As stated in other blogs I was born in London of West Indian parentage. I now live in Nigeria and have done so for a number of years. When I lived in London, amongst friends and family members, I would make jokes and people would laugh. This did not make me a stand-up comedian but I knew I had a quick wit, a sense of humour and a sense of timing, and was able to make a joke out of a situation. I guess as a result of living in the UK and being exposed to the humour that I saw daily on TV, especially the ‘put down’ variety, was something I had gotten used to and therefore did not question. I felt it was normal to use this same kind of humour when making jokes. But when I got to Nigeria I realised my humour was not seen as funny. My ‘jokes’ were considered acidic and unkind. I eventually got the message when I was at a function; getting carried away telling one anecdote after the other, when the couple at my table got up and sat elsewhere. On another occasion, someone who was a friend actually stopped talking to me because she couldn’t stand my ‘jokes’. I was surprised.
I had to take two steps back and realise that ‘humour’ can be a one sided affair. After all, how can a joke be funny and inclusive if people did not get it? And really, I should know better, that is, not getting the joke or more to the point, when a joke is mocking me. If I dig into my past and relive some of those toe-cringing experiences, it would be similar to going to a theatre house, where I am the only black person seated amongst a white audience, and on walks the comedian say, Jim Davidson or Bernard Manning, where a large chunk of their material is making jokes about black people etc. I laugh, but with some element of shame at the fact that I am the butt of their jokes! The rest of the audience is satisfied that I ‘see’ the joke but when everything comes to an end and I’m left with my thoughts; I feel humiliated, demeaned, disarmed and powerless followed by the emotion of anger. I’m not, as I said, a comedian nor satirist; I don’t have key contacts or belong to any institutions that can support or protect me. Of course, I can take refuge with family and friends, who gives me the needed support but at the end of the day, they are just as disarmed and powerless as I am.
To make it worse, when I complain to my white friends, they fob me off as suffering from the classic case of ‘chip on my shoulder’ syndrome. So therein my resentment remains firm, simmering and waiting until a time comes when I can express myself. I understand that the role of humour is to let off steam, release tension. Laughing at something that deep down is found to be threatening, humour can be the antidote that removes the sting out the bite. For those who find the whole business about immigrants/immigration threatening, humour perhaps, can give them some space between what they feel and the reality of the situation.
What happened in Paris is absolutely tragic. I feel for the journalists who were killed in the bombing and my sympathies goes out to their loved ones. My understanding is that the magazine where the journalists worked – Charlie Hebdo – was satirical in its content and was well renowned throughout the country. But I wonder if they went too far, in putting out their brand of humour? Yes, freedom of speech is at the heart of democracy, but upon seeing a few of the cartoons I can understand why Muslims would be offended. However, I’m relieved that they found it abhorrent that extreme violence was used as a way of ‘correcting’ the problem. They realise, as we all realise, that no amount of provocation can ever warrant or justify violence.
I implore France to do what is right and not allow the histrionics of the Far Right to dictate the fate of the country and not see what has happened as a ‘clash of civilizations’. The New Year has just begun, but it is clear we are living in dangerous times, (as I write this, a bomb exploded killing a number of people in Baga, North East of Nigeria) we should all court tolerance and strive towards unity, if we hope to make it!