What do you do about a friend who tells racist jokes that bother you but you know they aren’t racist so you don’t want to make a big deal out of it?
My longtime friend Pam has a habit of making little off-the-cuff remarks that sound bad but I’ve known her for a long time and I know she isn’t “that way.”
When it’s just the two of us it’s no big deal but I cringe when she does this in public. What is a nice way to tell her to stop?
Ben in Boulder
Thank you for your thought-provoking letter. You have raised a subject I think many of us can identify with from both sides.
Racism, like sexuality, has a spectrum.
At one end you have, “has black friends but impulsively locks car door when black man walks by and then hates herself for it” and at the other, “Damn, I’d love to join you at the meeting tomorrow but my white robe is at the dry cleaners and I’m already holding a fundraiser for George Zimmerman’s latest legal fees.”
Speaking of the spectrum of sexuality, Ben, you shared with me when we talked that you are a gay man. If I were a less sensitive person I’d take this opportunity to crack a joke like this:
What’s the most popular pick up line in a gay bar?
“Can I push your stool in?”
You also told me that the last time Pam embarrassed you with her “sense of humor” she made this riotous joke during the Baltimore uprising:
I’m impressed with the looting. Those people haven’t worked so hard since their last carjacking. Do you think the cops will disperse the crowd with job applications?
When she dropped that one in a loud voice you were sitting in a bar with people all around you of many different colors, most of whom were slack-jawed and horrified at the scenes of legitimate protests ignored and overshadowed by arson, rioting, looting, violence, and mayhem.
Several bar patrons were crying, even some of the men. But they were probably pansy-ass limp-wristed faggots, am I right?
Be Careful with Whom You Spend Time
Greek comedy author Menander (342 BC- 291 BC) wrote:
Bad company corrupts good character.
Smart fella. Then again, he also wrote:
I call a fig a fig, a spade a spade.
Hopefully “fig” wasn’t “fag” with a typo and he really was referring to a garden tool, otherwise he may have had a wee touch of the racism/homophobia tendency.
In case you are a dullard, let me be more specific:
Spending time with awful people can make you awful.
If you haven’t yet learned this life lesson, now is the time. I’m rather an expert on this subject and can tell you it’s better to be alone or to have a very small group of friends than to surround yourself with dick heads.
Actually, you’d probably like to surround yourself with dick heads, so let’s say assholes instead.
Even if Pam’s attitude does not wear off on you, you will still be painted with her racist brush. If she makes these types of pronouncements in front of others and you say nothing, your lack of response will be seen as your approval of the message at worst and condoning of it at best.
Now comes the good part, readers: Pam is Vietnamese-American! Her parents came here in the wave of Boat People fleeing Vietnam after the
Which reminds me of a good one; you should share this with Pam:
How do you know your home has been robbed by a Vietnamese gang?
All the rice is gone and three days later they still haven’t been able to back out of your driveway to escape.
Ben, below is your AskDesCamp Advice-by-Numbers® solution to your problem. Please put down your Ryan Gossling fan magazine, get that cock out of your mouth and take notes:
1. Per usual, I suggest getting together over drinks. For you I suggest fruity cocktails with umbrellas and for Pam I recommend Snake Wine.
2. Try not to sit too close to other patrons, both for privacy and your own personal safety.
3. Offer unto Pam the following wisdom, but please be sure to credit me:
Pam, I don’t consider you a racist per se, but sometimes you make jokes that create discomfort for me and for others around us. While I’ve let it go for a while, the remarks you made at the bar during the Baltimore situation were really offensive. They showed a lack of compassion during catastrophic circumstances that bellies my belief that you are a good, kind, and tolerant person.
It’s not my place to dictate or edit your speech but I hope you’ll consider the content of jokes like those before you utter them, not only for the sake of those who are with you but also because these jokes make you appear hateful and backward when I know you are not.
Your own parents were subjected to racism when they came to America so put yourself in their teeny tiny shoes and ask yourself if you want to perpetuate hatred and misunderstanding instead of promoting Robin DesCamp Humanism™: a belief that all people have equal rights and responsibilities and should treat each other as such.
4. See what happens. If Pam keeps on with behavior you find disturbing and embarrassing first call her out immediately and then make a decision about whether or not you want to continue spending time with her.
In closing it’s important to emphasize I am not a person who embraces the idea of being politically correct. Some of the most searing and effective comedy ever written could at first blush be seen as racist.
Chris Rock is especially good at this. Here he makes a joke about a very real issue: black women feeling that some black men, especially the more successful ones, see white women as some sort of prize or status symbol and so choose them instead of a sister:
Even if you meet the perfect person, it ain’t gonna be at the perfect time. You’re married, they’re single. That’s right. You’re Jewish, they’re Palestinian. You’re a Mexican, they’re a raccoon. You’re a black woman, he’s a black man.
My litmus test for jokes is twofold:
1. Does the joke raise a larger issue in defiance of the racial stereotype being presented? and
2. Is your audience intelligent enough to get it? This is very important.
If the joke doesn’t meet both tests, leave it in your mouth where it belongs (along with that cock, LOL!).
Good luck with Pam and please report back. And can you ask her to send me a Pho recipe?