Sometimes jokes aren't funny. It depends on the context, doesn't it? I have a fairly black sense of humour, and rarely pass up the opportunity for a one-liner. But I do try to retain some sensitivity to the people around me. So, for example, if I saw a terrific opening for a death joke, but I was with someone who was recently bereaved, I'd hold back.
That doesn't mean I always get it right. One of the key features of humour is that it's risky. Even professional comedians cause offence without meaning to at times. For example, some of you may remember that Jo Brand upset the BNP, back when their membership list was published, by quipping 'now we know where to send the poo'. I'm sure lots of us anti-racist lefties laughed at the time; I know I did. But if I was a BNP member, I can see that I could have been upset by Brand's joke.
A friend of mine recently texted me three jokes in quick succession which I found offensive. The first poked fun at a "Paki", the second was about an Irishman and a "nigger", and the third was based on the premise that a man could have sex with a disabled woman if he was desperate, as long as nobody was looking.
I know my friend to be kind-hearted, an active carer for her family, friends and colleagues, and not remotely politically correct (although interestingly she's very anti-ageism, and will leap to the defence of older people). She knows I've been having a difficult time and I figured she was trying to cheer me up. Nevertheless, I was upset, particularly as the Paramour and I have both talked to her about her use of the word "Paki" in conversation, and asked her not to use it in our house. So I sent her a text back, saying "Racist 'jokes',+ones at the expense of disabled people, dont make me laugh. They make me feel sad+a bit sick. Thanks4the thought but pls dont send me any more." She replied saying "Oops sorry sorry sorry many times sorry slapped wrist wont do again didnt mean 2 offend it was only meant 2 b a bit of fun sorry again xx".
She is one of only two in my friendship group who I know to use that kind of language and appreciate that kind of joke. I could say 'it's not funny', but being judgemental is too easy; it is funny for her. Maybe I should be all self-righteous and end our friendship, and part of me is tempted to do so. But if I chose only to be friends with people who think exactly like me, wouldn't I be compounding the problem rather than helping to solve it?
I think racism, disabilityism, and all their prejudicial cousins are wrong and odious. I also think that dismissing someone as a racist full stop, without looking at the whole of their personality, is over-simplistic and so runs the risk of being another form of prejudice. People are complicated and people change. I doubt very much that I'll be able to change my friend's views single-handed, but I think I'm more likely to have an influence by staying friends with her and challenging her views when they affect me than by dropping her like a hot brick. And then she can't write me off as a humourless git either, because when we meet, we always find mutually acceptable ways to make each other laugh.
I still feel uneasy, though, so I'm not sure I'm right about any of this. What do you think?