Opinion: Discrimination Shown Through Humor

Every now and then, I hear offensive remarks that irritate me. These overt displays of racism, homophobia, or sexism, often disguised as jokes, pollute the environment around us with toxicity.

Q: Why did the woman cross the road? 

A: Who cares! What is she doing out of the kitchen? 

Q: Why hasn’t NASA sent a woman to the moon? 

A: It doesn’t need cleaning yet!

These two jokes are examples of disparagement comedy, which is any attempt to make people laugh by belittling a social group or its members. It’s commonly referred to as sexist or racist jokes, or anything that uses a marginalized group as a punchline.

This blows my mind. Just because these so-called “comedians” are desensitized and keep repeating the same offensive jokes over and over doesn’t make it right.

Humor that is derogatory to others is widely broadcast, especially on social media. Disparaging humor can reinforce stereotypes and foster an environment where intolerance or disparaging views are tolerated and normalized, despite the fact that it sometimes seems harmless.

A common argument used to defend these types of “jokes” is that something has to be offensive in order to be funny. All of these comments have a far greater impact on people’s lives than you might think. According to Pew Research Center, it’s more common to see people making more insensitive and inappropriate remarks nowadays

Listening to harmful and hurtful jokes on a daily basis can subconsciously harm many others; even if they do not consciously process it, they will gradually adopt similar perspectives if these jokes are perceived to be the norm. 

A person who is a member of a targeted group may feel as if they are caught in a trap when sexist, racist, religious, homophobic, or other group-stereotyping jokes are told. They can either laugh along with everyone else and be complicit in the harm caused, or they can voice their objections out loud and kill the mood and risk being shunned for having no sense of humor.

“Jokes” that target a particular race or ethnicity make it seem appropriate to treat these people differently than others, which can result in discrimination in many workplaces, implicit bias, and outright racist conduct later in life. Our culture is currently plagued by the far-reaching effects of these “humorous statements.” 

Unfunny humor that is overtly sexist, particularly when directed at women, is another common type of offensive humor. Women now already experience a great deal of misogyny in our culture. Numerous issues women confront, such as income disparities, sexual assault allegations, and high rates of body dissatisfaction, can be linked to discrimination like this in high school. These jokes promote the idea that in order to be accepted by society, women must have a particular appearance and behavior.

People who make these remarks fail to consider how they affect other people. For starters, it fosters a hateful culture. Making these jokes normal equates hatred with normalcy, and people who grew up hearing them will come to believe that having these negative stereotypes are completely acceptable. These statements also unfortunately highlight the lack of empathy and compassion displayed by many people. It is obvious that many simply worry about themselves without caring about the harm that their words could cause to others nearby, especially those they target.

Saying something that is offensive and then claiming it’s just a joke doesn’t make it any less hurtful; it only masks underlying discrimination or hatred of certain groups of people that you choose to target. If you enjoy making offensive jokes or believe that it’s not a big deal because it’s “just a joke,” I kindly ask that you take some time out of your day to educate yourself about the potential harm that your words might cause to others.