Do you laugh at stereotypes? – By Julia Wai-Yin So, PhD

Do you recall the last time you heard a casual remark about the stereotype of one particular racial/ethnic group? These are not blatant racist jokes, but stereotypical comments such as:

“White men can’t jump.”
“Latinos are lazy.”
“Blacks are better runners.”
“Natives are drunks.”
“Asians can’t drive.”

What did you do? Did you laugh with everyone? Did you chuckle while feeling uneasy? Did you just sat there, but wanting to leave the room? Did you get up and walk away while feeling angry?

You may have reacted in one of the above manners; but soon forgot the incidents very quickly, without realizing that these are salient and serious questions we need to ask ourselves. Too many times, many of us are unintentional accomplices in simple random acts of “passive racism” that are perceived as harmless. We laugh at “racial” jokes—not racist jokes, but jokes that make fun of one social group. We poke fun at others’ stereotypical traits. We even turn a deaf ear as though we do not hear anything.

You may argue that such jokes are harmless, especially when you hear it all the time. With so many people saying it; it can’t be wrong? Wrong! Sixty years ago before Brown v. Board of Education when segregated public schools was legal, was it right to separate children of color from those with white skin?

The fundamental question is not about certain action is common, but rather, the moral principal behind such behavior. If you feel uncomfortable, it is probably wrong. So next time, when you hear comments such as:

“Chinese parents name their kids by throwing a pan down the stairs—“ching” “chong” “wong.”
“Aspirin is not black because it works.”
“Mexicans don’t barbeque because the beans keep falling through the grill.”

Please don’t turn a deaf ear. Do something!

Try putting yourself in others’ shoe, and see how it feels. A racial joke is a racial joke. It does not matter to whom it is being addressed. If you don’t like it, others probably don’t either. Stop laughing at racial jokes. Stop poking fun at others, especially their stereotypes which we all know are unfounded generalizations. More importantly, speak up for others.

To diffuse the tension, try responding with “do you mean to say some white men can’t jump?” or “do you mean to say some Asians can’t drive?” Better yet, ask the person what he/she really means. Or simply say, “I don’t think it’s funny to make fun of others.” Finally, you can always walk away and leave the room.

When you assert your position and insist on others to stop stereotyping any group or poking fun at others, those around you will also stop, at least in your presence.

When one less joke is made of one social group, one less person is hurt!

Dr. Julia Wai-Yin So

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