The racist ice cream joke you just posted about can also be swung in the direction of sexual harassment. When kids found out my friend and I were lesbians, they would torment us with similar jokes just to get us to “admit” to liking dick. I still don’t understand why jokes like that could be funny to anyone.
When I was in middle school there was a racist ‘personality quiz’ joke that was framed as an innocent question, “Which would you rather have: vanilla or chocolate ice cream?” If you said you like chocolate better, it meant you preferred oral sex with a black boy. Trust me, white girls quickly changed their answers when they realized what the implication was.
A lot of times, white people call things or people racist as a joke or a generic insult. For instance:
- In response to someone expressing a preference for white shoes over black shoes
- In response to someone saying something that offends them for some unrelated reason
- In response to expressing connection to a particular ethnicity
- In response to mentioning that white people are white and it matters
It’s not ok to do this because:
- Jokes like that work by assuming that calling someone or something racist is inherently absurd
- Which rests on the assumption that there is never a *real* need to call someone or something racist, because it rests on the assumption that real racism is over except for a few fringe groups with no power
- But racism is still a problem, and it still does tremendous harm to people of color
Using “racist” as a joke or generic insult sends the message that you refuse to acknowledge that racism is still a problem. It sends the message that you have contempt for people who point out racism. Don’t do that.
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.
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.” :/
This post I think is not quite right. It’s something I know a bit about, but there are parts I don’t understand too. Anyway, here are some things I think I know about dirty jokes.
Jokes about the following subjects are usually considered dirty (some of these jokes are relatively innocuous):
- Drinking alcohol
- Doing drugs
- These jokes can be good or bad, it depends on the joke, and the context in which it is told.
Rude jokes that are dirty because they deal with impolite subject matter can be ok to tell in some circumstances, but not others:
There are three basic situations in which these jokes are usually ok:
- People who are social equals and have an equal friendship, and both like telling rude jokes to one another, or:
- People in a profession that deals with impolite areas, making trade-related jokes to colleagues (eg: people who work concert security making jokes to one another about bodily functions and weird things people do at shows)
- When someone is doing a comedy routine and other people are listening to it on purpose
It’s almost always a bad idea to tell rude jokes to people you have power over:
- Partly this is because it’s not ok to tell rude jokes to people who dislike rude jokes. And people you have power over might not feel comfortable or safe telling you to stop.
- It’s also threatening in a few ways that go beyond this.
- Telling rude jokes is a sign that you regard someone as a social equal, and emphatically expect that they share that view
- This can be a sign that you aren’t willing to acknowledge the power you have over them. That’s threatening.
- It can also be sexually threatening. The rules about dirty jokes are part of the rules about sexual boundaries. Telling a dirty joke in an inappropriate contexts is often the first step a sexual predator takes in testing someone’s willingness to enforce sexual boundaries. Even if you have no such intent, telling a rude joke, especially a sexual rude joke, can be seen this way.
- That’s especially true if when someone objects to the joke, you tell them to lighten up because it was just a joke.
There’s also another kind of dirty joke: the hate joke. Hate jokes are about hurting people. Hate jokes say bad things about other groups, or express violent desires, then make somewhat more socially acceptable by phrasing it as a joke:
- Jokes that contain slur words are usually, but not always, hate jokes
- Jokes that rely on asserting that stereotypes are true are usually hate jokes
- For instance, dumb blonde jokes.
- Or “ironic” racism (eg: telling a racist joke, where the joke is that it’s so hilarious that someone who is so not-racist would say such a thing)
- Some hate jokes are explicitly violent.
- That kind of joke normalizes violence. The violent abuser in that joke is the sympathetic character.
- Hate jokes are only ok when it’s actually ok to hate the people the joke is about. That’s almost never the case. But sometimes hate jokes about an abuser, or general hate jokes about rapists, can be ok jokes to make.
- There’s a difference between telling hate jokes with the intent of harming members of the target group, and telling hate jokes without active ill intent because you think they’re funny. But it’s a difference of degree, not kind.
- Sometimes members of target groups tell hate jokes as a form of self-hatred. That’s also a difference of degree
- Sometimes members of the target groups tell hate jokes as a way of mocking the way people hate them. This is a difference of kind, not degree.
Basically, the bottom line is that it still matters what you’re saying if you’re making a joke while you’re saying it.