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Hullabaloo


Sunday, December 22, 2013

 
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Ruminations on race featuring Richard Pryor and Ta-Nehisi Coates

by digby

He was funny even when he wasn't dirty:





When they censored his TV show, this was how he handled it. (The show didn't last long ...)






He may be my top favorite comedian of all time. Maybe it's because I had an important cultural epiphany at one of his live shows back in the 70s, when I was just a teen-ager. I wrote about it when he died:
I'd never seen anything like Pryor before. It was more than comedy, and it sure as hell was more than "R" rated. It was cultural observation so universal and so penetrating that I saw the world differently from that night on. He didn't just talk about race, although he talked about it a lot and in the most bracing, uncompromising terms possible. He also talked about men and women, age, relationships, family, politics and culture so hilariously that my jaw literally ached the next day. He was rude, profane and sexist. But there was also this undercurrent of vulnerability and melancholy running beneath the comedy that exposed a canny understanding of human foible. His personal angst seemed to me to be almost uncomfortably plain.

I looked around me in the audience that night, in which my little friend Kathy and I were among the fairly good sized minority of white people, and realized that we were all laughing uproariously together at this shocking, dirty, racially charged stuff. As someone who grew up in a rather typically racist American household it was an enormous, overwhelming relief. I understood Richard Pryor, the African Americans in the audience understood Richard Pryor and Richard Pryor and the African Americans understood me. He was right up front, saying it all clearly and without restraint. He wasn't being polite and pretending that race wasn't an issue. And it didn't matter. Not one person in that audience was angry. In fact, not one person in that audience was anything but doubled over in paroxysms of hysterical laughter. He had our number, all of us, the whole flawed species.
Race is a topic I've been trying to write about since I started this blog. It's so fundamental to American culture and politics that if you discuss those topics you simply have to write about it. I come at it from the perspective of a middle aged, white liberal women which may seem like the least likely person on earth to have anything to offer on this subject. But the time in which I grew up has been enormously eventful on this subject --- and I've been paying close attention.

And I continue to read and absorb everything I can on this subject. It's extremely important in trying to understand the dynamics that underlie the differences between the two political factions in America. In recent years the writer who has been most influential in my thinking on these matters is Ta-Nehisi Coates who writes so elegantly and so thoughtfully about his own experience and observations on the subject that I feel I have developed a whole new dimension of understanding. Rick Perlstein also continues to illuminate on the real history (as opposed to the disco-Hollywood version) of race during my lifetime.

I honestly cannot think of a subject that is more important for Americans to think about and challenge themselves. As you can see from this year's embarrassing Deen and Duck controversies, it continues to divide and define who we are and reveal what we are as a society and I think it's vital for members of all races to grapple with it as honestly as we can.

If you think our ongoing discussions here about race's continuing relevance to the evolution of America's national character, I hope you'll think about throwing a couple of bucks into the kitty to keep this blog going for another year.





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