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ERIC Number: EJ1085193
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2015
Pages: 16
Abstractor: As Provided
ISSN: EISSN-1946-7109
"It's Okay to Laugh, Right?": Toward a Pedagogy of Racial Comedy in Multicultural Education
Fulmer, Ellie Fitts; Makepeace, Nia Nunn
Penn GSE Perspectives on Urban Education, v12 n1 p38-53 Fall 2015
While humor has long been documented as a useful teaching tool, it is almost entirely untheorized in terms of its potential for multicultural education. Specifically, the learning opportunities that racial comedic media offer in multicultural and anti-racist coursework is a particularly under-studied area, while research in this vein has great potential to positively affect pedagogies both within and beyond courses on critical multicultural education. In this article, two instructors, together with their students, examine the use of racial comedy as a teaching tool for multicultural education. The article begins by providing a brief overview of the literature on racial comedy and use of comedy in teaching, followed by a close look at salient characteristics of the teaching and learning environment of the course that allowed this work to emerge. The crux of the article centers on the identification and exploration of four themes, or interpretive tensions, animated by the class' engagement with racial comedy, and thusly helps illuminate the possibilities and complexities of utilizing racial comedy for multicultural education: (1) insider humor carries questions about who holds permission to initiate racial jokes and who is allowed to laugh at them; (2) perceptions of comedic irresponsibility inspired discussion around delineating between critical race comedy versus overtly racist comedy, and the gray areas in between; (3) educative commentary ensconced within racial comedy, such as that of many Dave Chappelle sketches, revealed our concerns about viewers who, lacking historicity and knowledge of root contexts undergirding the comedy, would likely misinterpret the humorous scenarios and thusly have their own racist stereotypes reinforced; and (4), while parody is humorous because of its inherent ridiculousness, we found that parodic racial comedy may create the opportunity for a slightly uncomfortable self-check, where the viewer can process her or his own actions and responses (assuming that he or she is receptive to such thinking). In highlighting these interpretive tensions, this analysis offers guidance for instructors and facilitators embarking on this journey, and furthermore contributes to our understanding of the possible pedagogical benefits from using racial comedy more broadly. [This article was written with contributions from Melanie Abbe, Sarah Apgar, Rachel Strongin, Susan Giarratano, and Serena Shields.]
University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education. 3700 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104. e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: New York
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A