Re: When the Homeless Use Humor to Fill Their Empty Cups (fwd)

Anitra Freeman (
Wed, 8 Jul 1998 19:50:20 -0700 (PDT)

There are several different types of humor:
-- using humor to keep yourself going in stressful situations
-- using humor to expose and deflate wrongful situations and people in power
-- using humor to justify and continue oppression
-- using humor to deflect attack by agreeing with it -- "Yeah boss, I stupid"
-- using humor to "sweeten the medicine," to lighten a point so that you
can slip it in
-- just having fun
-- and probably more

I am uncomfortable when homeless and low-income people use humor to play to
the stereotypes, try to get sympathy by agreeing "Yes, I'm sick, stupid and
lazy; so give me money because I'm admitting my faults and making you feel
good for being right and a lot more virtuous than I am."  I think we need a
Homeless Pride movement.  It's about time to put an end to the historic
American equation of poverty = shame.

But there are jokes that sound acceptable to me when they come from
homeless people themselves, that would inflame me coming from some
businessman in a suit.  Inside a homeless shelter, or inside Tent City,
I've heard and participated in a lot of joking around that would send the
Politically Correct screaming into the night.  Survival Humor often tends
to be a very black, cynical form of humor.  I resist any attempt to
"correct" the speech of people who are keeping their spirits alive with
"verbal roughhousing."

If I do have an opinion of the sign some man carries on a street-corner in
California, what effect does my opinion have?  I think that even if I were
standing on that street-corner with him, I would not choose to ask him to
change his sign.  Instead I would talk with him about himself and anything
else he wanted to talk about, and do whatever I could to make sure he felt
self-esteem or if I could do anything to raise his self-esteem.  I would
tell him my story about Norm Rice and the hamsters, and encourage him to
turn his own humor on those in power instead of on himself.

In my present location, the only kind of humor I ever speak up in protest
against is the third kind in my list -- "humor to justify and continue
oppression."  Whenever possible, instead of spending energy against a
thing, I will spend energy for its opposite.  Like satire.

And Homeless Pride.

Anitra L. Freeman, Dances With Dragons,
See for a full list of
projects and websites, because if I list them all here you are going to be
*so* mad at me...