Breaking news: discrimination and prejudice aren’t funny.
During my time at secondary school I’ve witnessed numerous occasions in which people have made sexist, racist, or homophobic ‘jokes’, without being challenged, because their friends say they’re only kidding; that these statements aren’t a true reflection of their character.
A prime example of this came at a party I attended this summer. The conversation was turning to relationships, when one boy in my friendship group (who has since said things like ‘but she’s too nice to be a lesbian!’) made a joke about women belonging in the kitchen. I, for one, was astounded by the originality, creativity, and intelligence he displayed through this statement. Turning to a close friend in disgust, hoping she would share my outrage, I was faced with her indifference and disinterest. She knew the boy, she said, and knew that this statement didn’t represent his true thoughts. And so the ‘joke’ passed without objection, as those who shared these sexist views didn’t see the harm done, and those who didn’t, failed to take the issue seriously in the belief that it didn’t mean anything.
Discrimination exists in every part of the world, but in countries like the UK, it usually takes a more subtle form than the outright, sometimes violent prejudice seen elsewhere. In western society, it frequently takes the shape of casual intolerance often dismissed as ‘banter.’
Of course, this isn’t just limited to sexism. It extends to all reaches of discrimination. I recall one event in Year Ten when a friend of mine proceeded to poke fun at a person of colour, before laughing it off with, ‘but you know I’m not racist, of course.’ Obviously, the best way to demonstrate your support for people of colour is to completely invalidate the difficulties they face, with a sarcastic, racist insult.
This is the problem. Sexist, transphobic, you-name-it-phobic ‘jokes’ say that yes, I know you’re oppressed, and yes, I’m still going to invalidate your struggles by cracking a joke about them. This doesn’t make me laugh. It doesn’t make me think, ‘this person can’t be offensive if they’re only joking.’ It makes me realise that whoever expresses these views cannot possibly understand what discrimination feels like.
There are countless ways to show your support for women, people of colour, the LGBT community, disabled people, those with mental illnesses. Making light of their oppression is not one of them. Anyway, aren’t jokes meant to be funny?