Tag Archives: racial stereotypes

Socially Conscious Comedy Part II: Key and Peele on Being Black in America

Seeing how I love to pretend that binge-watching comedy sketches counts as research, I decided to follow up on last week’s post about Amy Schumer with a post about Key and Peele.

I find a lot of Schumer’s work funny because I can relate to it. It’s not quite the same with Key and Peele, since I am neither black, nor male, nor American.

Although sometimes their characters aren’t male either.

Even though I have little in common with Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, I do find their work hilarious. They do a variety of flawless impressions and have a much wider range than Schumer, who generally sticks to one (albeit very funny) schtick.

Like Schumer, they also take on some very serious social issues in their comedy. Since they are both half-black, Key and Peele often touch on the way racism affects the lives of black or biracial individuals. Below, I’ve included three racial inequalities that Key and Peele do a great job revealing via their sketches.

1) Racial Profiling and Police Violence

As a Canadian, the prevalence of police violence towards black Americans blows my mind.  Don’t get me wrong, Canada certainly has our own problems when it comes to police violence. That said, our more recent incidents of violence are due to taser-overuse, rather than unnecessary use of a firearm. It’s uncomfortable to watch cases of police violence when they are discussed on American news, since the focus tends to be on whether or not the victim of police violence “deserved it.” Black victims, even twelve-year-olds with pellet guns, are framed as threatening, in order to excuse why a cop discharged their firearm.

Key and Peele often subvert this “threatening black man” trope in their sketches. In “Flash Mob” and “White Zombies” Key and Peele play non-threatening black men who are mistaken as dangerous by the white people (or white zombies) around them.

Similarly, “Solution to Racial Profiling” mocks the racial double-standard that fames black youth in hoodies as “thugs” while their white peers are described as “misunderstood”.

One of their more serious sketches, “Negrotown,” addresses police violence directly, by imagining a world where police violence and racial profiling no longer existed.

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Lisa Nakamura Part 2: Navajo Circuits and the “Nimble Fingers” of Asian Women

In my last post, I told you a little bit about Lisa Nakamura, her research, and the talk she gave at my university about Tumblr activism. I also promised to tell you about her second lecture the next time I wrote.

Both of Nakamura’s lectures were about digital media, but unlike her first talk, her second presentation focused on the physical material of digital technology.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, or recently time-travelled to 2015, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to hear that most of your digital hardware came from Asia. You may even be familiar with the way Asian women have been racialized as innately predisposed to factory work because of their “supposed docility, nimble fingers and attention to mind-numbing detail”.

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Click on the image to view the full infographic.

However, you might be surprised to learn that this stereotype has been applied to women of colour ever since the digital revolution. In her paper on “Indigenous Circuits: Navajo Women and the Racialization of Early Electronics Manufacture”  Nakamura examines the way digital factory work is both gendered and racialized. She refers to the work of Karen Hossfeld when she insists that

“…by the eighties in Silicon Valley, electronic assembly had become, not just women’s work but women of color’s work.” (290)

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Michael Patrick King, Definitely Not Being Racist

About two weeks ago I started watching another show, as I am wont to do, mostly because my schoolwork was piling up and I needed a reason not to do it. The show was CBS’s 2 Broke Girls, and after catching up on the first eight episodes I was linked to this article via a review on the A.V. Club’s TV Club.

The article discusses 1/2 of the show’s creative duo Michael Patrick King, who was an executive producer on Sex in the City, and his reasons for disregarding critics who are calling him out on perpetuating racial stereotypes. I’m going to present his quote first, then the alleged racist portrayals.

“I’m not going to change. No, absolutely not.”

“I believe that anybody, when you see them for the first time, you judge them based on the surface.”

First (and foremost) on the docket is Asian-American actor Matthew Moy, who plays Han (Bryce) Lee, the owner of the diner where the two leading ladies work. To be fair to King and CBS, a lot of the racial idiosyncrasies described here in the casting sides were toned down a lot in the actual airing of the show. Yes, Han still speaks terrible English, has a very poor understanding of holidays and anything else American (“And the Very Christmas Thanksgiving”), and makes an obvious reference to William Hung (“And the Rich People Problems), but it’s all in good fun.

The following are two clips. The first from Moy’s appearance on Criminal Minds, and the second of his character on 2 Broke Girls.


Well
, you may be asking, has the show deepened Moy’s character? Maybe all we’re seeing is this surface King was describing. To answer your question, not really. Moy continues to speak hilariously broken English, but has since become more of a nerdy stereotype than anything. His accent has become distracting at best, and continues to baffle me since Koreans are good at English. It’s like Han was raised in a remote village or much further North.

I’m going to list off the other racial stereotypes in a huge list, because going through them one at a time would be exhausting: the in-your-face Puerto Rican (“And Strokes of Goodwill”), the obnoxious Italian women (“And the Pretty Problem), the Mexican men who help with manual labour (“And the Disappearing Bed”),  the wealthy, Middle Eastern women speaking very heavily accented English (“And the Pop-Up Sale”). All of these appear only once, and don’t include principal cast members Oleg, the salacious Russian fry cook, and Earl, the aging African-American hepcat.With the exceptions of Han, Oleg, and Earl, none of these other characters have a chance to redeem themselves, to give you a chance to do anything but “judge them based on the surface.” The three aforementioned characters, however, have been resigned to the sidelines, not really moving forward at all.Michael Patrick King also said in the article that “Anyone who’s ever lived in New York has walked through an enormous melting pot of people. So for me, to do a show where you’re not exploring race would be absurd in Brooklyn, N.Y.” I can agree with the statement, but believe that only half applies to King. This is a man who has “walked through an enormous melting pot of people,” and gleaned what little he could from short glimpses as he passed them by.