How far is too far? What should be off-limits? What is termed as offensive and is there a place for humour in the world of disability?
I would like to indicate that these are my personal opinions and they don’t in any way reflect or represent the thoughts and feelings of other disabled people.
This conversation was sparked by Will Smith’s now famous slap during the Oscars when Chris Rock made a joke about Jada Smith’s hair loss. A section of the internet has referred to Jada’s condition as a disability and hence the question if Jada has a disability, is it cool to make fun of her?
As a wheelchair user for eight years, I learnt very earlier on that people have very strong opinions about making disability jokes. Which I completely understand. How could anyone, in their right mind, make light of another person’s suffering? In essence, the logic is that you shouldn’t beat on a person while they are down. That is insensitive and simply being an awful human being.
Trevor Noah is one of the brightest comedians we have. Not only in Africa but the world over. He tells us jokes that tickle us and ask us to think at the same time. In one of his specials in Africa, he talked about a conversation he once had with a deaf person. The deaf person was a big fan of his and wanted to know why Trevor had never done a joke about deaf people before.
Trevor explained to the fan that he is conscious about saying things that might come off as offensive so he prefers to stay away from certain topics. The deaf person explained that in a way, that was some kind of discrimination. Going on to say that inclusion of disabled people is based on the principle of humanizing them. Treating them as you would treat able-bodied people, with respect and sometimes, to use for purposes of comic relief.
Trevor did a piece about the deaf fan. It was hilarious, and appropriate and everyone loved it. I too felt very warmly about the jokes. There is a certain joy that comes with being able to take life lightly enough to laugh at yourself.
I have always had a good sense of humour. Taking life lightly has been the cornerstone of my life with a disability. I have no problem with laughing at myself and bringing my friends into the joke. It’s never that serious. But as is with all things in life, a fine line exists.
I personally don’t mind when my friends make jokes about my disability as long as it is funny. We will laugh together and chances are that I will go on to make an even worse joke about them because I am that kind of person. If you are going to dish it, then you should be prepared to receive it.
What is funny to me is when society tries to dictate to the disability community what they should and shouldn’t say yet they are living their lives. There’s so much micromanagement in our lives that sometimes you feel like you are living in someone else’s thoughts and imaginations. Never free to pave your own way.
You can read the energy of someone, disabled or not, and determine whether they are the kind of person who enjoys a good joke. You can’t make jokes about someone you barely know or just met. That sounds a bit reckless. Understand the person first and feel them out.
Chris Rock didn’t read the energy, he didn’t understand that Jada hadn’t gotten to a place where she could make jokes and laugh at herself. Also there was a lot of negative history from the past. That’s why he was on the receiving end of a hot slap from King Richard.
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