Monday, June 11, 2007

Satire or Racism-is there a difference?

Over the weekend, I went to see my cousin’s daughter in her first Off Off Broadway play-a satire, mocking Italian-Americans from New York. The play was written and directed by an Italian-American and several of the cast members were Italian-American. Since I am an Italian-American from New York, I suppose they thought I would laugh at jokes--instead I was thinking about the line between satire and racism and when does satire cross the line into racism-if it does.

Do we use satire to hide racism? Is it satire if we pick fun at members of our own racial, ethnic or cultural group and racism if we direct comments and behavior toward another group?

I looked up the definitions of racism and satire and here is what I found--satire is a literally tone used to ridicule or make fun of human vices or weakness. Many definitions state that in order for it to be satire the intent of the ridicule is to correct or change the subject of the satiric attack. Most definitions assert that the satiric attack is ‘witty’ and implicitly constructive.

Racism, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is “a belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race-especially to distinguish superiority or inferiority vis a vis other races.” The Merriam-Webster's Webster's Dictionary adds racism “is a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities. The Macquarie Dictionary adds that races have distinctive characteristics which determine their respective cultures. All of the definitions incorporate the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule or dominate others.

I guess I don’t really see the difference between racism and satire. Satire does seem like a license to promote racism. The fact that satire is supposed to ‘correct’ something seems preposterous and pompous.

No, I didn’t laugh at the jokes mocking Italian-Americans. Maybe they were just not funny. Or maybe, the differences between satire and racism are just too close to call and I would rather err of the side of caution.

Whatever the reason, I would encourage you to look at how you look at satire-and make sure it really isn’t racism.

Cheers, Deb

No comments: