Here at the University of California, San Diego, we are known for our diverse student body. With such an environment, I believe it to be appropriate to bring in stand-up comedian Wanda Sykes to come and perform for the university, but not just for the laughs that she will surely bring. Comedy is known to induce laughter, but it is also used to shine light on things that are not generally talked about due to the severity of the subjects, such as discrimination, child abuse, and sexual violence. Sykes addresses these kind of matters very well and in a healing way that help people look past stereotypes to understand each other more.
Through her comedy that invokes social injustices and discrimination, Wanda Sykes touches on all the points Richard Delgado makes in “Storytelling for Oppositionists and Others: A Plea for Narrative,” which include outgroups, counternarratives, and dominant narratives. She makes punching up jokes about outgroups, specifically about African Americans and homosexual people, and for every dominant narrative, she also has a counter-narrative so that she isn’t just punching down or making stereotypes.
UC San Diego has been ranked as one of the most ethnicallydiverse college campuses in the nation, thus it is important for students to recognize and understand each other’s culture differences. Our Office of the Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion believes that “true excellence is achieved through productive relationships among people of diverse perspectives. When the collective talents of our students, faculty and staff at UC San Diego are united in an environment that is open and inclusive, creativity and innovation prospers,” and to achieve such thing, I believe that the school should invite omedian Wanda Sykes to come perform for our students and faculty (Office of the Vice Chancellor, “Fostering equal opportunity, open dialogue, mutual respect and cross-cultural collaboration”). Wanda Sykes achieved fame with her stand-up comedy; one of her achievements was in 2010, where she became the first openly gay African-American women to perform at the White House during a Correspondent’s Association Dinner (Biography. com Editors, “Wanda Sykes Biography”).
Since Sykes is a part of three minority groups – gay, African-American, woman – it is safe to conclude that she has the credibility to speak about social injustices, discrimination, and such issues that are still a big problem in today’s society. Because Sykes does such a good job in speaking about these social issues, I believe that she would be able to help teach students about diversity, minority issues, and stereotypes. Having a comedic performance rather than just a speech would make students more inclined to attend such an event since stand-up comedy show headers are more appealing than just a guest speaker.
The earth’s population is dominated by groups of people, groups that can be differentiated by class, race, gender, age, and on and on. Some groups are, however, more dominant than other groups in a way that they are seen as more superior due to the power they hold, their privileges, and their social statuses. Examples of such dominant groups include white people and the wealthy. The people who do not experience any of these privileges and are on the outside of the dominant groups are known to be in outgroups.
Members of outgroups are often victims of oppression and many people can hurt from that. However, there are ways to heal, such as by telling stories, and in this case, telling stories through comedy Critical theorist Richard Delgado, in his essay “Storytelling for Oppositionists and Others: A plea for Narrative,” believes that outgroup members can use stories in two ways: “as means of psychic self-preservation, and [… ] as means of lessening their own sub-ordination. He further adds on that when members of outgroups become familiar with their own historic oppression then that is when they gain healing (Delgado 2437). Wanda Sykes makes several jokes about stereotypes of African Americans and gay people in her comedy special “I’ ma Be Me”, but instead of being offensive jokes to those outgroups, Sykes constructs her jokes in a way that doesn’t demoralize them, but rather in a way that changes our modes of thinking about those groups and that puts us in their shoes.
For example, in her comedy special, she jokes about how now that we have a black president, African Americans can do things more proudly in front of people rather than hide away, scared of judgement. Her joke includes how when she was little, she and her siblings would be dancing in the car, but their mother would tell them to stop right away because “white people are looking”. She then goes on and says, “But shit, now I can dance because we got a black president,” (McCarthy-Miller, ‘Wanda Sykes: I’ma Be Me”).
This joke allows the audience to first see how the dominant group, in this case white people, look down to African Americans, and it also shows us how African Americans now feel prouder to be who they are because Obama represents them since he is now the president of the United States. Wanda Sykes talks about many outgroups and with the diversity here in UC San Diego, people will be able to relate to her jokes the most and they will all appreciate each other better.
Humans have existed on earth long enough to now have beliefs about certain groups of people. These beliefs are known as dominant narratives; they are, in a way, stereotypes and they can be about anything from a group’s culture to their belief systems. According to Delgado, people have been led to believe such dominant narratives because of “the prevailing mindset by means of which members of the dominant group justify the world as it is,” that is, dominant groups believe that their group is above any other group (Delgado 2413).
Such examples of this include dominant narratives of homosexual people and the different things that they have to do just because they are gay, such as “coming out of the closet”. Wanda Sykes, again, makes a good joke about such a dominant narrative. In her comedy special, she jokes of how being gay is harder than being black because there are certain things that she has to do as a lesbian that she doesn’t have to do as an African American, such as coming out to her parents. In the joke, she pretends that she’s coming out to her parents, but not as a gay person, but as a black person.
Her parents’ reactions are what people would usually think that the reaction is – horrified. Her parents would then go on and say, “You’ve been hanging out around black people and they got you thinking that you black,” which is another dominant narrative that parents have when their children are coming out to them, or do anything differently than what is considered the norm (McCarthy-Miller, “Wanda Sykes: I’ma Be Me”). Parents think that just because you associate with a certain group of people, you automatically become like those people.
She does an excellent job in making sure that the joke is punching up and not down; she isn’t making fun of the people that are coming out to their parents, she’s criticizing the fact that they have to do it at all. Wanda Sykes also does a fantastic job on enlightening people on the many dominant narratives that exist in everyday lives, but that are so habitual that we barely bother noticing them anymore. This is something beneficial for UCSD students, because students are constantly absorbed in their studies and they tend lose track of everyday things.
Wanda Sykes has the potential to remind them that dominant narratives are everywhere and can be harmful because they bring people down. A way that dominant narratives can be warded off is through counter-narratives. Counter-narratives can be seen as the rebels; they are the stories that don’t agree with what the dominant narratives say. They challenge the wisdom that is received and by doing so they create new realities that help us believe that there are other possibilities for the lives that we are now living (Delgado 2414). An example of such counter-narrative is when Wanda Sykes impersonates
Michelle Obama, “You let all them foozy girls out there, you let them know, all right you can try some shit with my man if you want to, but you’re going to get one of theseee babies,” then she shows off Michelle Obama’s “guns” (McCarthy-Miller, ‘Wanda Sykes: I’ ma Be Me”). There is a dominant narrative that it is ordinarily the man that has to “protect” the woman from other men and such things that woman are seen as incapable as doing themselves. This joke challenges that narrative because of the fact that it is Michelle Obama keeping other women off of Barack Obama, and she’s the one that is seen as the physically stronger one.
Such counter-narratives are important for students to understand because “they can show that what we believe is ridiculous, self-serving, or cruel” (Delgado 2415). This opens up the minds of students and allows them to see different sides of stories, and Wanda Sykes will help them doing so by bringing up all of her different kinds of counter-narratives that will surely help them think of many more in the future. Through her comedy that displays multiple counter-narratives, Sykes will be able to show our community that there are more ideas out there than the preset ideologies that we’ve had since our childhood.
It can be argued that are plenty of other ways to educate the students of UCSD, such as through documentaries. Speaking from experience, if students found out that there is a famous comedian performing, they would be a lot less inclined to just watch a documentary. At first, they will participate just because they believe that it’ll be funny and not because they’ll receive anything educational out of it, but that will change once they walk out of the room.
Comedy is much more than just laughter; the comedians want their audience to feel challenged, something that Wanda Sykes does by talking about the social injustices that we face on a daily basis (Powers and Carr). By feeling these challenges, students, especially college students, will then want to go out there and make a change. An example of such a challenge is when Wanda Sykes makes a joke on how our current educational system doesn’t work because all we do is retain information, take the test, pass the test, and forget all about it (McCarthy-Miller, “Wanda Sykes: l’ ma Be Me”).
Any student can and will relate to this because that is how grades and schools everywhere function now, and such a joke will certainly spark a light in the students that want to make a change. Another reason why comedy is a good way to educate the students is because of the way that comedy is overall. Many comedians will use stories, sometimes their own personal stories to tell jokes, and stories are powerful because they can “be used to empower and to humanize. [They] can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity,” (Adichie, The danger of a single story).
Throughout her whole comedy special, Wanda Sykes tells her story of having to be African American, a woman, and gay, three minorities that are still not completely treated fairly even in this day and age. By telling her story, Sykes will be able to have students relate and connect to her, and that is powerful because that is what students need, especially in college. With all the stress of a new life away from home, they need to know that there is at least someone out there that is in the same situation as them.
That person doesn’t necessarily have to be Wanda Sykes, but by sharing her story, other people will feel more comfortable sharing theirs, and that is when connections and relationships start happening. UC San Diego has several colleges within itself and one of these colleges, Sixth College, has the motto of “preparing students to become dynamic and engaged citizens of the 21st century – innovative, creative, and interconnected. ” Bringing comedian Wanda Sykes will help students do exactly as such.
Her comedy that focuses on social injustices and discrimination will help our community become interconnected. After hearing her sets, I believe that everyone will understand and connect with each other better because her comedy allows people to forget about dominant narratives and instead, they start thinking of counter-narratives. They will forget about the stereotypes, and they will instead think of the innovative and creative ways that they can challenge them to make the community a better place.