You’ve Gotta Make ‘Em Laugh

Humor may be one of the most perfect ways to teach people about diversity. For instance, take this video I ran across this week featuring a coterie of black kids from Ferguson, Missouri, discussing how fed up they are with racism. They’re cute, they’re sassy, some are just a few syllables away from baby talk, but with style and childish flair they make their case. Even better, the message sticks with you.

Bringing humor in as a tool with which to relay diversity ideas works because it soothes the sting of latent guilt and discomfort, and it can ease the strain and defensiveness traditionally associated with this kind of subject matter. Video is also the perfect complement. It may be one of my new favorite learning delivery systems.

Being able to see the body language — note the one boy’s slow, incredibly sarcastic clap after the comment about “I have black friends” — does something to push home a message. Perhaps because it offers more context to flesh things out, whereas in print, a more one-dimensional medium, it’s easy to inspire negative feelings that block absorption or retention of said message. You can’t see the passion and humanity that accompany a message, which help to make things more personal.

Ordinarily, I’m not one for figure snapping and neck popping — I think black people have enough stereotypes to deal with without perpetuating those that reduce us to simplistic caricatures — but somehow when these babies did it, it added to, instead of detracted from, the power of what they were saying. It made it funny, and not in an “I’m laughing at you” type of way. It made difference seem accessible, if that makes sense.

I also saw a video this week where gay people — or actors pretending to be gay people — put themselves in straight shoes to show how easy it is to unintentionally offend someone, and perhaps to point out that while you may have questions about alternative lifestyles or things that are different, it’s important to be considerate in your quest for knowledge.

The video did a great job of making these seemingly normal — if you’re straight and curious — comments seem completely ridiculous. It reminded me of the one time I half-jokingly asked a gay friend and his partner who was the man in the relationship. He checked me immediately: “We’re both men.” As well he should have. But that’s what comes of seeming heterosexual normalcy. There is an assumption that what we perceive as normal will translate, and it doesn’t. There may not be a marked male and female dynamic in a relationship. End of story.

Diversity execs, if you want to introduce the tough topics, I recommend video. Sometimes, when you talk D&I, to bring the message home, you’ve gotta make ‘em laugh.