Amy Schumer
Matt Baron/Shutterstock

Pop Culture

Even When Amy Schumer Is Right, She's Wrong

Amy Schumer is problematic as hell. From hurling racially insensitive jokes (“I used to date Hispanic guys, but now I prefer consensual”) to inferring that men of color are far more apt to catcall women on the street to failing to denounce Kurt Metzger—a writer on her eponymous sitcom Inside Amy Schumer—for his tasteless mockery of rape victims to committing the unpardonable sin—trotting out a parody of “Formation,” Beyoncé’s valorous ode to black female empowerment—Amy has been living her worst life for a while now.

Yet for such an adept comedian, who cartwheels through satire, social norms, and the complexities of gender dynamics for a living, she demonstrates a tremendous lack of discernment when it comes to wading the waters of our volatile racial climate. In her non-inclusive feminist world, Latinas are “crazy,” Asian men are undesirable, and she should not be held accountable for both contributing to and profiting from a discriminatory culture that routinely endangers the lives of people of color.

When taken to task for her behavior, comedy becomes her convenient alibi: “Playing with race is a thing we are not supposed to do, which is what makes it so fun for comics. You can call it a ‘blind spot for racism’ or ‘lazy’ but you are wrong,” she tweeted. “It is a joke and it is funny. I know because people laugh at it.”

Like I said, Amy Schumer is problematic as hell.

But in a cruel twist of fate, she’s joined Susan Sarandon and Charlie Sheen as one of a handful of white celebrities to openly throw their support behind Colin Kaepernick—the embattled NFL quarterback who kneeled during the national anthem to protest the treatment of people of color in this country and was subsequently blackballed by the league. In the aftermath of this controversy, instead of lauding Kaepernick for exercising his constitutional right to peacefully protest, our president has predictably used this as an opportunity to further incite his constituency. Even Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has channeled her antiquated logic to dismiss Kaepernick’s actions as “really dumb” and “disrespectful.” But to the surprise of many, Schumer has sidestepped the safety of silence and has instead opted to use her platform and privilege to upend the status quo.
For all her comedic conjecture and glaring flaws, she’s still using her platform and privilege to dismantle a racial paradigm that’s hell-bent on making America great again at the expense of people of color.
In an act of solidarity, she announced to her seven million Instagram followers that she would not be appearing in any upcoming Super Bowl ads. “Hitting the NFL with the advertisers is the only way to really hurt them," she posted. "I know opposing the NFL is like opposing the NRA. Very tough, but don't you want to be proud of how you're living?" But she didn’t stop there. She openly questioned as to why white players aren’t participating in Kaepernick’s protest and encouraged pop outfit Maroon 5 to pull the plug on their upcoming Super Bowl halftime performance—just like Her Highness Rihanna did in the weeks before. “Stand up for your brothers and sisters of color,” she continued.

But wait. I thought Amy Schumer was problematic as hell?

People of color are under relentless siege from our first gasp of air to our last. We’re locked in a perpetual waltz of paranoia and prejudice with a dance partner named racism. It’s infuriating. It’s exhausting. It’s survival. And as James Baldwin once so eloquently stated: “I can't believe what you say, because I see what you do.” So with hope as our only recourse, we cling to the notion that while all white people benefit from racism, not all of them are practitioners of it. And that the ones who understand the difference use their privilege to make our daily waltz a little less torturous.

But it also means that these “allies” are not only rewarded with a title, but with an expectation. If they know better, we expect them to set aside their discomfort in order to impart that enlightenment elsewhere. Because our collective progress and livelihood literally depends on it. And in the curious case of Amy Schumer, in all her problematic glory, she’s still somehow doing exactly that. For all her comedic conjecture and glaring flaws, she’s still using her platform and privilege to dismantle a racial paradigm that’s hell-bent on making America great again at the expense of people of color. If allyship was an Olympic sport, she’d be all smiles at the podium.
Our unending quest for the “perfect” ally will only conclude in frustration or inevitable disappointment.
However, her efforts have been met with skepticism—and justifiably so. Detractors point to her disastrous track record in race relations, as well as her zeal to hold her contemporaries accountable for their ethics while routinely excusing her own. They note that her refusal to appear in any upcoming Super Bowl ads was both preemptive and performative since she didn’t actually receive any offers to do so—unlike Rihanna. But most importantly, they’re upset that once again, a white woman is being lauded for doing the bare minimum. In short, nobody’s drinking the Kool-Aid because her allyship isn’t enveloped in a persona we desire or have anticipated. But we can’t have it both ways.

We can’t challenge our allies to do the work, then demur when they get their hands dirty. Especially if they’re directly contributing to our stated goal. That’s a luxury we can’t afford. Dissuading or invalidating actions such as Amy’s is not only counterproductive, but could prove catastrophic to our collective progress. And that’s not to excuse her heinous behavior either—but more so to acknowledge that in our unending quest for the “perfect” ally, it will only conclude in frustration or inevitable disappointment. So in some instances, in order to preserve our agency, it’s best to chew up the meat and spit out the bones.

Amy Schumer is still problematic as hell, but none of us are without faults. Hers just become international news. So instead of denouncing her for openly supporting Colin Kaepernick, perhaps we’d be better served with seeking out more imperfect allies.

Related Topics