Is Joking About Police Brutality Harming the Black Lives Matter Cause or Helping It?
Was it wrong for The Onion to release a fake news piece about police brutality?
Yesterday, the satirical publication The Onion tweeted a link to a piece on police violence titled “911 Operator Informs Black Caller That Death is on the Way.”
The article was written in response to the tragic murder that occurred this past weekend in Texas. 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson was shot and killed in her home after a neighbor asked the police to conduct a welfare check on her.
However, the sickening reality is that this piece is evergreen content. It will be relevant every month of the year because police shootings of Black Americans occur all too often.
Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about how comedians “can’t joke about anything anymore” because “everything is offensive.” Joking about marginalized people is a cheap form of humor. Racist and misogynistic jokes aren’t funny. But political commentary that involves racial issues is different.
This tweet by The Onion was a punch in the gut. It is too tragically real and true. But does that make it wrong?
Is it not the purpose of humor and satire to make the tough issues in our world digestible? Is it not meant to break the ice and start conversations about the unspeakable?
The Weekend Update segment on Saturday Night Live has featured numerous jokes about high-profile sexual assault cases that have left me thinking “Oof. That’s too real. Did Michael and Colin go too far with that one? Or was that joke just the reality check America needs?”
Comedy makes uncomfortable topics accessible. It brings the bitter truths to light using levity and creative analogies and allegories.
People often won’t talk about the news the same way they will talk about a comedic sketch or a tweet. Using comedy such as satire as an alternative medium for starting important conversations is often an effective way to reach people.
But did The Onion take it too far? Or are people who are offended by the tweet just too afraid to face reality?
Some Twitter users replied “too soon” and others commented “too late.” I am torn, but leaning toward the latter. The Black Lives Matter movement began in 2013, but police brutality in this country is nothing new.
The intent of the fake news piece is to point out how dangerous it is for black people to interact with police in America. Officer-involved shootings are one of the leading causes of death for black men in America.
We can’t become desensitized to the issue. We can’t become numb and shrug it off. It isn’t getting better, and we can’t pretend that the fact that Obama was president or the fact that the officer in this latest shooting is being held accountable for his actions is proof that things are changing. We can’t settle for slow improvements in this broken system when innocent lives are being taken so often. Perhaps we need tweets like this to hit us over the head and make us wince.
I know that media was instrumental in opening my eyes when the news was too overwhelming to get through to me.
The severity of police brutality in this country did not fully sink in for me until I watched The Hate U Give a year ago. Writing about waking up to the sickening reality of the issue made me feel uncomfortably vulnerable, but the resulting story (which can be read here) is one of the most honest pieces I have ever written.
When the news isn’t enough to drive us to act, when tragedies in headlines come in waves and leave us drowning in an overwhelming sea of mind-numbing stories of senseless violence, we need art to reach us and propel us to take action.
Enough is enough. So perhaps joking about it, no matter how problematic it may seem, is better than staying silent.