“My faculty colleagues have urged me not to give the voices of racism “so much power.” Laughter is the way to disempower the forces of evil, I am told. But is it the racism I am disempowering if I laugh? Wouldn’t this betray the deadly seriousness of it all? Laughing purposefully at what is hurtful seems somehow related to a first lesson in the skill of staged humiliation. Racism will thus be reduced to fantasy, a slapstick vaunting of good over evil–except that it is real. The cultural image of favored step-siblings laughing and pointing at such stupidity, at the sheer disingenuousness of bad children falling for the promise that they will get gifts, of even daring to imagine that they will get wonderful gifts too . . . if I laugh, don’t I risk becoming that or, worse, a caricature of that image, that glossy marketing of despair?
Those who compose the fringe of society have always been the acceptable scapegoats, the butts of jokes, and the favored whipping boys. It resembles the pattern within psychotic families, where one child is set up as “sick” and absorbs the whole family’s destructiveness. The child may indeed be sick in unsociably visible and dramatically destructive ways, but the family is unhealthy in its conspiracy not to see in themselves the emanation of such sickness. The child becomes the public mirror of quietly enacted personality slaughter. Resistance to seeing the full reality is played out in the heaving of blame and, most cowardly of all, in disempowering others and ourselves by making fun of serious issues. The alternative (and infinitely more difficult) course is to face the interconnectedness, the enmeshed pattern of public dismissiveness and private humiliation, of private crimes and publicly righteous wrongs, of individual disappointments and national tragedies.
In sum, I see the problem at hand not as one of my giving racism too much power, but of how we may all give more power to the voices that racism suppresses.”
Williams, Patricia J. 1997. “Mirrors and Windows: An Essay on Empty Signs, Pregnant Meanings, and Women’s Power.” Pp.332-340 in Feminist Social Thought: A Reader, edited by D. T. Meyers. New York: Routledge. [This section is written exactly as it appears in the first three paragraphs on page 333. Patricia Williams is also a frequent contributor to The Nation, her articles are certainly worth reading.]