Friday, April 17, 2009

Critiquing Diversity: Jokes Edition

Apparently SAFD is going to keep putting out pamphlets, no matter how bad their previous efforts have been. In that case, I'm going to keep critiquing them, because it is funny. This latest effort, on derogatory jokes, actually doesn't seem all that bad at first glance, but you never know. Let's take a closer look...

Do you think it is okay to tell derogatory jokes? Why?
Good question. Nice, makes you examine yourself, open-ended. Personally, I think it depends on who's talking and the context; I've always held the opinion that if you want to degrade your own race/sex/religion, go nuts. And if you're joking around with friends and everyone knows you don't actually hold that opinion, go for it. But as far as jokes coming from outside your race, or opinions that aren't just jokes, no way. That's when you get to slap a bitch.

Do you think this perpetuates the stereotypes or is a means of acknowledging that the stereotypes exist?
See, this isn't strictly a bad question, but you have to differentiate between the different scenarios in which the joke could be told. If it's between members of that race, than it's actually a difficult question. I would hope that it was an acknowledgment and not a desire to perpetuate the stereotype; I wouldn't want my friends calling me a kike or a moneylender on a regular basis if they meant to spread the information that all Jews are rich. (Disclaimer: I think the current financial crisis proves once and for all that we are not in charge. Jews are good with money. The crisis was caused by lousy financial discipline. Q.E.D.) As far as other scenarios go, friends joking with each other acknowledges that the stereotypes exist; jokes intended to be derogatory, of course, perpetuate the stereotypes.

(Intermission: 'Stereotype' is a very commonly used word, especially here on a LA campus, but no one seems to have come up with a good abbreviation or synonym for it yet. I think this is because of the 't's at the beginning of the syllables, which preclude shortening the word. However, I also think it needs an abbreviated form. Any suggestions?)

Would you say these jokes in front of the victim of the joke?
Well, if I was actually being racist when I said them, then I wouldn't care or would want to insult them. If I was joking around with the person, than sure, I would. But the word 'victim' implies that the person you're telling them about is not complicit in the joke, i.e. you're being racist. So if I was racist enough to tell those jokes and mean them, I wouldn't have a problem with talking in front of the target. (I'm not. Just so you know. : )

How do you respond if or when you hear these jokes?
Firstly, same shit, different day; Liberal Arts campus, people. Lots of social Democrats. Lots of tolerance. Always tailor your questions for your audience. Not a lot of these jokes are told here on campus, at least not in the way where you mean them. The only way this works is if people had them in their home town, which is very hit-or-miss. On the other hand, this question is most likely to provoke a reaction from those same people.
Secondly, let's assume for brevity's sake that these aren't jokes between friends, jokes between members of the same race, etc. If it's clear that they're making fun, or that they're between members of the same race, it's unlikely that random passerby would make any response at all. So we'll consider only truly derogatory jokes, told with intent to hurt.
Thirdly, what are you supposed to do? Get in their face and tell them to stop? Most people aren't that confrontational. If they make you angry, you've passed a litmus test of your own personal tolerance. If they make you cry, well... it's a rough world. If you don't care because it's their own problem, good for you.

What if we stopped telling them?
This is the only real lemon in this bunch. What if we stopped eating from Lowry and started foraging in the forests instead? What if this entire group spontaneously staged a musical by jumping up in a table in Kittridge and singing about diversity? Open-ended "what if" questions have no practical purpose.
But what if we actually did? Well, I'm not sure what the "we" refers to, first of all. Does it refer to the purportedly diverse but actually racist SAFD group? (Kidding. Kidding. But they're saying "we", and I sure as hell didn't write it...) How about Wooster students in general? (As I said, there's not many of those.) Or is it (probably) the broader, more idealistic "we", referring to all of humanity? Well, in that case, we would be one small step closer to total integration. I say a "small" step because eliminating the verbal expressions of racism doesn't eliminate them in the mind. So it wouldn't have much of an effect except to make the joked-about's lives a lot easier.

Speaking of whom, who exactly are we talking about here? Does this cover jokes about race, religion, etc. or is it more broad? Does it also cover jokes about grades, relative intellect, your mom or your lunch? Does it apply to all jokes, no matter the intent? We don't know because these pamphlets are frustratingly vague. Asking people to think "outside the box" is no excuse for not providing a context.

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