Racist jokes aren’t funny

By Elisheva Azarael

Chappelles Show Official Facebook Page)
(Chappelle’s Show Official Facebook Page)

Some time ago, my suitemates invited their friends over for a mini party in our common room. It was a little after midnight, and somebody thought it was cool to turn up just as others were about to go to bed. (I have a single; I don’t know too many people in the suite.)

Because I’d accepted that noise is a common consequence sometimes in our suite, I was going to let it go. Then, one of my suitemates’ friends joked that he was born in Mozambique, which made him black. I marched to the common room, full of (likely) drunk people, gathered in a circle. I blew off their greeting by stating that it was late, they were too loud, and I preferred not to hear racist jokes while I was trying to sleep. No one said a word.

I’d like to say that this was isolated disrespect but this happens to me, my friends, and my family members too often. My high school boyfriend once told me a joke that it takes black women nine months to defecate, the “joke” being about any offspring a black woman has. (And that’s only the clean version.) His father was also a raging racist, whom he was afraid to introduce me to because he admitted that his father sometimes “took things too far.”

While spotting an interracial couple at an event, my sister’s former boyfriend joked that they were only “two-thirds” of a marriage because neither of the partners were white like him. And while at Gordon College, she witnessed a group of boys publicly humiliate some black girls by joking about how much they “looked like monkeys.” My friend who’s currently living in my building had a roommate who was put out of our dorm for telling her that she looked like a “slave, picking cotton” when seeing her in a head wrap. Another friend who was born in West Africa was once asked if she was born in a tree. And a white friend said a boy once told her he didn’t like black girls because, to him, they looked like “giant apes.”

And I won’t go into how dark-complexioned girls were called “ashy,” “crispy,” “burnt,” etc., when I was in grade school. When I was eleven, a family member said to me I would never get kidnapped because “nobody wants an ashy child.”

I’ve never met another person of color who hasn’t been a victim. And the justification is always the same: “It was just a joke.” Attempting to defend her buddy, these were my suitemate’s exact words (after I’d gone to my room and she thought I couldn’t hear, though my room is right beside the common room). I’m sure if her friend had made a comment about her Jewish heritage or her roommate’s Asian heritage, it wouldn’t have been “just a joke.”

Forget statistics and theories that try to explain ignorance away. To me, they only serve as another excuse for plain stupidity, and I don’t have the time or patience. Many perpetrators know better, especially people of color who have experienced this firsthand.

Racial jokes are only good when they’re bringing awareness to a problem within our society. A good racial joke is one that uses a stereotype to illuminate the stupidity of that stereotype and the ignorance of people who believe it true.

This is what makes comedians who specialize in jokes about race, such as Dave Chappelle, so iconic. Chappelle’s stand-up opens viewers’ eyes to certain issues like hate groups and derogatory words.

But most people aren’t Dave Chappelle. If you’re thinking of telling a racist joke, ask yourself if it’s highlighting the stupidity of a stereotype, and if it has any meaning concerning racial problems.

“Joking” about someone’s skin complexion or the way they’re genetically made is not funny. “Joking” about someone’s birthplace is not funny. “Joking” about a certain group’s historical struggle is absolutely not funny.

If there are facts to argue against a racial joke, then it’s not a funny joke. Being born in Mozambique doesn’t make you black, because what would you say of the Portuguese colonizers who once inhabited there, or South African-born white people? If dark skin is automatically “ashy,” then what are white people who suffer from chronic dry skin? Every continent has trees, so what makes Africa the continent that produces babies from trees? How does being a black woman make me look like a “giant ape” when I don’t walk on all fours, and many apes are larger and almost all, if not all, are stronger than me? If it takes me nine months to defecate, then how long does it take for women of other races who have had children with black men? And if wearing a head wrap makes you look like a slave, then does wearing a Native headdress make you look like one? Because Indigenous people were once enslaved, too.

Telling an effective racial joke requires historical knowledge and intelligence that allows you to realize how history created disgusting images of certain people. If you know history and its lasting effects aren’t your specialty, then leave your joke where it is. Thank you.

Elisheva Azarael is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]