FLOWER MOUND, TX — June 1, 2021 — Remember when we used to be able to make ethnic and racial jokes that were funny, while not being hurtful? There was a time when humor was a major source of social engagement between people who enjoyed laughing at themselves and the stereotypes attributed to them. In other words, they weren’t so sensitive that they couldn’t see the humor in a few innocuous manifestations of witty dialogue. My old buddy, Leroy Spivey, a cop I worked with in a radio car for a few years, didn’t have any hang-ups about racial comedy. In addition, he wasn’t so narcissistic about his color that he wouldn’t get a kick out of a funny story.
One story he used to tell was about a black guy who was crossing a street and got hit by a car driven by a white guy who was speeding. He said the black guy was thrown about 50 feet because of the impact. The people listening to the story would be appropriately shocked, asking what happened to the driver? “Well,” Leroy said, feigning outrage, but readying the punch line, “when the cops got to the scene, they picked up the black guy and arrested him for leaving the scene of an accident.” After the initial look of bewilderment, everyone in the room, including Leroy, would bust our laughing.
They weren’t laughing at the authenticity of the story, which was in fact apocryphal, but at the silliness of it. My erstwhile partner was making a joke out of the serious issue of race discrimination. It was a clever way of illustrating actual race prejudice by using an absurd example. There’s a trait attributed to the Irish which says they have a propensity toward liquid vegetables such as barley corn, rye and hops.
Moreover, the descendants of the old sod have a reputation for being quick to temper after a few gulps of a distilled beverage. If you referred to an Irish as “Mick” you’d better get your dukes up. Some believe the word “Mick” is derogatory because it sounds like a drunken hiccup. Interestingly, the Urban Dictionary tells us that the derogatory word “Spick” came from Mick. It seems that in the early 1900s, when Irish and Spanish immigrants were equally hated by many Americans, they shared Catholic churches because both nationalities had the same faith and moral values. Therefore, they began referring to Latinos as Spanish Micks, or “Spicks.”
Irish bar brawls in my old neighborhood in lower Manhattan were as routine as egg rolls in a Chinese restaurant. Speaking of our Asian brothers and sisters, we’ve all heard the comedic reference to their names. For example, “My friend is so overweight, he has more chins than a Chinese phone book.
When we had a taste for Asian cuisine we’d generally say, “How eating about Chinks tonight?” We had no idea that it was offensive, and to this day its derivation is murky.
Italians are often portrayed as mobsters in movies, consequently, when I had an argument with one of my Italian buddies I used to ask if he was going to put a horse’s head in my bed. Jews are often depicted as stingy and greedy. When my wife and I visit the home of my Jewish brother-in-law, who lives in another state, he jokingly says we can stay at his place, but there’ll be a small fee. Puerto Ricans are often associated with spicy food and sensual dancing. When people meet my wife, they commonly ask about rice and beans, and the Pachanga.
When Leroy and I had time for a meal during many busy nights on patrol, I would jokingly ask what chicken or rib joint he wanted to dine in. He knew me well enough to know there was no racial animus contained in that comment. Besides, he also knew I loved that food as much as he did. His retort might be, “Bob, I’ve heard about the 7 course Irish dinner; a six-pack and a boiled potato.” We found humor in our respective heritage and used it affectionately, without ever a hint of malice.
Being able to accomplish that melding of cultures is what this great experiment called the USA used to be about. It took a long time to discover that our differences were no match for our similarities. If you’ve ever taken part in one of those DNA research companies, you’re likely to discover that you are a mixture of numerous races and nationalities. When I received a report from 23 and Me, a genomics and biotechnology company, I found, among other genetic attributes, that I had a small percentage of African ancestry. Since then, I’ve been jumping higher and scoring more baskets than ever before.
# # #
Bob Weir is a veteran of 20 years with the New York Police Dept. (NYPD), ten of which were performed in plainclothes undercover assignments. Bob began a writing career about 16 years ago and had his first book published in 1999. He also became a syndicated columnist under the title “Weir Only Human.”