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Others joking about race


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I know this is a very sensitive topic, so, please try to just stick to my question.  I really don't want this to get ugly.

 

I have a group of friends who are from various backgrounds.  Tonight, I am going to a party where one person is Asian, one is black, one is from Haiti, and another is bi-racial.  I will be one of 2 white people there.  Three of the women (who aren't white), make very frequent race jokes.  Some of them are about their own race, others are about other races.  They also often speak in stereotypes, and will even pass their phones around to share youtube videos on the topic.  I am very uncomfortable with this.  

 

I understand they might be cracking jokes because they feel uncomfortable, but is it okay for me to ask them to stop?  How can I respectfully word that?  I don't want to be the downer at the party, but all these jokes/comments just feel wrong to me.  

 

Can you all give me some perspective?

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Are you sure these are people you want to be friends with?

 

If you need to be around them I would just deadpan them when they make jokes like that.  A good line I learned from a master dead-panner friend is 'I just don't know what to say about that.'  Devoid of all expression.  

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Hm, interesting question.

 

In my experience, group based jokes are not always problematic. I remember one international school I attended as a child; the set up was unusual as all the kids were grouped together for classwork in the language of the host country, but for a few hours a week were split into national "sections" for classwork in the language of that section. The kids in each national section typically but not always had at least one parent of that nationality.

 

There was a lot of friendly rivalry among the sections, and lots of jokes and stereotypes--but the overall atmosphere of the school was the most diversity friendly situation I have ever been in. Having the separate groups to belong to, including the freedom to joke about one's own and others' groups, actually seemed to facilitate camaraderie among the groups.

 

So...I dont know. I'm not 100% sure that group based jokes and stereotypes are always harmful. If one group or another is being singled out for an unfair share of negative stereotyping, that seems problematic. But generally friendly banter with folks poking fun at themselves along with others may not be.

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My oldest son is half Korean. There were only 7 Asian kids at his high school including him. The high school had just under 1800 students in it. Anyway, they all made "chink" jokes and still do. When I asked why they do this, they told me that it took the power away from the racists. How can they be hurt by something they have already said to themselves? It is already programmed into their minds as a joke so they just laugh.

 

So, I asked my son about your question and his response is that if they are good people all you have to do is ask them to stop in your presence and they will. He said something along the lines of "I know you think this is funny but it makes me uncomfortable because I can never be part of the joke."

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Thank you all for your advice!

 

I do feel like I shouldn't say anything exactly because I don't belong in that conversation.  I understand owning the jokes as a way to prevent them from being hurtful.  Thank you for asking your son.  His advice was very helpful.

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 asking to repeat,  asking to explain etc. - will bring the attention of the speaker on what they just said.  (just like people who swear every other word don't realize how much they swear - they may not be aware of the inappropriateness of their comments.)

 

they may or may not realize they are being racist.

they are supposedly your friends - it should be okay to ask them to stop

be willing to consider - deep down, they don't want to be  friends  with you.

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My latin friends make jokes about their culture (abuela issues, etc). My black friends and I joke about black people time (barbecues...ugh), old school church services and the family dynamics that are often associated with our culture. It's a shared bit of humor not something done at the expense of others. This would be the same as Jeff Foxworthy telling redneck jokes.

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I think there's a way in which people tell jokes to head off racism or sexism or just general stereotyping that feels sort of empowering on an individual level - like look at me, I am not bothered, I can dish it out too, I have subverted your stereotypes - but which is, in the end, disempowering and ultimately not productive for moving a group forward and away from discrimination or mistreatment. Because it lacks the power dynamic, I feel like that's a little different from racism. It's also the case that cultures have in jokes about themselves and know how to laugh at themselves and that's definitely not the same as racism either. I don't know if either of those things is what's going on there though... For me, the fact that it's not only about themselves is what would make it feel more uncomfortable to me.

 

If these are really your friends and you have a good relationship, I think it's okay to bring it up. I think I'm reading from your post that you're white. It's hard, but eons ago, I read this thing about how white people have to be willing to embrace being awkward in conversations about race and I've tried to hold that as a sort of ideal in a weird way - it's okay to be awkward. And from there to just invite them to talk about it in a way that makes sense for you. Or to say you're uncomfortable about it.

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My latin friends make jokes about their culture (abuela issues, etc). My black friends and I joke about black people time (barbecues...ugh), old school church services and the family dynamics that are often associated with our culture. It's a shared bit of humor not something done at the expense of others. This would be the same as Jeff Foxworthy telling redneck jokes.

 

This is different from what the OP is describing, though.  Her friends are not only making jokes about their own races, but about other races as well.

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This is different from what the OP is describing, though.  Her friends are not only making jokes about their own races, but about other races as well.

 

I don't know. I wasn't there. I do know that sometimes things get lost in translation when being viewed by someone on the outside looking in. It might seem strange for someone to see me sharing Asian jokes with my friends (which also include Asian and Amerasian folks) but they are in on the jokes too. It's a reflection of our comfort with one another, not discomfort. Only the persons there know if the joke(s) are at the expense of others, they may be.

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When you are with these friends, you are in a predominately POC (people of color) space.  

Behave like you would when you are a homeschooler in a predominately public-schooler space.  Or when you are a non-sports-person in a sports-person space.  Or when you are straight/cis in a queer space.  Or when you are a religious space that isn't your own.  Or any time you are in a group of people who are quite different, culturally, than you are.

When I am in those situations, which is not unusual for me, I keep my mouth closed and listen and try to learn. I don't take offense and I don't take it personally.  I expect to sometimes be uncomfortable.  I recognize that sometimes my presence makes them uncomfortable.  When I am in the category that is the "minority" outside of the friend group (homeschooler) I might gently try to educate the friends about my perspective.  When I am in the group that is the majority outside of the friend group (straight/cis), I think long and hard about speaking up against something that the group is doing/saying, because I recognize that I may be taking it in a way that wasn't intended, or not getting cultural references, or not aware of history surrounding the issue, etc.  That doesn't mean there aren't any situations where I would speak up - of course there are.  And the more time I've spent with the friends, the more I will be able to discern when it's appropriate and when it's not. And sometimes I will cautiously ask a question to help my understanding of what people are saying - to get the background or the history or the reference that it was clear I'd missed.  

All that to say, I can't say never, but i would tread very carefully about calling POC to task for speaking/joking about race in a POC space.

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I wouldn't call it racist personally . Racism = discrimination+power

 

Didn't we just have a whole long thread about this :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes:

 

Racism is prejudice based on race. Period. Individuals from historically oppressed groups can absolutely be racist.

 

When there is an attempt to change the definition of racism, it just alienates people who would otherwise be sympathetic.

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Didn't we just have a whole long thread about this :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes:

 

Racism is prejudice based on race. Period. Individuals from historically oppressed groups can absolutely be racist.

 

When there is an attempt to change the definition of racism, it just alienates people who would otherwise be sympathetic.

No one who is sympathetic on issues of race is alienated by the sociological definition of racism. Skeptics, sure.

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Didn't we just have a whole long thread about this :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes:

 

Racism is prejudice based on race. Period. Individuals from historically oppressed groups can absolutely be racist.

 

When there is an attempt to change the definition of racism, it just alienates people who would otherwise be sympathetic.

Otherwise be sympathetic to what ?

Because I'm baffled.

Edited by poppy
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Didn't we just have a whole long thread about this :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes:

 

Racism is prejudice based on race. Period. Individuals from historically oppressed groups can absolutely be racist.

 

When there is an attempt to change the definition of racism, it just alienates people who would otherwise be sympathetic.

We did just have a long thread about it (again). And it was pointed out several times that the colloquial definition you and many people (notably among them white supremacists) use is not the definition used by scholars and anti-racists. Edited by bibiche
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Didn't we just have a whole long thread about this :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes:

 

Racism is prejudice based on race. Period. Individuals from historically oppressed groups can absolutely be racist.

 

When there is an attempt to change the definition of racism, it just alienates people who would otherwise be sympathetic.

There are two conflicting definitions of racism here.

 

You are defining racism as in-group/out-group bias delineated by race. That type of bias certainly exists both among privileged and non privileged groups.

 

There is a more harmful type of bias though that occurs only when there is a power differential; we live in a country where there has been and continues to be a long standing power differential between white and black, and it is that differential that has lead to systemically harmful racism.

 

I'm not sure that arguing over definitions is useful; acknowledging that there are differences though between the two types of bias that could be termed racism is necessary. And when someone has defined how they are using the term then it makes sense to stick to that definition when responding.

Edited by maize
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Otherwise be sympathetic to what ?

Because I'm baffled.

 

I was thinking about this too. Like, if you didn't point out that a power differential makes things more difficult for you then you'd be sympathetic but since the power difference is there, you've decided that racism shouldn't be fought against? Or you disagree over definitions so you've decided not to be sympathetic to problems faced by minorities or acknowledge that they're problems?

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I was thinking about this too. Like, if you didn't point out that a power differential makes things more difficult for you then you'd be sympathetic but since the power difference is there, you've decided that racism shouldn't be fought against? Or you disagree over definitions so you've decided not to be sympathetic to problems faced by minorities or acknowledge that they're problems?

I imagine the problem stems from feeling like one's point of view is being invalidated and dismissed, and therefor feeling alienated from the conversation.

 

Which is a common problem in discourse of controversial issues and makes it almost impossible to have a true dialogue.

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I imagine the problem stems from feeling like one's point of view is being invalidated and dismissed, and therefor feeling alienated from the conversation.

 

Which is a common problem in discourse of controversial issues and makes it almost impossible to have a true dialogue.

But it wouldn't be hard to get on the same page by employing the words "bias" and "racism" as they are used by people trying to eradicate the bias and racism. The clinging to this colloquial definition of racism seems more than anything else to be a way to cling to racism itself. Why the resistance, otherwise, to using the word as it used by the people who study racism and the people who are victims of racism?

 

No one is saying that bias does not exist, it absolutely does. But bias does not equal racism.

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But it wouldn't be hard to get on the same page by employing the words "bias" and "racism" as they are used by people trying to eradicate the bias and racism. The clinging to this colloquial definition of racism seems more than anything else to be a way to cling to racism itself. Why the resistance, otherwise, to using the word as it used by the people who study racism and the people who are victims of racism?

 

No one is saying that bias does not exist, it absolutely does. But bias does not equal racism.

I agree with you.

 

I'm fond though of the advice "seek first to understand, then to be understood"--not something we can make others adhere to, but something we can always apply ourselves.

 

The only way to ever help a person change their mind on an issue is to first make it clear that you both understand and respect (even if you disagree with) their current thinking on the issue.

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I imagine the problem stems from feeling like one's point of view is being invalidated and dismissed, and therefor feeling alienated from the conversation.

 

Which is a common problem in discourse of controversial issues and makes it almost impossible to have a true dialogue.

I'm alienated, so I don't think racism is an issue in our country . But if you agree power is irrelevant to the discussion of race, then I'll .... what? Agree with you that racism is not an issue in our country is my guess.

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I'm alienated, so I don't think racism is an issue in our country . But if you agree power is irrelevant to the discussion of race, then I'll .... what? Agree with you that racism is not an issue in our country is my guess.

I think I would just start with acknowledging (as I tried to do in a previous post) the the type of bias the a person is calling racism does exist in all racial groups.

 

And then move on to discussion of the more complicated and harmful problem of racism within the context of a power differential. And maybe using a specific term to differentiate what you are talking about from their more generic use of the term. Call it privileged racism maybe?

 

Just telling a person "my definition of this word is right and yours is wrong" is not likely to lead to productive discourse.

Edited by maize
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I think I would just start with acknowledging (as I tried to do in a previous post) the the type of bias the a person is calling racism does exist in all racial groups.

 

And then move on to discussion of the more complicated and harmful problem of racism within the context of a power differential. And maybe using a specific term to differentiate what you are talking about from their more generic use of the term. Call it privileged racism maybe?

 

Just telling a person "my definition of this word is right and yours is wrong" is not likely to lead to productive discourse.

I didn't tell anyone their definition was wrong. I said what I believe the definition was , and got chastised.

 

Still confused about what difference it would make to people who would be 'otherwise sympathetic' . I don't think privileged racism is going to catch on.....the concept of privilege is just as contentious. And THEN the conversation gets mired in definitions and 'my grandfather was poor' yadda yadda . It's all deflection IMO.

Edited by poppy
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My oldest son is half Korean. There were only 7 Asian kids at his high school including him. The high school had just under 1800 students in it. Anyway, they all made "chink" jokes and still do. When I asked why they do this, they told me that it took the power away from the racists. How can they be hurt by something they have already said to themselves? It is already programmed into their minds as a joke so they just laugh.

 

 

Eh...our family is Korean, too, and my teens would get belligerent (especially my son) if other kids were doing that.  

 

About what was described in the OP, that would be considered bad manners (with my husband's family, especially).  They are very conservative, old-school Korean, though.  

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I am wondering how well these people know each other.

 

If they have a sense of understanding where the others are coming from, IMO it isn't necessarily a problem, other than that you feel uncomfortable.

 

In your situation, I think the ideal might be to talk privately with one of the others to get a different perspective.  It's just hard for people wo are totally outside it to get a sense of the group. 

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