Joking About Race

Throughout my blog posts I frequently discuss topics that were inspired from discussions in my life (e.g., herehere and here).  Usually these discussions are entirely academic and stay friendly, professional and engaging.

However, sometimes a conversation can sour.  Unfortunately that happened recently with a friend of mine.  Without giving away too much information an argument arose over a racial issue where the person I was arguing with wanted me to racially discriminate.  This situation made me come to that realization that people who frequently make negative racial, ethnic or cultural jokes about certain groups of people, and claim to ‘just be joking’, are probably harbouring subconscious or conscious tendencies to racially discriminate.

I want to be careful not to generalize too broadly.  I know a lot of people joke about things related to certain racial, ethnic and cultural groups and that the context of the joke is important and the type of joke being made is also important.  Despite this, if someone is making jokes with regularity that are focused on highlighting a perceived negative aspect of a socially constructed group of individuals, this person probably does subconsciously or consciously hold these beliefs.  This had been the situation with the aforementioned individual in this blog post.  Derogatory jokes directed towards “pakis” and “asians” were frequently made and although they made me uncomfortable I was sure that this was just his particular sense of humour and in reality he would never racially discriminate against any group of people based on race, ethnicity or culture.

I was really wrong.

It made me think back to other people I have met in my life that have consistently made derogatory jokes directed against racial, ethnic and cultural groups.  People who have made these types of jokes always made me kind of uncomfortable because I feel by making those jokes they are reinforcing negative stereotypes and judging people as homogenous entities that are a part of imagined collectives.  However, I never assumed that those people were actually racist.  I thought they were just… well, joking, and that it just wasn’t my type of humour.  And the harder I think about people in my life who have made racial jokes, the more diverse the list of people becomes:

a) Some of them I feel are just making the jokes for fun but there is no real viscous meaning behind it.

b) Some of them make racial jokes to point out the absurdity of racism

c) Some of them I feel may be subconsciously racist, or just racist in their private life, but in public life don’t discriminate (or don’t openly discriminate)

d) And some of them seem to be openly racist in some specific contexts, which for whatever reason provoke feelings of out-group hatred (I guess this is how I would classify my aforementioned experience)

So, because this is not a particularly strong or firm conclusion about my feelings about people who make racial jokes, I will throw the question out there to anyone who reads or follows this blog.  Do you think that people who make racist and ethnocentric jokes are racist?  Do you think it makes them more likely to discriminate in real life?  Does it depend on the type of joke?  The frequency of jokes?  Are there too many different contexts to come to a conclusion?



About Cadell Last
Hello. I'm probably drinking coffee and reading.

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