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.
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.
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.
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.