Sometimes jokes are a way of expressing pain

Sometimes people joke about things that scare them, or that are painful. 

Someone laughing doesn’t necessarily mean that they think a topic is funny. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they take the topic lightly. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re ok.

Sometimes, people joke because they can either laugh or cry, and they’d rather laugh. Sometimes people joke as a way to protect themselves, or to seem like they’re above it, or to maintain a boundary with people who will treat them badly if they cry.

An example of this kind of joke is below the cut. It’s an old Jewish joke about antisemitism:

Two beggars were sitting next to each other. One holds a cross, and the other holds a sign saying “Please help a poor Jew."  People pass by and even those who didn’t intend to give money to any of them, give to the first to upset the Jew. One good man passes by, gives money equally to both, and then says to the Jew: "Why don’t you change your sign? Don’t you understand that nobody will give you any money?” and walks away. As he goes, one beggar turns to the other and says: “Haim, he would teach US business…”

Hate joke example (a reply)

Hate joke example



Content warning: This post is an example of a racist hate joke. Some of y’all might be better off skipping this one.

Anonymous asked realsocialskills:

When I was in middle school there was a racist ‘personality quiz’ joke that was framed as an innocent question, “Which would you rather have: vanilla or chocolate ice cream?” If you said you like chocolate better, it meant you preferred oral sex with a black boy. Trust me, white girls quickly changed their answers when they realized what the implication was.

realsocialskills said:

Wow, that’s horrible. And it’s a particularly clear example of a hate joke. (I bet most of those same girls vehemently denied that they could ever have any racist attitudes.)

whiteandmildblr said:

Or maybe they aren’t attracted to blacks?

realsocialskills said:

The point of that hate joke is to sexually humiliate women by insinuating that they are attracted to black men. That’s racist. (And also misogynist.)

The whole power of that joke rests on the perception that there’s a “right” answer, and that no one would ever willingly answer the question “wrong”.

Everyone has sexual and romantic preferences. This hate joke isn’t about expressing preferences in a neutral way. It’s about expressing contempt for black men, and for women who are attracted to black men.

Hate jokes suck.

Something white people need to stop doing

A lot of times, white people call things or people racist as a joke or a generic insult. For instance:

  • In response to someone expressing a preference for white shoes over black shoes
  • In response to someone saying something that offends them for some unrelated reason
  • In response to expressing connection to a particular ethnicity
  • In response to mentioning that white people are white and it matters

It’s not ok to do this because:

  • Jokes like that work by assuming that calling someone or something racist is inherently absurd
  • Which rests on the assumption that there is never a *real* need to call someone or something racist, because it rests on the assumption that real racism is over except for a few fringe groups with no power
  • But racism is still a problem, and it still does tremendous harm to people of color

Using “racist” as a joke or generic insult sends the message that you refuse to acknowledge that racism is still a problem. It sends the message that you have contempt for people who point out racism. Don’t do that.

Acknowledging power

When you have power over someone, it’s important to acknowledge it. If you don’t acknowledge that you have power, it’s hard to examine your use of it. If you’re not paying attention to how you’re using your power, you will come to abuse it, and you won’t notice.

Sometimes, when people are uncomfortable having power over others, they deal with this by telling jokes about it. These jokes are about either denying that they have power, or denying that they’d ever be capable of abusing it. For instance:

  • Jokes about how people who they have power over are really in charge  (eg: “Sometimes I say my secretary is *my* boss”, “I’m the teacher, but the kids are really running the show”.
  • Jokes about how they could abuse power. (“Next thing you know, I’ll be having you interns fetch my dry cleaning and babysitting my kids.”)
  • Jokes about how people could overthrow them. (“I see you three gossiping. Plotting a revolt?”)
  • Jokes about being an oppressive boss (“I’m such a big mean ogre.”)
  • Pretend unreasonable orders (“We all have to work until midnight… haha just kidding, go enjoy your family”)

These jokes are especially bad when they’re told by a powerful person to someone they outrank. They’re basically the humor equivilent of saying, “You’d better tell me that I don’t actually have power over you and that I never misuse it.”

Getting people to tell you that you’re a good person doesn’t help you to treat others well. Acknowledging your power, thinking about how you use it, and soliciting and listening to actual feedback does.

On names

On names

Some people have names that other people joke about a lot.

For instance, if you have the same name as a famous celebrity.

Or the same unusual last name.

Or a vaguely similar last name.

Or a name that sounds like a pun.

Or a name that’s sort of similar to a swear. Or a word that sounds like a swear if you’re 7 and aren’t allowed to say real swears.

These jokes aren’t very funny, and they are *especially* unfunny when they’ve been repeated hundreds of times. Anyone with that kind of name has heard jokes about it many, many times, and is probably sick of it.

So if you meet a new person with that kind of name, don’t comment on it, because commenting on it is likely to annoy them and unlikely to do anything good. (But if they make a joke about it, it’s ok to be amused). 

Social skills for autonomous people: On names



Some people have names that other people joke about a lot.

For instance, if you have the same name as a famous celebrity.

Or the same unusual last name.

Or a vaguely similar last name.

Or a name that sounds like a pun.

Or a name that’s sort of similar to a swear. Or a word that sounds like a…

chavisory said:

I have a last name that’s easy to joke about.  There are about two major jokes that it’s possible to make about my name, both involving movie characters.  And it’s fine, I don’t mind (though I agree that generally, you should probably stay away from joking about the names of people you don’t know well).

Just don’t expect me to react as if you’re being creative and original.

There are two jokes to make about my name.  And everyone makes them.

Trust me, I have heard it before.

realsocialskills said:

Yes, this. I don’t think most people find this seriously offensive. It’s just annoying, especially if people expect you to find it clever.