By Candice Justice Harper | March 5, 2021
And just like that, Black History Month 2021 has come to an end. Before taking the time to analyze what you could have done better, let’s take a moment to recognize the work that you put in this year. I know that you’ve got a long list of tasks to tackle, but first, take 30 seconds and write a note either physically, digitally, or mentally acknowledging at least one small win. Planned an event? Write it down. Educated yourself on topics that you have only glazed over before? Write down. Led a discussion group at work? Write it down. Posted about Black History on social media? Write it down. We get more of what we celebrate, and it’s easy to forget just how far we’ve come when things aren’t currently going our way.
Last week I proposed the idea of being open to different approaches to advance race equity at work. With these new approaches, you will have to continue to divorce yourself from the idea that there is a perfect formula to advance the movement. Different eras and industries call for different methods, but the message must always remain the same. Different eras and industries call for different methods, but the message must always remain the same. Click To Tweet
Before we begin, let me ask you something. When was the last time that you had a good laugh? I mean, a laugh so good that your face hurt? A laugh so good that you spit out your water? Whether someone was telling you an embarrassing story, you saw a messy meme on social media, or you were at a comedy show, I bet that you remember feeling good deep down on the inside. I bet that you were anticipating what was going to be said next. I bet that you felt a sense of camaraderie with the people around you. And I bet that you learned something.
Think about that for a moment. Comedy is a very powerful tool. In just a few seconds, one perfectly timed punchline will relieve tension and send any elephant in the room back to its proverbial jungle. When we’re laughing, we aren’t scrutinizing the artist’s agenda in front of us, we’re reacting, and quite viscerally, I might add. If we are skeptical about the content that the artist plans to deliver, we loosen up each time they make us laugh. Now, let’s apply that same frame of thought to your plan to advance race equity at work.Comedy is a very powerful tool. In just a few seconds, one perfectly timed punchline will relieve tension and send any elephant in the room back to its proverbial jungle. Click To Tweet
I can already hear the shade you’re about to throw my way, sis. Hear me out. Our ancestors sacrificed way too much to get us here for me to suggest that we disrespect their legacy by using comedy to coddle racism at your job. This ain’t that, mama. You’re not about to have the ghost of Harriet Tubman comin’ for me! No ma’am.
I want you to think about how useful a tool like comedy can be in educating your audience while also making them laugh. Take this video about Reverse Racism by comedian Aamer Rahman for instance. Not only does his joke make the crowd laugh, but it also helps the audience to understand just how hard it would be for people of color to be “reverse racist” by using information that we have been trying to force-feed to our colleagues for YEARS to get his point across. Conversely, Pew Research Center’s study reveals that people who watch comedy-driven news shows like The Daily Show or The Colbert Report retained more information than those who received their information from newspapers or formal news stations like FoxNews, CNN, etc (Henderson, 2015).Pew Research Center's study reveals that people who watch comedy-driven news shows like The Daily Show or The Colbert Report retained more information than those who received their information from newspapers or formal news stations. Click To Tweet
On top of that piece of information, neuroscience research has taught us that humor systematically activates our brain’s dopamine reward system, and cognitive studies show that this dopamine is essential for both goal-oriented motivation and long-term memory (Henderson, 2015). To put it plainly, dopamine is what keeps you going for that oh so exceedingly sinful, brilliantly decadent, saintly soft, extra delicious, sensationally savory, irresistible butter pecan before bed when you know you were supposed to be on a diet, but I digress. It’s time for you to take these jokes seriously. This modality has been yours for the taking this whole time, but you just needed fresh eyes to see it.
So now, you’re probably wondering, “what do I do with all this information? I’m an activist, not a comic.” And to that, I would say, neither am I. But the good news is that you don’t have to be a comic to use this style of activism at work. Just like you’ve been doing already, start your research. Go back to the budget and determine what you can afford and put out feelers. There are probably people in your network that already do this style of work, and you’ve never paid attention to them. Another option you could employ is to reach out to some improv studios and see if they would be willing to do training using a race lens. Award-Winning, all Black Houston, TX Improv group, Can’t Tell Us Nothing often includes social justice themes in their work onstage.
Also, you could always take the middle school TV presentation idea to corporate. Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about. We all had that time in history class where the teacher brought out that old tv set on wheels to shows us some movie about Civil Rights during Black History Month that made us wanna protest coming to school when it was over. Take that same idea and apply it to what you’re doing now. Maybe you could show a comedy special that is funny while still educating the audience on race; Black comics like Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Leslie Jones, Tiffany Haddish, Trevor Noah, and Michael Che’ have brought content surrounding race equity into their work. After you watch it, lead a discussion on it. Pull out the themes that apply to your context and work your magic, boo! You got this! You already know that no one can out-joke us, and when that innate ability is attached to the educational components of this work, your efforts will be unstoppable.
Okay, so maybe I got ahead of myself when I said that your efforts would be unstoppable, but I am confident that the work that comes out of you employing this strategy will positively impact your long-term goals. My only comment of caution is to make sure that whoever you hire to do the work is adequately prepared for the environment you are introducing them to. Comedians are used to winning over hostile crowds, but it’s no doubt that this crowd, in particular, maybe a bit more challenging than what they’re used to.Make sure that whoever you hire to do the work is adequately prepared for the environment you are introducing them to. Comedians are used to winning over hostile crowds, but this one maybe a bit more challenging than what they’re used to. Click To Tweet
I’m excited for you, sis! I can already see the wheels turning and the googles searching. You’re about to have fun with this idea. But before I go, I want to acknowledge and apologize for not showing up this week when I said that I would. I told you to meet me here this past Wednesday, and I was a no-show. I’m sorry. I hope you can forgive me and I want you to know that it will never happen again. Like you, I am a woman of my word, and when I say that I’m going to do something, I do it. With that in mind, plan on hearing from me this coming Wednesday, March 10th, at 9 am. Keep showing up and doing the work. You’re making the ancestors proud. See you next week for strategy #2.
Peace, grace, & power,
Henderson, Sarah. “Laughter and Learning: Humor Boosts Retention.” Edutopia, George Lucas
Educational Foundation, 31 Mar. 2015, https://www.edutopia.org/blog/laughter-learning-humor-boosts-retention-sarah-henderson