Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to comedian and social justice activist Wanda Sykes. TSM readers might remember Wanda being celebrated for her standing up to the homophobic bigot Tracy Morgan. Always outspoken, with a sharp mind and a sharp tongue, Sykes has been voted one of the funniest people in America.
She was born to a banker and an Army colonel in the Washington, DC area. She graduated from Hampton University with a degree in marketing and worked for five years at the National Security Agency. Not fully satisfied with the work, she began doing standup comedy on the side in 1987. She left the NSA and began acting and performing full time in 1992.
Sykes’ family history was researched by the PBS genealogy program Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr. Her ancestry was traced back to a 1683 court case involving her paternal ninth great-grandmother Elizabeth Banks, a free white woman and indentured servant, who gave birth to a biracial child fathered by a slave, who inherited her mother’s free status. According to historian Ira Berlin, a specialist in the history of American slavery, the Sykes family history is “… the only such case that I know of in which it is possible to trace a black family rooted in freedom from the late 17th century to the present.”
Besides her wonderful standup performances, Sykes has been on many TV shows and in several movies. I particularly like her performance as Jane Fonda’s personal assistant in Monster-In-Law–Sykes steals the movie, “Y’all better get that little girl out of there.” After an unsuccessful marriage to record producer Dave Hall in the 90s, Sykes quietly acknowledged that she was a lesbian. She came out publicly in 2008 during the battle against Proposition 8. She and her wife, Alex, were married one month before that odious measure passed.
She’s an outspoken advocate for gay rights and marriage equality and calls out injustice wherever she sees it. As an outspoken African American woman and out lesbian, she is a powerful personal symbol of the intersections of oppression and embraces that role. We love our Wanda, who proves that social justice can be funny and smart at the same time.