An Example of Stereotypical Humor
A little Mexican boy goes into the kitchen where his mom is baking. He puts his hand in the flour and wipes it all over his face and says, “Look mom, I’m a white boy!” His mom slaps him in the face and says, “Go show your father.” He goes to his dad in the living room and says, “Look Dad, I’m a white boy.” His dad slaps him hard in the face and says, “Go show your grandmother.” The boy goes into his grandmother’s room and say, “Mira, Abuelita, I’m a white boy.” His grandmother slaps him in the face and sends him back to his mother. His mother says, “See, did you learn anything from that?” To which the boy replies, “Sure did! I have only been white for five minutes and I already hate you Mexicans!” (“Mexican Jokes.”).
This joke contains several assumptions about the relationship between Mexicans and white people. The first is that the two races hate each other. Furthermore, the author implies, through the actions of the boy, that Mexicans want to be white, and therefore white is better.
Initially it seems that the intended audience for this joke is white. However, imagine the same story, but instead of a Mexican boy putting white flour on his face think of a white boy putting wheat flour on his face and saying “Mom, look — I’m a Mexican boy!”
The underlying message is that since Mexicans hate whites, it is all right for whites to hate Mexicans. This is a justification for racism. It troubles me that this type of humor reinforces misunderstanding between people and contributes to divisiveness.
The question then becomes ‘what is so funny about this sort of humor?’ These types of jokes exist in many cultures. The power of this kind of derogatory humor is that it serves to enhance the illusion of superiority of one race over another. Members of the dominant race can then feel better about themselves at the expense of another. Any damage that is caused by perpetuating these stereotypes is either disregarded completely or seen as justified because the target of the humor is inferior and not worthy of respect.
As human beings we should all be trying to uplift one another. Life is difficult enough as it is and we should, to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, judge each other on the content of our character, not on the color of our skin. Yet for many it is easier to not think about nor question the prejudice and hate this type of humor perpetuates. After all “it’s just a joke.”
This excerpt from a letter to the editor of the Columbia University Daily Spectator tries to reframe this issue in a politically correct light:
“We strongly object to this misrepresentation of the rally and further, we take issue with the word ‘minority.’ In our opinion, and that of many others, ‘minority’ is a derogatory term that connotes inferiority and wrongly identifies people of color as a sub-unit within this society. How about “differently-numbered?” (“PC to the Rescue”).
Unfortunately, just as a rose by any other name still smells the same, so does a skunk. Humor based in how we are different is not inherently bad, but humor intended to belittle or disparage the character of an entire ethnic group for in order to foster hate, misunderstanding and prejudice is not acceptable.
This type of humor is not likely to disappear easily. Prejudice is often ingrained in children from parents and other care givers they respect. Many are unwilling to question the origins of their feelings about others. There is a long history of individuals being ostracized from society or even killed for teaching love and tolerance. Unfortunately, it is easier to hate than love. It requires less thought.
“PC to the Rescue.” Joke Budda. Columbia University Daily Spectator. (NDI). 22 July 2011.
“Mexican Jokes.”Mexican Jokes.net. (NDI). 22 July 2011.
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