Vintage Fred: “You was rear-ended by a white dude? In a black Cadillac? Brother, you sittin’ on a gold mine!”
Theatre I – Brace Yourself!
(Sixth excerpt from Harlem Meets Mayberry)
America doesn’t seem to laugh together as much as it used to, and the laugher hasn’t died down because things are so much worse. It’s died down because you and I don’t treasure laughter the way we should. We don’t treasure it as the “gateway drug” to affection and mercy. Neither do we protect it as our birthright as children of the joyful, laughing Most High. Bowing to that blind and misguided god, the stifling god of political correctness, too many of us have given up our right to laugh at ourselves and with one another.
Young folks today know next to nothing of the great ‘70’s sitcom, “All in the Family.” The classic 1978 comedy movie, “Blazing Saddles,” is rarely if ever broadcast. And Steve Martin’s brilliant 1979 comedy, “The Jerk,” seems to have vanished into thin air. Why have these gems been mothballed? Because there is “racial stuff” in them, and everybody knows we can’t have any racial stuff these days.
The party pooping doesn’t stop with squashing white-on-black-humor, either. It extends to black-on-white humor as well. Most young Americans know nothing of Fred Sanford or George Jefferson or Richard Pryor, and they are poorer for not having made those acquaintances.
Fred and George and Richard have been mothballed in the same closet as Archie and Mongo and The Jerk, but the mothballers weren’t mainstream Americans. The mothballers were hyper-idealistic journalists, over-righteous clergy and dim, clammy-handed, self-anointed gurus such as Archie Bunker’s son-in-law, the aptly nicknamed Meathead.
The god of political correctness does not like racial stuff because it raises the possibility of conflict, and the essence of political correctness is conflict avoidance. Political correctness demands that we avoid conflict at all costs by stuffing all of our edgy thoughts. The problem with that is that stuffing creates pressure, and enough stuffing creates enough pressure to blow the lid off anything, including the tenuous peace between American whites and American blacks.
The simple fact is that conflict avoidance is resolution avoidance. Conflict avoidance is not a virtue, and therefore neither is political correctness a virtue.
As part of my research (ha ha!) for this book, I watched many episodes of the animated TV show, “Boondocks.” My sons told me about it, and it’s so racially edgy that they couldn’t tell me for sure whether the show was the work of black people or white people. As it turns out– not that it matters– the genius behind “Boondocks” is a black dude.
At first I had to make myself watch Boondocks because the gratuitous profanity and racial stereotyping made me squirm just a bit. As I proceeded with my “research,” though, I was soon forced to admit that the show was very funny. Eventually I found that watching “Boondocks” was a great way to have a laugh and a great way to flush me out of my little white cocoon.
Over the course of several months, my 19 year-old son Daniel and I devoted one evening per week to what became known in our house as “The Boondocks Film Festival.” Not far into this undertaking we were sometimes joined by my wife, so that Boondocks Night became a sort of bizarre Christian devotional.
To “Frozen Chosen” Christians that may sound like heresy, but the effect of those Boondocks “devotionals” was a heightened racial awareness and a much more authentic Christianity. Laughter lowered our defenses and decreased our resistance to hard truths. It opened the way to a more merciful perspective as well, so that we’re now more willing to extend and receive mercy, especially with the “other color.”
You might be thinking “Oh sure, Tommy. That’s easy for you to say. You’re just a little white preacher with a nice little white wife and three perfect white kids. You’re like Ned Flanders, that goody-goody neighbor of Homer and Marge Simpson, but you have no clue what goes down at the Curtis Street duplexes.”
Oh, really? I’m no preacher; I’m a roofing contractor. And my sons are far from cookie cutter do-gooders pumped off the Christian Assembly Line. All three of them have tried the Prodigal Son route. They can tell their own amazing stories if they choose to, but let me summarize by telling you that my family’s story would curl your hair (or straighten it if you’re black) no matter how street smart you are.
We are not the Flanders by a longshot. In fact, for many of our 35 years together, Kathy and I would have been tickled to death if we could have just done as well as Homer and Marge. Many have been the times that we’d gladly have traded any of our sons for Bart Simpson—straight up!
Now that I’m somewhat of a grown-up and am more or less free from concern about what “churchy” folks or anyone other than God thinks of my sons, I can declare that I am inexpressibly pleased with them. They are, to a man, sincere seekers after God’s heart.
So please don’t come at me with the “wimpy white preacher” bit. I’m no smarmy Christian wallflower. I’m just a guy trying real hard to see things the way Jesus sees them, and when I look at the racial situation in America I’m troubled by what I see.
The racial issue is a serious issue to be sure, but useful Christians—as opposed to useless Christians—can tackle even the most serious issues with a light heart. Let’s read a bit more from Pastor Jefferson:
“It is right to say that the glum and dismal Christian is not developed, mature or ripened. The very first apples, you know, in the earlier stages of their growth are sour and green. It is not until the sun has done its perfect work that they are golden and luscious. Just so it is with our souls. In the earlier stages of development they are often green and sour, crabby and full of acid. But if they will only subject themselves to the shining of the Son, the great, joyous, exuberant, laughing Son, all the juices of their nature will grow sweet and mellow, and they will find themselves at last in the kingdom of peace and joy.”
Vintage Archie: “Jesus was a Jew, yes, but only on his mother’s side.”
Laughter is one of true Christianity’s great natural resources, with deep reserves of laughter lying untapped beneath the surface of American Christianity. America has much more than its fair share of funny people, and humor is going to be vital in the War on RD because mercy is the A-bomb in the War and humor detonates mercy.
Much will be made in the coming pages of what I call the Three Non-negotiables in the War on RD, but there is really a fourth non-negotiable–laughter. While it will be shown that the Three Non-negotiables require us to take the offensive, laughter asks only that we lower our defenses. Each of us can simply let our belts out a notch or two, let down our guard and allow ourselves to laugh early, laugh often and, most importantly, laugh together.
Rank-and-file Americans were not the ones who banished Archie Bunker and Fred Sanford. We loved them because they were funny and they were honest about how they felt. We were drawn to them because while their heads were often hard, their hearts were soft. They were not above repentance once they finally read—and understood—the writing on the wall.
If we, the American people, had been forced to outlaw either the team of Archie and Fred or the team of Meathead Stivic and Lamont Sanford, we would have banished Meathead and Lamont in a landslide. Why? Because they weren’t funny. They may have been sensitive and idealistic but they were not funny. Consequently, their sensitivity and idealism came across as so annoyingly self-righteous that they failed to inspire or persuade anyone, especially the other color.
Whites like blacks who can laugh and blacks like whites who can laugh. Fred Sanford and Archie Bunker may have been race-baiting old coots but folks were drawn to them because they were funny. And then, as we were laughing with Fred and Archie, ever so often we would see them surrender some long-held racial misconception, and they would thereby endear themselves to us despite ourselves.
In order to win the War on RD we must be like mature, luscious apples, not green, crabby apples. The War on RD must be conducted by folks who love to laugh. It must be conducted by people who, like Jesus, know where they came from and know where they are going and love to bust a gut along the way.
Be street smart yet harmless. Peace.
Up ahead: A peek at the Enemy on Monday, July 25th.