Uses and Abuses of Racist Jokes | News And Society

Uses and Abuses of Racist Jokes

 By: Philip Yaffe Platinum Expert Author
I love racist jokes.

If you are shocked by this declaration, you shouldn't be because what I mean by the term is not those disgusting, brutal - and generally false - observations designed to cause offense and injury. These do not qualify as jokes, because there is nothing funny about putting people in degrading pigeonholes.

What I mean by racist jokes are those well-crafted stories that deftly ridicule racist and ethnic stereotypes by taking them to their logical but absurd extremes. You know, the kind of racist stories that the Irish as being dullards, the French as being rude snobs, Americans as being loud-mouthed braggarts, Jews as being hook-nosed money-grubbers, Germans as being humorless machines - and Belgians as being... well, Belgians.

While all of these stereotypes may contain a grain of truth, it is never more than a grain, but some people like to portray them as a bumper crop in order to degrade and demean the objects of their pet prejudices. True racist jokes work to counteract this dangerous venom.

I recall a major event that took place in the United States in 1971. This was the first showing of the sitcom titled "All in the Family." It centered around a dysfunctional family composed of a truly racist family headed by a virulent racist father (Archie Bunker), his loyal but long-suffering wife (Edith), and their free-spirited daughter Gloria, and her equally "hippy" husband (Michael). It was the U.S. adaptation of a British sitcom called "Till Death Do Us Part."

What I remember most about the program (other than it was hysterically funny) was how people reacted to it. I was part of a small group that began watching it together. For the first few episodes, we were all very entertained by Archie's demented rantings about Germans, Poles, blacks, homosexuals, women's libbers, etc., considering it all to be good fun. However, when the storyline turned in our direction, the reaction was quite different. "They can't say that! They can't broadcast such prejudiced garbage on television!" Yes, they could. And they continued doing so for several years.

I think a key lesson learned by these early episodes, by those who were capable of learning, was that racist, ethnic, social and political stereotypes that seem to be just harmless fun when aimed at someone else become seriously injurious when aimed at you.

A modern version of this lesson is currently being taught in Britain by the overwhelming success of Henning Wehn. Wehn is a German stand-up comedian (yes, there are such things) who emigrated to Britain in 2003. Since arriving there, he has made quite a name for himself by playing on the German stereotype, and deftly deflecting stereotypical barbs launched by his colleagues on panel shows. Among his other devices, he often appears on stage wearing a stopwatch around his neck to lampoon the supposed genetically impelled German obsession for efficiency and punctuality.

Okay, if you are now convinced that racist and other sorts of stereotypical jokes can and do serve a serious social purpose, I would like to offer you a few of my favorites that debunk the stereotypes that they are ostensibly promoting by taking them to their ridiculously logical conclusion.

Dutch frugality

Question: How can a pilot recognize that he is flying over the Netherlands?
Answer: Easy, by observing the lines of toilet paper drying in the sun.

Scots Frugality

Two Scots, a father and son, visit London for the first time. They are staying in a hotel on the edge of the city. The son decides he wants to see the sights in the center. When he returns that evening, he proudly announces to his father, "Instead of taking the bus into town, I noted which bus was going there. Instead of getting on, I ran behind it. It led me straight to the center and I saved 50 pence!" The father slaps his forehead in disgust. "Ay, you idiot. Why didn't you run behind a taxi? You could have save five pound!

Jewish Logic

Moshe, an 85-year-old orthodox Jew, is lying on his deathbed in a New York apparently. He comes out of his comma and asked, "Sarah, Sarah, my wife of 55 years, are you here with me?" "Yes, Moshe, yes I am here." "Sarah, I want you should do something for me. I want you should put on your coat, I want you should go downstairs, I want you should go to the corner to St. Patrick's Cathedral, I want you should find a priest, and I want you should bring him back here." "What! You want I should go get a priest and bring him back here. Why?" "I want to convert. I want to become a Christian." "Moshe, Moshe. You have been an orthodox Jew for 85 years, you entire life. Now in your final hours, you want to convert. You want to become a Christian. You crazy!" Moshe sits bolt upright in the bed and points his finger to his head. "Crazy like a fox. Better one of them should die than one of us!"

Texan Superiority

Everything about Texas is supposed to be bigger and better than anywhere else. A Texan is visiting in Italy and he is trying to impress an Italian by how big Texas is. He first tells him how big it is in square miles, but the Italian does not seem to be properly impressed. So he translates everything into square kilometers. The Italian still is not properly impressed, so he translates everything into acres. Still not the proper reaction, so he translates everything into hectares. Same problem. In desperation, the Texan say, "Look, Luigi. I can get on a train at 8 o'clock in the morning. That train is going to travel all day and all night, and at 8 o'clock the next morning, it's still goin' to be in Texas." Finally, the Italian responds. "Hey, you know, we also gotta trains like that here in Italy, but we don't brag about them."

Since everything in Texas is bigger and better than anywhere else, here is a second joke. This one is called "The Ultimate Texas Dilemma."

A group of four Texans are standing in a group in the Dallas railway station when a train pulls in. A fellow gets off the train wearing a conservative brown suit, narrow lapels, Homburg hat, and carrying an umbrella. One of the Texans leaves to the group and goes over to talk to the newcomer. After a couple of minutes he returns to the group and says, "Hey, fellas, you gotta help me. I'm having a problem. That there is my cousin from Boston and we're talking about midgets. Should I say we've go the tallest or the smallest?" And believe me, there just isn't any good answer to that.

Irish Dullness

O'Reily is walking along the River Shannon when he sees his friend O'Malley fishing. He goes up to greet him and says, "Hey, O'Malley, if I guess how many fish you got in your basket, will you give me one of them?" "O'Reily, if you guess how many fish I got in my basket, I'll give you both of them." So O'Reily guesses four. And O'Malley doubles over with laughter. "Ay you fool, you missed it by three."

A Very Special Telephone

This joke is about the United States and Israel, but its humor is universal. To my mind, it is the best joke in the world. It takes a while to get to the punch line, but it is well worth it.

Benyamin Netanyahou, the Prime Minister of Israel, is on a visit to Barak Obama in Washington. Obama is giving him a tour of the White House. At a certain moment, Obama stops him and says, "Mr. Prime Minister, you see that telephone over there? It is a very special telephone. It is a direct line to God." "Really!" "Absolutely. Try it. Try it." Netanyahou goes over to the telephone, picks up the receiver, talks for two or three minutes, then returns. "A direct line to God. Mr. President, I am indeed impressed." They finish the tour and Netanyahou is at the front door preparing to return to Jerusalem when Obama pulls a piece of paper out of his coat pocket. "Mr. Prime Minister, the bill for the telephone call." Netanyahou looks at it. "$3,460. For two minutes. Well, it was a direct line to God." He pays the bill and returns to Jerusalem.

Six months later, Obama is visiting Netanyahou in Jerusalem. Netanyahou is giving Obama a tour of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament. At a certain moment, Netanyahou stops him and says, "Mr. President, you see that telephone over there? It is a very special telephone. We too now have a direct line to God." "Really!" "Absolutely. Try it. Try it." Obama goes over to the telephone, picks up the receiver, talks for two or three minutes, then returns. "A direct line to God. Mr. Prime Minister, I am indeed impressed." They finish the tour and Obama is at the front door preparing to return to Washington when Netanyahou pulls a piece of paper out of his coat pocket. "Mr. President, the bill for the telephone call." Obama looks at it. "$1.23. One dollar and twenty-three cents!" "Mr. President," Netanyahou says, "you must understand. For us, this is a local call.

You may be wondering about the reference to Belgians at the beginning of this article. Belgium is a small country, about the size of Maryland, sandwiched between German, France, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Although Brussels, the Belgian capital, is also the capital of the European Union, the country itself has a very indifferent reputation, as to its people.

I live in Belgium and know differently. They are generally a very nice, sophisticated accommodating, people. My favorite Belgian joke reflects this.

Question: How can you recognize a Belgian on a North Sea oil platform?
Answer: It's very easy. He's the one throwing bread crumbs to the helicopter.

I'm not sure why, but I find this really sweet.
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