In these politically fraught and socially stressful times, sometimes it's difficult finding ways to laugh or even feeling like it's okay to laugh. But two new comedic endeavors, led by women of color who live in New York, have opened the door for white people who don't mind laughing at themselves.
Ziwe Fumudoh, a stand-up comedian and writer with Above Average, created a web series titled Baited with Ziwe. In each episode, she lures one of her white coworkers into a room and opens a dialogue about race that could go very poorly.
"When we were scripting the series, we talked about different angles and topics that would really make them feel as uncomfortable as possible," said Fumudoh. "We wanted to know what would make them squirm, and that's what led to the sweaty, improvised moments in the show."
"Politics is now pop culture," said Marc Lieberman, the svp of business development with Above Average. "We don't sit around and try to figure out our take on the news cycle, but this series is really a testament to what working with smart, funny people can do."
"This idea had me raise an eyebrow, but it's a total pleasant surprise," he said.
"Our job is to make people laugh," said Fumudoh. "We're all just trying to get through this together."
To Fumudoh, the series isn't just a way to poke at her hapless-yet-well-meaning white co-workers; it's a way to "cover race in a positive light." After seeing the phenomenon of conservative media platforms like Breitbart and dealing with people of that ilk in her Twitter mentions who claim she was already baiting people to talk about race, she decided to lean in and do it for real.
"I'm grateful that I was encouraged to make a series that let me do what I want," said Fumudoh. "My sense of humor is edgy and critical, and I wanted to open a dialogue about race that also had levity in it."
"You can use comedy to do a lot of things, and our unique voice allows us to do that," Lieberman said.
"I want people to laugh, that's all!" said Fumudoh. "If they learn or gain an insight into people who are different from them, then that's just the icing on the cupcake."
Where Baited with Ziwe makes white people squirm and deal with their inner demons, another comedy project wants to do all of the personal growth for them. Enter White Forgiveness.
As part of a low budget and incredibly socially aware web series, Milly Tamarez, who is a comedian for the NYC-based deadass web series, frequently proposes business ideas to jokingly raise money.
A sketch called "White Forgiveness" has turned into a real way white people can let go of something they've been ashamed of without doing any of the work.
A couple years ago, Tamarez unfriended someone on all social media because of some incredibly racist and rude things the person said to her online. A few years later, the person reached out, intending to apologize for the comments.
"Not 24 hours later, they asked me if they could screenshot the conversation to put it on Facebook!" said Tamarez. "They just wanted other people to know they were cool, and didn't even care about what they did."
"I clocked that," she said.
In December, deadass uploaded the White Forgiveness sketch, a fictional service (that became quite real) where white people could use Venmo, a money transferring app, to pay Tamarez and ask for forgiveness of their microaggressions. After taking a screenshot of what had weighed on their conscious, Tamarez would forgive them publicly.
Tamarez has received about $100 from white people who feel bad about themselves; all that money goes directly into funding other video projects.
"A big part of the project is criticizing the idea that people think you can get a shortcut without the work," she said. "And also that I'm super broke."
She's also collecting some of the submissions in a blog, as well as posting them on her personal Facebook page, since the public has to know that her friends are good people. Notoriety is the whole point.
"My friends, and other white people on my timeline, have all been super positive and are just having fun with it," she said. "Of course, some of the commenters on our video claim that I'm race baiting and ask why they should feel guilty since they didn't do anything wrong."
"Maybe I'm lucky I live in a cultural 'bubble' filled with a liberal community that supports me," she said, "but I'm learning that even in this city, people have experiences they're not proud of."
"And if it's like this here, imagine what it's like in a town where they've never even met a person of color or know any minorities."