Who’s there? Humor is not just a long stream of uninterrupted jokes but a narrative that tells its audience a story. It is the quality that makes a topic amusing, the ability to express what is comical, and the catalyst of smiles. Humor brings people together because for a joke to be successful, there has to be an understanding between the comedian and the audience. The most controversial humor is the type that tackles subjects that are on the edge of being politically correct.
The fact that the content is enveloped in humor is like a sugar coating to bitter medicine- the laugh takes away the sting. Comedians frequently believe that any subject is fair game, but some well-intentioned jokes can seriously backfire. Jokes are not funny when they discriminate against any group of people; this type of humor can make people belonging to that group feel detached, threatened, and vulnerable. Comedians often use humor to break social boundaries and talk about subjects that are normally taboo to society.
They believe that using disparaging humor towards groups that most people discriminate against is justified because it does not directly cause the discrimination. Although the current definition of humor is the quality of being amusing, it needs to be adjusted to exclude discriminatory jokes because they offend large amounts of people and have detrimental effects on individuals’ beliefs. Even though a common misunderstanding is that using racism in humor helps to address and make light of the problem, racist jokes instead normalize it and remind people of the real-life oppression they experience. Some individuals incorrectly believe that racism is easier to address when it is laced with humor. In the descriptive article “Racist Acts and Racist Humor,” Michael Philips explains a theory called the Agent-Centered Account which is essentially the indicator for what makes humor racist or not, asserting, “Let me begin with a popular theory; or, in any case, a theory that is presupposed by a very common defense against the charge of having made a racist joke. This defense denies, in effect, that joking remarks are racist so long as they are made by persons whose souls are pure” (Philips 76). There has been a significant shift in the acceptability of racist speech in public in the past few decades, specifically under the guise of humor. Although individuals continue to hold racist views, people today tend to minimize overt racial discourse in public to avoid the stigma of racism.
Philips’s point is that if a person’s intentions are pure in making a racist joke, then the joke is not racist. Therefore, because comedians often think that joking about racism will force the issue into the public eye, their intentions could be considered pure. The problem is that instead of raising awareness as intended, these jokes unnecessarily perpetuate racism. Despite some individuals believing that racist jokes are harmless, they often remind people of the real-life oppression they experience. In David Benatar’s “Prejudice in Jest: When Racial and Gender Humor Harms,” he discusses how people today are not noticing racist acts happening around them, claiming, “Another reason why people may doubt that mere beliefs can harm is that the harms inflicted purely by beliefs are miniscule in comparison with harms mediated by or resulting from actions, especially actions like lynchings, beatings, and enslavings” (Benatar 194). By making racist jokes, the long history of oppression against people of color is downplayed.
For example, when someone jokes that Puerto Ricans can “only mow lawns,” they minimize racialized structures of power that continue to economically, politically, and socially constrain Latino communities. Racism is not a topic that should be laughed at or made light of, because we should never be comfortable with racism. Nevertheless, racism should not be trivialized at the expense of people of color. However, these jokes do not have to be, and indeed should not be, racist or oppressive. Even though some people incorrectly argue that racism is easier to address when it is laced with humor, in actuality, racist jokes normalize and destigmatize racism. In Raúl Pérez’s article “Learning to make racism funny in the ‘color-blind’ era: Stand-up comedy students, performance strategies, and the (re)production of racist jokes in public,” he describes how racism can be a normality in people’s views, claiming, “In a society where ‘racism is deeply rooted,’ they argue that race-based jokes ‘reinforce hierarchy structured racial differences,’ which are less likely to be critically challenged when veiled through humor” (Pérez 24).
Racist jokes risk making racism a normal part of everyday life. Most racial bullying takes the form of jokes and verbal innuendos. However, there is a fine line between teasing a good friend and creeping into the realm of publicly humiliating someone. Having power over someone can be addictive, and racist jokes are a good way of asserting authority over another race. Most racist jokes have the underlying nature of reinforcing negative stereotypes; they make other races look stupid.
One of the telltale signs that a joke is racist is when the majority of the racial group find the joke offensive. All in all, even though a common misunderstanding is that using racism in humor helps it to be addressed socially and politically, racist jokes remind people of the real-life oppression they experience and inadvertently normalize racism.