in which you are complicit in systemic racism.
I set this story in such a fictitious alternative universe. Jealous, vindictive, and predatory blacks cheat and otherwise abuse the noble hero who just wants to do the right thing, preying on white guilt and race-baiting to gain an undeserved advantage. Wiser has been subject to this prejudice so long that he has abandoned all hope of seeing justice. Lala, despite her talent, can’t get work because of a racial preference for black musicians. This is the complete inversion of reality that is only possible in an alternative universe, and yet this is precisely what those who raise the battle flag of “reverse racism” believe is happening all the time.
This was definitely the least subtle part of the piece. Macklemore (Mack Elmore) was ripe for skewering based on not only the absurdity of winning Best Rap Grammy over Kendrick Lamar (who shows up in the last scene), but the absurdity of a straight white rapper winning best rap album by singing about how tough it is to be gay. For the record I don’t have anything personal against the guy, but the joke doesn’t work without him.
Tim Wise, or Tim Wiser, is held up for a light basting of ridicule based mostly on his absurd reaction to criticism that transformed him into the very privilege gremlin he claims to work to fight. He gets skewered too.
When I wrote ‘Lala’, I was thinking specifically of Lady Gaga. Many commentators have noted that Lady Gaga’s “distinctive” style is more or less completely stolen from Grace Jones, with a healthy dose of M.I.A. thrown in for good measure. Obviously artists borrow from each other, and you can’t really play any style of modern music without being influenced by one black artist somewhere along the line, but Gaga’s superstardom is, in a major way, grounded in how innovative and distinctive she is… by stealing from WoC artists.
Mammy Jezebel doesn’t really need a lot of translation. The ‘joke’ here is that black women tend to be reduced to caricatures rather than fully-formed three-dimensional people – a trend that persists to this day. Making her a ‘Tyler Perry type’ is an additional thumb in the eye of movies like “Norbit” or “Big Momma’s House” where anti-black misogyny turns the bodies of black women into objects of ridicule.
Lieutenant White and Sergeant Nuzzi (maybe try saying it out loud) are so named because of one of my favourite Charles Dickens devices. The double-meaning should be relatively obvious.
What you might not have noticed is that aside from Mammy Sapphire and Detective Lamar Kendricks (both of whom I had to name or else the joke doesn’t work), none of the black characters have names. I wanted the satirical piece to reflect the complete erasure of black identity that is part and parcel with how skewed a version of reality you’d need to believe in “reverse racism”. Maybe it was effective. Maybe it wasn’t.
- The 19th district is in the wealthiest part of Manhattan.
- Going to Harlem to do “real police work” is a send-up of White Saviour poverty tourism. Harlem is actually a really beautiful area of the city. It is no more “real” than any other part. It is blacker, though.
- Sgt. Nuzzi is “a racist” – an overtly hateful bigot who makes no attempt to hide the scorn he has for his colleagues. Mack doesn’t really challenge him or the things he says.
- No jokes in this one really, just exposition
- Lala’s friends make cartoonishly prejudicial comments. The idea that they hate her “for her skin colour” is a sincere belief of Lala’s, but that’s almost never actually what’s going on in reality.
- Lala not being treated with open arms is “the most awful and tragic thing I’ve ever heard”, according to Mack. That’s a pretty thick privilege bubble.
- The “Young Black Criminal” falsely accuses Elmore of police brutality during the course of a well-conducted arrest. Police brutality is widely underreported and isn’t acted upon when it does happen. In a scene that went unwritten, a lawyer for Mammy files a civil rights complaint and Mack is placed on probation for his supposed “brutality” – a more likely scenario is that the police intimidate witnesses or pledge an “internal investigation” that never amounts to anything.
- The crowd says “wasn’t slavery enough for you”, which is a send-up of the widespread belief that blacks are just bitter about slavery, rather than justifiably upset at and distrustful of a system that continues to devalue their lives and rights.
- The black police officers refuse to help Mack, as Nuzzi suggested.
- The content here is pretty overt. Mammy and her associate are predatory drug-pushers and white slavers, sending innocent young white girls into the waiting jaws of sexually rapacious (probably-) black men. The belief that black men are more predisposed to, and capable of, sexual violence and predation is an old one, and has been used to justify atrocities.
- As an aside, this scene passes the Bechdel test. It’s that easy, people who get paid to write…
- This scene most overtly states the belief that underlies the entire “reverse racism” claim – that black people are able to control and manipulate the economic and political systems for their own gain, at the expense of white people who never did anything wrong. This is the complaint about affirmative action writ large.
- There is an (intentional) irony in the fact that Wiser thought that a black commissioner would be a good thing, but that the black people he promoted were a bridge too far. This is more or less how I have come to understand the beliefs of the “where do we draw the line” people.
- Something subtle that you might have missed is the implication of the line “not a white man on the list”. It doesn’t follow that the commissioner appointed black men; he could have appointed Latinos, Asians, or white women. If the commissioner was dedicated to increasing diversity within the command structure (one that was admittedly racist), that’s pretty much exactly what you would expect to see.
- “White guys at the back of the bus” is a particularly offensive, and yet unbelievably common, utterance.
- Hilariously mild criticism is inflated to the level of “vicious attacks”. We’ve definitely seen that before when members of the majority simply cannot stomach the idea of being criticized at all, let alone by ‘those people’.
- “I’m really on their side…” a common refrain of “allies” who wish not only to co-opt your struggle, but to define what the “real struggle” is on your behalf.
- “Twice as good for half as much” is advice that black parents have been giving their kids for generations.
- Invoking JFK and Abraham Lincoln as civil rights crusaders. An accurate reading of history muddies the water quite a bit, but the punchline I was going for is the fact that both of these men jumped on to an already-active movement started by black people seeking to secure their own liberation, and yet the powerful white men became the faces of that struggle.
- I never really worked out what Mack’s plan was, but it involved blackface and an afro wig, and also I suppose people not immediately noticing a white guy masquerading as black. At any rate, it works in this parallel universe.
- Black commissioner is out, all the white guys get raises, even those who are grossly unqualified for them. This is, incidentally, the same behaviour that Wiser had complained about earlier. But now it’s a good thing. Because alternate universe.
- Rather than being offended by the elevation of an inexperienced junior officer in a clearly race-motivated move, everyone recognizes that Mack “deserves” the raise.
- Mack then whitesplains prejudice to everyone. They are amazed and gratified to receive his great wisdom.
- The only thing holding back any group is insufficient belief in themselves and a poor work ethic.
- Anti-white racism is equivalent to anti-black or anti-Latino racism – after all, people weren’t very nice to Mack when he first started, and that’s pretty much what racism is, right?
- Mack apologizes to Detective Lamar Kendricks for “robbing” him of the promotion he deserves. Kendricks is moved by the heartfelt apology. The possibility of Mack turning down the promotion in favour of someone who had worked hard for it and had believed in himself (exactly Mack’s “advice”) is treated as a joke. This is directly aimed at, and pretty much quotes, what Macklemore actually said to Kendrick Lamar after the Grammys. Of course, he then broadcast it to the world so everyone would know what a great and magnanimous guy he is, somewhat undercutting the sincerity of the comment.
- Lala is in heaven with a chorus of blonde angels, which is a little parting shot at the dovetailing between white supremacy and Christian patriarchy.
Is this piece a criticism/mockery of white people?
I can understand that this piece could be interpreted as a send-up of white people across the board. There are no white characters who behave well, and Whiteness is very much the punchline of the jokes. I don’t believe that this piece indicts white people per se. It is aimed squarely at white privilege, and the way in which many of the assumptions that accompany white privilege are absurd. Mack and Tim and Lala aren’t bad people, insofar as they are not malicious. They are well-meaning but uninformed, and incurious about becoming informed – preferring instead to rely on their own feelings as being broadly representative of reality. But when your own feelings are completely divorced from the perspectives of others, you will always come to self-flattering conclusions about who the real villains of the story are.
This piece is an attack, and a mild one at that, on the edifice of “reverse racism”. It is an absurd belief, and requires us to live in a completely backwards world in order to have any validity whatsoever. It could just as easily, with a few tweaks, be an indictment of male privilege or cis privilege, or really any circumstance where the majority group is actively lobbying to be treated as the victim of “political correctness gone too far”.