Can race based jokes ever be acceptable?
by Suhaile Md
Suhaile attended the last two More Than Just Series of Dinner conversations on race. One of the underlying questions participants grappled with was this: Is there always a clear line between what’s racist and what’s not? The discussions in the dinner itself did not cover race-based jokes. So here’s a short reflection on situations in which race-based jokes, in his opinion, are acceptable.
I ONCE had a stranger do the “indian head shake” barely five minutes into our conversation. He changed his accent too for added effect. A lame attempt at humour that hardened the ice rather than break it.
To be fair, I had cracked a few self-deprecating jokes on stage during a presentation earlier. But the jokes were not racial. Perhaps my self-deprecation led him to believe that I’m not “the sensitive sort”, as some like to say when their racial jokes fall flat.
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Truth to tell, my friends and I – of various races – frequently engage in race-based jokes that would well, embarrass others outside the group. But they are very close friends. I could never fathom why some people thought it ok to walk up to a stranger and make such “jokes”.
When I ask them, they usually reply, “but my Indian friend is ok with it leh, so not racist what, why you so sensitive?” Or they say: “But X can make such jokes why I cannot?”
Ah, well, context my friends. Context is everything.
Look at race-based jokes like you would butt-slaps. That’s right, the childish, nonsensical game some kids engage in: “HAHA I HIT YOUR BACKSIDE!”
With that analogy in mind, here’s a quick guide (and please don’t kill me if you disagree).
a. Do it to a stranger and it’s criminal.
b. Not all friends are cool with it no matter how close you are. Respect that.
c. It’s never appropriate in formal settings, even if you’re the best of friends.
d. Never use it as a weapon no matter how justifiably upset and angry you are. It’s humiliating.
e. Also, please don’t try it out with people you’ve barely met.
f. Don’t dish it out if you’re not comfortable being at the receiving end.
g. Too much of it gets tiring very fast.
h. Not everyone understands this sort of… friendly banter. And not understanding it doesn’t mean they are “too sensitive”. So don’t be a jerk about it.
i. Being cool with it between friends does not make one a sadomasochist (or in the case of race, self-hating “insert race”)
j. You need to be really close friends to even consider it… and these friends are often the first to rush to your aid when sh*t hits the fan.
k. When in doubt, just don’t.
Featured image from TMG file.
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