Jokes About Racism, Homophobia and Misogyny Aren’t Funny

Raise your hand if you’ve been called a snowflake. Or a humourless bore who needs to get a grip.

We all know the drill, right? You speak up on something, and someone tells you to shut up because they can’t be bothered, why does it matter, it’s just a joke, why are you so uptight, and whatever. And I am so over it. The “it’s just a joke” one bugs me the most, because it isn’t just a joke, and WORDS MEAN THINGS! Given the right context, I think anything can be funny, but there’s something about the so-called locker room banter that just vexes me. It’s a weird assumption that humour has to involve homophobia, sexism, and racism – like feminists, LGBT+, and black rights activists are all dull, unimaginative, and wooden. Like women, POC, and the LGBT+ community taking up space that is rightly theirs means that there’s no longer space for comedy. It’s tired. Anyway, jokes that rest upon prejudices are just lazy and unimaginative. There are so many amazing TV shows, movies, stand up shows that are hilarious and don’t rely on archaic stereotypes to provide humour.

This kind of mindset reaches out to a wider assumption: that assessing unconscious biases means changing an integral part of who you are. I know way too many people that won’t stop making discriminatory comments because “It’s just part of who I am.” On one level though their assumption is true. To unlearn prejudice means to evaluate the ways in which you negatively operate with the world, and change it into something positive. But this doesn’t mean that you are changing an intrinsic part of you, it means you’re chopping off a diseased limb.

It’s good to think of prejudice like a cultural poison; we all soak it up from the moment we’re born, and as we grow up it seeps out of us one way or another. This doesn’t make us bad people, as long as we become aware of what we’ve soaked up, and try our best not to vomit it up onto other people. When we know it’s there yet still do nothing about it, that’s a different matter. There does come a time where we simply have to start to get rid of it – we have to unlearn all the BS we’ve been taught about how we should interact with and treat certain people, simply just because it’s the right thing to do.

Whenever I try to talk to people about feminism and unlearning unconscious biases it’s almost always met with an eye-roll or a yawn, and it took a long time for me to realise that this was their problem and not mine. Sometimes people aren’t ready to reevaluate pretty much everything they’ve learned, and those people need to be treated with sympathy, but there’s a damn clear difference between a lack of understanding and plain willful ignorance. The latter is inexcusable. We can learn anything about everything with unprecedented freedom thanks to the internet, so why are we still not striving to think and be better? Perhaps there’s another reason why people don’t want to know about unconscious biases and prejudice. Andrea Dworking in Our Blood: Prophecies and Discourses on Sexual Politics writes, “many women, I think, resist feminism because it is an agony to be fully conscious of the brutal misogyny which permeates culture, society, and all personal relationships.” I think this is true for most things, actually. We don’t want to know because it’s exhausting. It gets too much sometimes to know just how much other people are hurting, but I see it as a moral duty. As Audre Lorde says, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own”. We make ourselves better when we decide to care about people other than ourselves. Isn’t that a nice thought to end on?

Written by Rochelle Asquith

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