Why are Black people so funny? Or better yet, what makes us feel this unexplainable urge to want to be funny? And when we have failed at being funny, why do we feel so guilty about it? Humor is a funny thing, and the reason why we use it is even funnier—actually, it’s sad.
I found myself asking these questions as I was fishing through my feed for more videos on Tessica Brown and her struggle in getting the Gorilla Glue product out of her hair. At first, it was funny. She knew she messed up and hearing her talk about the incident in a quirky way, just made matters even more hilarious. I immediately shared the clip with all of my friends on Instagram. But as the days went by and the more concerning videos started to surface of her going to the hospital, a rush of guilt came over me.
Tessica was in a very serious situation and decided to share it with us online. Despite her reasons for doing so, sharing her struggle with more people and asking them to join in the laughter, eventually felt wrong. I had to take a step back and literally tell myself, “this was not a joke.” This broke the sunken place curse that I found myself falling into yet again.
How I used humor as a mask
Yes, I said again. I remember this similar experience happening to me when I used humor as a tactic to mask my discomfort, just so I could keep someone else entertained. A few years ago, I went out to grab dessert with a close friend of mine. While we were there, I ran into my Mother’s old friend whom I haven’t seen in years. She shouted my name from a distance and I immediately turned in her direction. I shared her joy as I was, too, happy to see her again. However, as soon as she approached me, she did the unthinkable. With great force, she grabbed my face and squeezed my cheeks as if I was that 10-year-old little girl she once knew. My close friend looked at me in fear and just froze in place. At this moment we both knew my Mother’s friend made a terrible mistake.
Ever since I was young, I struggled with acne and sensitive skin. Because of this, I NEVER let people touch my face, let alone myself. In most cases, I would have spoken up, moved out the way, or even slapped her hand out of my face before she could even get within range…But I didn’t. Instead, I wasn’t thinking about myself or my own needs, rather I was thinking about hers. I wanted to make her feel comfortable, avoid any awkwardness, and just make sure she didn’t feel bad about approaching me. What better way to do that? Yes, use humor to mask my own discomfort.
I smiled, playfully laughed, and allowed her to be in my personal space. I did this so well, that she probably thought I enjoyed greetings like this on a regular basis. After what felt like an eternity, she finally stepped back and placed her hands where they belonged (to herself). The similar guiltiness that I felt watching Tessica Brown’s videos, quickly rushed over me. This wasn’t funny, and I was mad at myself for a while for making it seem as though it was.
Humor’s generational impact on our mental health
Using humor in these situations may not be the best solution if it threatens our mental health and well-being. We have gotten so accustomed to masking our pain and discomfort with humor, that it becomes hard to tell the difference between what is truly funny or not. Despite the giggles and playfulness in her voice, what really was so funny about a young woman exhibiting discomfort and frustration? Why didn’t I speak up for myself when someone was violating my personal space?
Humor is a defense mechanism that we, as Black people, have relied on throughout our history. It was once designed to keep us afloat while fighting our way through oppression and has now been the very thing that keeps us drowning in our suffering. Instead of shouting, “this is not a drill, I’m drowning!” We normalized it, grabbed a camera and filmed ourselves drowning with a smile on our faces. We have forgotten, or maybe we just have never been taught, that we must process what we are truly feeling before assuming it should be taken lightly.
Humor does not always need to be our story, it is not always the right way to share our truth. Although we are funny, our lives do not always have to be. It is not our responsibility to make people laugh. Our responsibility is to authentically laugh from within, and if we are not, then we are NOT obligated to act like we are—humor me no more.
Thessiana Shama Mesilus merges the art of storytelling and psychology throughout her content. She founded Shama Works that serves as a creative platform to help individuals lead, grow, and heal from within or wherever there is a story to be heard.