Does Racist Humor Promote Racism? (Copy and paste)

A copy and paste from , I think it’s interesting. Sorry if I’m not allowed to post this on here

One of the most interesting talks I attended was by Thomas Ford, a psychologist from Western Carolina University, who has studied the effects sexist and racist humor has on people, and how prejudiced attitudes combined with disparaging humor may affect one’s tendency to discriminate against others.

One of Ford’s students, Mark Ferguson, along with another colleague, Chris Crandall, proposed what is called the “Normative Window Theory of Prejudice”. Simply put, the theory suggests that we place social groups on a scale, in terms of how legitimate it is to discriminate and have prejudice attitudes against them. It is totally acceptable to hold prejudiced views against racists, or against kids who steal lunch money because these behaviors are condemned in our society. It is not acceptable to hold prejudice views or discriminate against doctors or farmers. This distinction between the groups is pretty clear and robust, meaning that we will always hold these clear cut views about those groups regardless of the situation.

However, there are other social groups that it was once acceptable to discriminate against, but over time we have slowly shifted our views and consider prejudice against them as unjustified. Among these groups are women, racial and religious minorities, and gays and lesbians. These groups suffered historically from discrimination but today, more and more people agree that discriminating against them is immoral and wrong. The problem is that some people are still prejudiced toward these groups despite the fact that many consider it unjustified. The question is, does disparaging humor that targets these groups foster discriminatory acts against them?

To test this, Ford and his master’s student Shane Triplett conducted a series of experiments. They wanted to see if people exposed to various forms of disparaging humor would be influenced by it and discriminate against these groups. Specifically, they looked at homosexuals and racists as two representative groups. People justify prejudiced views against racists, but there is more ambiguity in regard to homosexuals.

In the experiments, subjects completed a questionnaire that measures the extent to which they hold prejudiced views against each of these groups. Later, they read several jokes targeting homosexuals and racists. In the next part of the study, they were told that due to budget cuts, the university has to cut money from several student organizations and they ask for their help to determine how to allocate the money. The subjects had to determine what organizations should lose the university support and suffer from budget cuts. Among the organizations presented to the subjects were the gay and lesbian student association and a racist organization, Southern Heritage Student Association (SHSA). The SHSA was described as “committed to serving and protecting the political and social advancement of White people, and has recently drafted a proposal to eliminate government oppression of students through affirmative action admission policies.”

The results were very clear. Subjects that held anti homosexual views supported significantly higher cuts for the gay and lesbian organization after they were exposed to anti gay humor, compared to subjects who were not prejudiced against gays and lesbians who were exposed to the same jokes. On the other hand, disparaging jokes against racists did not foster more cuts to the SHSA from people who were high on prejudice against racists, and their cuts were no different than the ones offered by subjects with low prejudice towards racists.

In other words, when we consider groups that most people discriminate against, and feel they are justified in doing so, disparaging humor towards that group does not foster discriminatory acts against them. On the other hand, for groups for whom the prejudice norm is shifting, and there is still no consensus not to discriminated against (women, gays, Muslims and so on), if you hold negative views against one of these groups, hearing disparaging jokes about them “releases” inhibitions you might have, and you feel it’s ok to discriminate against them.

Previous studies by Ford and others on sexist humor showed the same pattern. People who are sexist to begin with and enjoy sexist jokes show higher tolerance for sexist events, tend to accept rape myths, and tend to show greater willingness to discriminate against women.

These studies illuminate some aspects of humor that people sometimes tend to ignore. First, humor depends largely on the context and on thepersonality and the attitudes of the audience. Jokes are never neutral. The same joke can be funny or not, but can also be racist or not racist depending on who tells it and to whom. The jokes I presented at the beginning of the post may be anti-Semitic to some, but to others, including most Jews they are not considered offensive. Depending on the views you hold against or in favor of Jews, or what you consider to be justified or unjustified racism, you might find derogatory jokes against Jews funny or not funny, and hearing these jokes may or may not prompt you to discriminate against them.

Second, humor is not always positive and fun. We tend to think about humor as something that is innocuous, something that might be good for our health, moods, relationships and so on, but humor also has its dark side, and we should all be aware of it. Sometimes humor can lead to negative and harmful outcomes against others, and we should be conscious of when and how it can happen.

Very interesting, thanks.

I used to laugh at “ginger” jokes. They were harmless after all surely? Everyone knew that having red hair didn’t mean a damn in reality, red heads are just the same as everyone else, etc, so it’s just a bit of meaningless fun?

Then I had my son and he has red hair.

He has been bullied most of his life. It started with ginger jokes at the age of seven and, because he is sensitive and not confident enough to brush it off, it built over the years to result in him having problems with depression, difficulties interacting with his peers and very low self esteem.

The kids that started making jokes about my son’s hair colour were only copying their role models - their parents and other adults. When they got a reaction they could work with, it built into widescale bullying.

But it all started with a joke.

I don’t laugh at ginger jokes any more.

Anything that stresses a difference, that provides something for petty minds to differentiate “them” and “us” and to feel superior, has the potential to cause damage. You may laugh at something purely because it’s funny, but the person sitting next to you may be laughing because it’s funny and it reinforces their superiority over people with a different skin colour, culture, nationality, and even hair colour. And they may tell their kids about it. And they may ruin someone’s life.

Thank you anon. This is just why I don’t like any ‘jokes’ that makes ‘us’ think about ‘them’ as different and less worthy than ‘us’.

It isn’t accptable, it’s bullying and it makes taking the mick out of someone because of there different okay.

I hope your son is okay now.


Well l find your Avatar of a black-tattood-woman covered in body piercings with her tongue stuck out very offensive.

ls it a picture of you ?- or is it just there to shock or offend.

l am surprised that nobody has ‘reported’ it - but then most of us on here are liberal minded easy going folk.


I do find it very hard to believe that it was a good study.

How do you test people too see if they are sexist, then decide they are and test them to see if they “accept rape myths”?


Please, report away.

Very interesting post Fanny. It’s not something I’d thought of before and it’s made me think of things differently, including “ginger jokes”.

I don’t understand your point though Frances. What is offensive about someone’s skin colour, how they choose to decorate their body or a sticking out tongue? And how does it relate to the original post?

I always thought that liberal thinking should not be about suppressing one’s prejudices, but be about not seeing the problem in the first place - because there is none.

Karen x

There are well established ways to test attitudes and beliefs. It’s even possible to do it in an MRI scanner these days because certain parts of the brain become active in certain patterns if people hold certain prejudices - even when they say they don’t.


I just see it as hemeopathy, some swear by it i don’t see the point. Doesn’t mean their isn’t one to others or most even.

I saw a program about young criminals locked up. One was violent towards staff and other inmates. The quack asked him after a few sessions weather he still felt angry. He said no, of course. He was then allowed to mingle again, only to attack other inmates again.

Its just one of them things, i fail to see the point. But that doesn’t mean their isn’t one.


Let me google that for you, there are a lot of studies on attitudes and predudice e.g.

No need to be so sarcastic.

Just because i don’t agree? wow

What is it exactly that you find offensive? If it is that the woman is black you have publicly admitted you are racist. If it is the piercings and protruding tongue, why include her skin colour as it is not relevant? Again you have just declared your racist slant on the world…

And if you don’t understand the drift of this argument then you are so racist there is probably not much point my wasting my time trying to explain it to you.


Your link doesn’t work

Fanny Adams,

Great article. Thanks for sharing it with us

Definitely food for thought and I hope many people read it and think about it…


Copy and paste it into your browser Darren, it worked for me that way


Oh and by the way, I am black and I do have piercings and tattoos but the avatar isn’t me.

Why does the skin colour of the lady in my avatar or her body art offend you? My post was a copied & pasted research study about how racist jokes contribute to acceptance of racism and discrimination against those who’ve been the target.

It’s funny that your attmpt to attack the post was to object to Elaine Davidson’s appearance.

No her post quoting/attacking me.

Sarcastic? I was trying to be helpful?


i always challenge racist talk. sometimes just by pointing out with a smile “ooh a bit racist dont you think?”

sometimes it goes on to become a discussion.

same for homophobes.

ginger jokes are squashed because i dye my blonde hair red and point it out

carole x