An ethnic joke is a remark attempting humor relating to an ethnic, racial or cultural group, often referring to a stereotype of the group in question for its punchline.
Ethnic jokes have been around since people first noticed they were different from one another, and ethnocentrism and a sense of ethnic identity appeared. Jokes feed upon difference and distinctions (not only ethnic) and if one of the functions of ethnic jokes is to ridicule and depreciate these in-out groups, another function is to maintain and strengthen a sense of one’s identity in some in-group. It may be that ethnic humour helps people deal with hostility verbally instead of physically, but these slurs also reinforce stereotypes and sometimes lead to calls for violence. Ethnic jokes are often considered to be offensive and as a form of hate speech. Perceived as such, they may sometimes be referred to as race jokes, or racist jokes.
But in other cases the ethnic jokes are addressed against those who are historically seen as the aggressors, like the multiple jokes published in Mexico about the Americans (also called gringos there). Similar jokes have also been published in Barcelona. However, Jew jokes and Italian American jokes in the USA have generated controversy because of how offensive they can be, though not as politically charged as African American or black jokes told by non-blacks in the USA, which are viewed as rude, immoral and socially unacceptable.
As public awareness of racism has increased, racial and ethnic jokes have become increasingly socially unacceptable in recent years, and have become socially taboo to tell in public in many regions. This can however, depend on who is telling the joke. For example, it may be deemed offensive for a white person to make a joke about Asians, whereas it would be more acceptable for an Asian to make a similar joke about their own culture, or an Asian make a joke about white people can be variously funny or offending to some extent. Many comedians from diverse ethnic backgrounds do this on a regular basis, about whites, other groups and themselves.
It is sometimes held that such stereotypes must contain a grain of truth. Research suggests that this is most often not the case. However, it is claimed by some that ethnic jokes have a basis in fact, and some ethnic jokes deliberately try to prove their point, for instance:
Q : How does every black joke start?
A : With a look over your shoulder.
When talking about ethnic humour, distinctions are sometimes made as to whether the humour comes from the inside or the outside, the idea being that when self-mocking humour comes from the inside, it pushes out the boundaries of acceptable or expected behaviours by making fun of one or more of the group characteristics known to the insider. Complimentary humour coming from the inside works to increase group pride and satisfaction. In contrast, jokes coming from the outside are more likely to be critical or insulting. And even if they are no more critical than insider jokes, they are viewed more negatively, as their effect is to tighten the boundaries or freeze the stereotypes because the outsider is not in a position to bring about group change. What these distinctions ignore is that insult humour is only one kind of joking.
Other examples : In Costa Rica, there are Nicaraguan jokes, due to the influx of Nicaraguan immigrants (often illegal) looking for jobs. And Mexican jokes in the USA remain popular, despite social protest by Mexican Americans and immigrant rights groups. In France, jokes about Belgian people, in Quebec, about inhabitants of Drummondville, in Germany, about people of East Frisia, in Austria, about people of the Burgenland state, in Syria, about inhabitants of Homs.
Theory of ethnic humor
The predominant and most widely known theory of ethnic humor attempts to discover social regularities in the anecdote traditions of different countries by contextually describing jokes. Professor Christie Davies, author of this theory, has posed the main arguments in his article Ethnic Jokes, Moral Values and Social Boundaries, published in 1982. His approach is based on Victor Raskin's (1985) Semantic Script Theory of Humor (SSTH), or to be more precise, on the arguments connected with ethnic humor on binary oppositions. While Raskin merely describes the main binary oppositions providing examples mostly from the Jewish humor), Davies explores the situations where the scripts apply; for example, he has discovered that the most common opposition, stupid/clever, is applied under particular circumstances in the social reality of two ethnic groups concerned.
Davies in his monograph published in 1990 has surmised that "Jokes in every country (or reasonably homogeneous cultural and linguistic domain) have certain targets for stupidity jokes - people who dwell on the edge of that nation or domain and who are perceived as culturally ambiguous by the dominant people of the center. In addition, they will likely be rustic people or immigrants in search of unskilled and low-prestige manual work. They are to a great extent similar to the joke-tellers themselves, share the same cultural background or even speak a similar or identical language." According to Davies, ethnic jokes are centered on the three main themes of stupidity, canniness and sexual behavior.
- Allport's Scale
- An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman
- Black stereotypes
- Hindu Jokes
- Jewish humour
- Margaret Cho, American comedian of Korean descent known for self-humor of Koreans and Asian Americans
- Pathan joke
- Russell Peters, Indo-Canadian comedian for his off-color routines on various ethnicities.
- Sardarji joke
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- website for Polack, 2010 documentary
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- Identity is a Joking Matter: Intergroup Humor in Bosnia
- Just how ethnic is ethnic humour?
- Book review of Simon Weaver's doctoral thesis: The Rhetoric of Racist Humour (Reviewed by N Nikoghosyan)
- When racist jokes aren’t a laughing matter – new study University of Leicester's summary of Dr Weaver's theories in his dissertation The Rhetoric of Racist Humour