25 September 2017

The Anthropology of Humor - Responding to Everyday Racist Comments and Jokes

In the face of so much bigotry flying around on social media and in our daily lives, it's good practice to remind ourselves of the best practices out there when dealing with everyday racist comments and jokes.

How do anthropologists think about humor as a cultural trait?

According to Anthropologist Robert Lynch, a joke...is like a little brain scan: When we laugh, we reveal what's inside us. In an interview for NPR, Lynch is described as saying: When you and I laugh at the same joke, we signal to each other that we share the same values, the same beliefs. This may be why people all over the world want friends and romantic partners who share their sense of humor. His research on humor can be found here and here.

What are some simple practices we can follow when responding to racist humor?

Emma Thomson and Anne Pederson, Psychologists at Murdoch University, advocate that one simply disagree with a racist statement or to not laugh at a racist joke (acknowledging the importance of personal safety in the face of anger when doing so).

The Southern Poverty Law Centre is a rich resource for those wanting to know how to respond to everyday bigotry. In Speak Up: Responding to Everyday Bigotry, the authors include a diversity of response scenarios, including responses depending on the relationship between the oneself and the individual/structure. From siblings and joking in-laws, to real estate bigotry, unwanted emails as well as one's own personal bias. This is a gold mine.

At the end of this list - they advocate six steps:

  1. Be ready
  2. Identify the behaviour (call it out - not the person - the behaviour in order to receive a less confrontational response)
  3. Appeal to principles (moral humanistic principals)
  4. Set limits (for example, that you're unwilling to hear such jokes, etc.)
  5. Find an ally/Be an ally (find solace in similarly-minded folks)
  6. Be vigilant (making small steps)

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