Salah: Joking about race is not a laughing matter

Salah argues that there is a double standard for who is allowed to make certain jokes.

Hend Salah

Hend SalahOne of the most common jokes made by comedians today is about racial stereotypes. They tend to create both laughs and anger, depending on the comedian.

But no matter who says them, there is a major double-standard when it comes to jokes of that nature. It’s not just the content of the joke but also the person saying it that determines our reactions.

Often, jokes based on race are made by someone of that same race. Usually, that situation presents no problems. But when they are also used by people who are not a part of that race or ethnicity, who are considered outsiders, there is more scrutiny.

This examination can lead to two possible outcomes. The first possibility is that the joke is accepted. Perhaps it’s not “too offensive” or the audience is more open-minded. Sometimes the jokes only lightly play upon known stereotypes, so they don’t cause a stir. The second is that the joke causes a negative reaction from members of the audience, who — for some reason or another — decide that the comments have gone too far.

This kind of joke often is more intolerable when it comes from a white comedian. When white comedians make comments like this, they are often automatically labeled as racist. For instance, a joke about Muslims was made on the show “Have I Got News For You” by Sharon Horgan in the United Kingdom. Muslims in the U.K. were outraged because of it, and no one seemed to find it funny.

Conversely, how many times have you turned on Comedy Central to see a comedian of any race making jokes about white people. Somehow, there is nothing wrong with this.

Another example is Indo-Canadian comedian Russell Peters, who very often relies on racial jokes or stories to get laughs. One of the groups that he mostly makes jokes about are Asian-Americans. No one seems to have a problem with this.

However, in 2008 a picture of Miley Cyrus jokingly squinting her eyes was leaked onto the Internet, and the world went into an uproar. How dare she make her eyes that way? People claimed that she was clearly making fun of Asians. She faced a $4 billion lawsuit for the incident.

The same thing happens in other forms of entertainment, such as music. Eminem is one of the most popular rappers of our time, but he is still constricted in terms of racial verses or jokes in his music. While he does have a choice in what he writes, his limitations are formed because of his diverse fan-base, which he might not want to offend by using certain words. Whether he is popular with all ethnicities or not, he is still white, and that alone creates a red line that he shouldn’t cross. Some other rappers do not have any constriction in their music, and their jokes have no limits.

Ultimately, the question is: Is all of this really fair?

If a comment is merely a joke, it shouldn’t matter who made it. There should be no pass given or taken away based solely on skin color or racial background. If we want to limit or eradicate these kinds of jokes, then this should be the case for everyone, regardless of ethnicity.

We live in a world where people of all races and religions are supposed to coexist. This may not entirely be the case today, but we should be trying to progress in that direction. By creating a difference between us, we are perpetuating the problem.

Because Temple is so diverse, this issue is even more important here. All races and ethnicities interact with each other constantly, and the wall that exists between them because of these comedic distinctions is more serious. The greater the difference we create between us, the closer we are to ruining the peace we have on campus.

It may seem insignificant, but it is still a divider between people across the world. We should be trying to put out the fire fueling the sensitivity, rather than igniting it. When it comes to entertainment and comedy, we should all keep an open mind. It is a very delicate subject, and crossing the line can sometimes be accidental. Nonetheless, it is very important to erase the wall that exists between people of different races or backgrounds.

Hend Salah can be reached at

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