Ethnic joke  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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An ethnic joke is a humorous remark 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, of course) 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 us deal with hostility verbally instead of physically, but these slurs also reinforce our stereotypes and sometimes lead to calls for violence.

Ethnic jokes are often considered to be offensive and as a form of hate speech.Template:Citation needed Perceived as such, they may sometimes be referred to as race jokes, or racist jokes. But the definition of what constitute a race, ethnicity or a social group varies from one nation or society to the next, about who is considered a racial minority or ethnic group.

Ethnic jokes come and go with social change, particularly with waves of immigration from one country to another; for example, Polish jokes, which are common in the United States. Similarly, Irish jokes have become far less common in the United Kingdom as the social status of Irish people has risen with increased wealth in Ireland, the consequent reduction in Irish itinerant labour, and the absorption of Irish people into the community. 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 on the level of how offensive they can be, though not as politically charged than, say, African American or black jokes told by non-blacks in the USA 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. Template:Citation needed

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 ethnic joke start?
A : With a look over your shoulder.

Racial targets

Ethnic jokes are often aimed at minorities within certain regions, or peoples from neighbouring areas. A common ethnic joke format is the "stupid person" joke, where the stock character, who is the butt of the joke, belongs to an ethnic group singled out for abuse. Such jokes are often interchangeable, with the stigmatized group varying from region to region (e.g. the English tell such jokes about the Irish, Canadians about people from the province of Newfoundland, or "Newfie"s). And in the USA, jokes about inhabitants of the state of Oklahoma, or "Okies" date back from the 1930s when many migrated to California as a result of the Dust bowl disaster. Template:Citation needed

In other ethnic jokes, the targeted ethnic group is one that has historically been associated with the privileged ruling class, as in the "Jan van der Merwe" jokes of South Africa, which make fun of Afrikaners (Jan van der Merwe being a stereotypical Dutch name). People with different skin colour may be singled out for offensive jokes, with Black people being an example of a common target in certain countries. People of Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent, who are a substantial minority group in England, are the target of similar jokes. Jews (and sometimes Poles as well) are also a common target of ethnic jokes within Europe and North America.Template:Citation needed.

Some ethnic targets, such as the gallegos (people from Galicia, which could refer to either Galicia in Eastern Europe (Poland and Ukraine) or Galicia in Spain, are a target for ethnic jokes in Latin America (e.g. Costa Rica or Argentina), perhaps just for the name, not that such groups are of any notice in Latin America. 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 have became unpopular, due to social protest by Mexican Americans and immigrant rights groups.

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.

Most of the researchers like Davies and Leon Rappoport have argued that ethnic jokes do not propagate ethnic stereotypes, but are often a way of positive interaction between communities.

The Theory of Ethnic Humor

The predominant and most widely known theory of ethnic humor attempts to discover societal 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 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 described the main binary oppositions providing examples mostly from the Jew 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.

Links have been established between the scripts of the jokes and social facts, such as, for example, modern society’s hesitance in regarding people’s primary actions such as working, eating and drinking, sexual life and warfare. Issues related to these actions are present in more or less all societies; the societies where these are absent also lack the corresponding jokes (e.g. jokes about alcohol are missing in Muslim and Jewish jokelore) [1]. The anecdote tradition of each individual culture are based on the presupposition that the joke centers on divergence from the norm and average.

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 around the three main themes of Stupidity, Canniness and Sexual Behavior

Stupidity - 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.

Canniness - As the counterpart of stupidity jokes, there exist jokes about canniness that usually depict unambiguous, well-integrated and economically successful group of people, either only locally known (e.g. the population of the Laihia (Laihela) village in Finland) or international (e.g. the Jews).

Sexual behavior - There are also more culture-specific jokes about ludicrous behavior concerning militarism, alcohol consumption, sexual behavior,etc. These jokes are based on the cultural background of the object of ridicule and the teller of the joke, and their mutual attitude towards the problems with the areas mentioned.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Ethnic joke" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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