Asking for an explanation as a way of calling out hate jokes? (A guest post)

I find that asking people to explain “hate jokes” can work in two situations. One is if the person hasn’t really thought through the implications of the joke themselves. Sometimes people who don’t belong to the group the joke is targeting seem to get that it’s a “dirty” joke and tell it because they want to tell a dirty joke, but they honestly haven’t thought about the effect on the target group. If you ask them to explain it – especially if you have some kind of friendly relationship with them and belong to the target group – they’ll often realize why the joke is problematic, apologize, and hopefully think harder in the future.

The other is basically when someone is telling this kind of joke in public to communicate hateful things about a group while trying to remain “socially acceptable”, and it would NOT be socially acceptable for them to state the prejudices and assumptions behind their joke in an overt way. Essentially trying to prevent someone from expressing hate without taking responsibility for it – in theory they’ll either have to stop telling the jokes or admit to the opinions they hold.

This can work – if you have a good idea of what the person’s intentions are behind the joke and you won’t be unsafe if the person gets angry at you when they interpret your questions as a criticism of their actions. Especially in the second case, I wouldn’t expect the person to believe you actually didn’t understand the joke.

That makes sense.

Pretending not to get hate jokes can backfire

agentotter asked realsocialskills:
I’ve tried that strategy of pretending not to get racist/offensive jokes… in my experience it doesn’t work. It just leads to earnest explanations of why the stereotypes in the joke are true. With my coworker whose entire joke repertoire was offensive, I never did find a strategy that worked. I let him know repeatedly that I wanted him to stop, and he wouldn’t. All I could do to stop it was walk away (which with my job wasn’t always possible.) I quickly got a rep for being “stuck up.” :/
I suspect that this strategy might work sometimes when you’re dealing with people who aren’t intentionally being hateful. Some people think it’s ok to tell hate jokes because they don’t really think the hate counts if it’s in joke form. Maybe making those people have to notice what they’re doing works.
Other people are telling those jokes because they’re *intentionally* being racist/misogynist/otherwise hateful. So pointing out that they’re being hateful isn’t going to help – they know that, and they’re doing it on purpose.