Humor as a Substance Abuse Protective Factor for African Americans

TAGS: Humor, Laughter, African Americans and Substance Abuse Prevention

SAMHSA produces an annual report on drug use by race. Consistently African Americans rank third or fourth on the list which is contrary to stereotypes. This may also be shocking given the amount of trauma African Americans have endured ranging from slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow Laws, police brutality, community shootings, and gang violence. Dr. Gabor Mate has demonstrated a clear link between trauma and heavy substance use. To explain substance use prevalence among individuals researchers examine risk and protective factors. One substance abuse protective factor for African Americans is Humor.

Groups with histories of oppression often produce lots of stand up comics. The comedians use humor to help the group cope with oppression and trauma and as an alternative to drug use. One example is the Jewish Community which has produced scores of stand-up comics ranging from Groucho Marx, Charlie Chaplin, Woody Allen, Joan Rivers, Jerry Seinfeld and Sara Silverman.

 Comedian Dick Gregory

Comedian Dick Gregory

Comedians have been a part of the African American Community for Centuries. During slavery, they were used to entertain slave owners and their guests. They soon began to entertain themselves, sometimes making fun on those who enslaved them (when they were not watching of course). During the Vaudeville Era (1880's to 1930's) African American Stand-up comics were common. In 1960;'s, 70's and 80's stand-up comics such as Dick Gregory and Richard Pryor used comedy successfully to take away some of the strings of oppression. Comedy becomes even more prevalent inAfrican American Communities during times of economic recessions and crisis. In the midst of the recession and cocaine epidemic which impacted the African American Community in the Mid 1980' and 90's, a group emerged called The Original Kings of Comedy (Steve Harvey, Bernie Mac, Cedric the Entertainer and D.L. Hughley). They performed all over the country to sold out audiences (mostly African Americans). They were the highest-grossing comedy tour in US History.

 Comedian Whoopi Goldberg

Comedian Whoopi Goldberg

In the book, The Anatomy of an Illness, author Norman Cousins describes the therapeutic benefits of humor. Cousin points out that laughter decreases physical and emotional pain, helps our immune system, reduces stress and helps reduce depression. For Cancer patients, laughter kills cancerous cells in the body. When my God Mother was in the 4th stage of cancer her number one request was to watch Tyler Perry Comedy films.

When people use drugs dopamine is released. This is a neurotransmitter in the brain which when released allows the user to experience the pleasure of the drug. Like cocaine, Laughter also releases dopamine. African Americans Have used laughter for centuries, to survive and thrive. I end this blog post with a joke told by Dick Gregory. Born in 1932 he is perhaps the oldest living stand up comic. Gregory marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the height of the turbulent civil rights era of the 1960's.

 Comedian Richard Pryor

Comedian Richard Pryor

Dick Gregory: (entering a segregated restaurant in Mississippi where Blacks were not allowed) " Give me a hamburger "

Restaurant Owner: " We don't serve Coloreds! "

Dick Gregory: " I don't eat them! Give me a whole fried Chicken! "

When the Chicken arrived, the Klu Klux Klan walked into the restaurant and said to Dick Gregory, "     Whatever you do to that chicken we're gonna do to you." Dick Gregory picked the chicken up, and he kissed it.