I am a southern white girl who grew up in a middle-class suburban neighborhood with little racial diversity. Although I’ve never been a victim of racism, racial issues take me out of my comfort zone. So when I heard that a restaurant was selling “Black Olives Matter” t-shirts (a pun on Black Lives Matter), I naturally wanted to laugh.
I wanted to enjoy the comedic break from all the violence that has dominated the headlines recently (but has undoubtedly has been occurring for much longer). I wanted to find comfort in the joke. But I shouldn’t. None of us should.
— CNN (@CNN) August 16, 2016
I personally consider myself a white supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. But Spoon isn’t the platform for me to lecture you on Black Lives Matter nor its counter-movements. In this particular case, I don’t really think it matters which movement, if any, you support.
Regardless of where you stand, most of us can acknowledge that these movements exist because people are dying. They are dying because of poor race relations in our country. And someone thought it was okay to joke about this movement by turning it into a pun.
Some have applauded the “Black Olives Matter” t-shirts for going against “PC” culture. And I get the wanting to laugh in the face of chaos. We turn on the news, see violence, and feel helpless to do anything about it. It makes us scared and uncomfortable. So we may want to lighten the mood a little bit by making a joke like “Black Olives Matter.”
But we all know the saying “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” Well, we’re missing the time factor here. “Black Olives Matter” isn’t a joke about an event or problem that already happened. It’s making light of a problem happening right now – of deaths happening right now.
The immediacy of the issue makes it that much more upsetting. I fully recognize that. But we must resist the temptation to restore our comfort by laughing at a pun like “Black Olives Matter.”
The discomfort that we feel when we think about racial tensions in America reminds us that a problem exists that demands our attention. This discomfort drives change. We need to hold on to that discomfort. Not laugh it away using bad food puns on t-shirts.
That restaurant has every right to make and sell t-shirts that say “Black Olives Matter.” Anyone has every right to make whatever joke they want. But when you make a joke about a painful topic like racism, be prepared for the very real and serious conversations that it provokes. And be prepared to face that discussion. Do not run from reality just because it’s painful to talk about.
Comedy may help us feel better about the depressing state of race relationships. But personally, I don’t want to feel better. I want to be better. I want a solution to ease my discomfort. Not a poorly thought out food pun.