Joking About Race and Ethnicity

Authored by: Stephanie Patridge

The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Race

Print publication date:  December  2017
Online publication date:  November  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415711234
eBook ISBN: 9781315884424
Adobe ISBN:


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What makes a racial or ethnic joke racist? Some might think that this very question relies on a confusion: jokes can’t be racist, because they are a non-serious form of entertainment. When we tell or are amused by a joke, the thought goes, we are only joking (Connolly and Heydar 2005: 126). Two features of our practice of telling and being amused by jokes might be taken to support this thought. First, so-called racist jokes are sometimes told by members of the targeted group (e.g., Jewish folks tell Jew jokes, Polish folks tell “Polack” jokes, and African Americans tell black jokes). Second, we sometimes find jokes about racial or ethnic groups to which we don’t belong funny, despite the fact that we don’t believe that the joke’s target is as the joke “says” it is. Consider, for example, the world’s shortest joke: Two Irishmen walk out of a pub. Clearly, one needn’t have any anti-Irish sentiment to find this joke funny. We need only be aware of a stereotype about Irish drinking habits to get the joke and find it funny.

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