Today I was told a racist joke, the gist of which was "aren't black people like monkeys". Before the joke I was asked "do you want to hear a funny joke?" Of course, I love funny jokes. Then came the ugly set-up line, which I have decided not to extend the life of by reproducing here. In the space between set-up and punchline, I said "I don't care, I don't want to know," but still the stupid racist punchline came. Nasty, vile, shitty, ignorant, hateful, stupid and deeply pathetic, all squeezed into eight words, ten seconds and one mime.
Stony-faced I replied "That's horrible, racist, and not funny." "Yes it is, other people laughed," I was corrected. The thought that people I know would laugh at that makes me sick to my stomach with shame. The joke wasn't funny (obviously that's not the point); there was no wit concealed beneath the racism, only a shallow reiteration of a hundreds-of-years old stereotype. "That's a joke for an idiot. Only an idiot would find that funny. Anyone who tells that or laughs should be ashamed of themselves." I am right.
The joke was told to me in private, one on one, but word obviously got around as someone else approached me later with a sort of "I hear you didn't like the joke. I've got a worse one. Do you want to hear it?" What the hell is wrong with people. You would not make these jokes among black people because you know it is wrong. Why do you think that because I am white I will happily be complicit in racism? Insult someone to their face with a joke like that and you would deserve the punch you would probably get. "People tell jokes about other people all the time," I was informed as if to justify it. Because something is common it can't be bad? Cancer is pretty common too.
"No, I don't want to hear an even more racist joke." I can't believe I actually had to say that. I said it to the people concerned, and I'll say it again: Telling jokes like that, and laughing at them, is disgusting, pathetic behaviour. You should be ashamed of yourselves. You have a right to say them if you think that's the way you want to live your life, but don't be surprised if people look down at you; don't be surprised if you lose friends.
I was brought up to respect people. To not accept stereotypes, to question preconceptions, to not join in with bullying and hateful baaing, to not be scared of the new and different, to treat my fellow humans like humans, to learn and always strive to know and understand, to be polite and considerate, but to challenge ignorance and injustice. (That makes it sound like my parents had me in super hero training.)
I get the feeling that people seem to think its a good thing to laugh at racist jokes, even (or especially) when you don't really agree with the sentiment of the joke. That is fucking dumb. These kind of jokes are always about reinforcing crass generalisations and ugly stereotypes. Where is the humour in that? Surely the point of a joke is that it is funny. If you know a joke is "wrong", but it is not actually funny, why are you laughing just at its "wrongness"?
Laughing at or telling racist jokes doesn't necessarily make you a racist. At best you are thoughtless and inconsiderate; at worst, yes, you are just a racist. Even if you are not a racist, but you are laughing at or telling a racist joke, you are still doing something racist, and how is that any better?
Also, when you tell a racist joke you are making a very strong assumption about the listener. You have decided "this looks like the sort of person who would laugh along with me at my nasty little stereotype"; let us share a sordid giggle at the inferiority of other races. That is an insult, not just to the people who are the butt of the joke, not just to the human race as a whole, but to the individual you have assumed is stupid enough to laugh at your shitty joke.
And I'm still owed the "funny joke" I was promised.