Editorial: On the use of humor for critical discourse

The Record Board

We enjoyed putting together last week’s humor issue and are happy that the community seems to have appreciated our silly quips about the school. However, a few articles that we had initially intended to publish in that issue never made it to print. After careful reflection, we regret that we did not publish those pieces. 

Specifically, we did not publish a satirical piece poking fun at white savior mentality, nor did we publish a piece mocking student ambassadors’ ultra-positive presentation of the school. Both pieces were cut out of concern for how readers might respond. We worried that the administration and a small portion of the community may misinterpret the intent of our jokes and take offense. To be clear: the articles intended to use comedy to criticize the school and to criticize racial stereotypes, not to perpetuate those harmful narratives. 

It is unfortunate that we were afraid to make jokes about such important issues as casual racism within our community — even jokes that have positive intentions. Part of our concern was that the administration would hypothetically reprimand us for writing about serious issues in a comedic manner. By extension, we fear that our self-censorship allows our school’s power structures to protect themselves against potential criticism. 

We have offended (or at least irritated) members of the administration before in features and other critical pieces, and they usually take it in stride. An administration should try to be receptive to the criticism it receives — not just reject it out of hand, or potentially censor it. We believe that regardless of the administration’s potential response, we were mistaken to censor ourselves and shy away from angering them. 

To be clear, we were not censored outright. We even spoke to the ICIE to discuss whether the articles could be viewed as genuinely offensive or harmful to members of the student body. We were told that although the article condemned, rather than enforced, harmful stereotypes, there was no way to predict every person’s reaction when using comedy as a means through which to address sensitive issues. Our faculty adviser, Mr. Berenson, seconded ICIE’s advice; thus we were discouraged from addressing the topics through our comedy issue. 

Such discouragement operates on an assumption that our average reader cannot think critically about the pieces we print in our paper. This idea is incorrect — satire can, and should, be thought-provoking. Choosing only to publish writing that cannot be interpreted in more than one way does not give enough credit to our readership. The members of our school community are intelligent enough to come to their own conclusions, positive or negative, about the content we publish. 

We had intended to write humorous pieces that would criticize sincere issues in our community and potentially further positive change. Instead, we were encouraged — and agreed to — stay silent. We believe you deserve better.