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Why So Serious? An Inquiry On Racist Jokes

Luvell Anderson

Thursday, October 14, 2010, 12:00pm - 07:00pm

Rutgers University, Department of Philosophy

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When is racetalk ok? Some argue that it is never morally permissible to engage in the language of racial classification. Others, on the contrary, think racetalk is sometimes useful and morally permissible. Among the latter group, however, there is still a question of when such talk is impermissible. In this essay I examine the conditions in which a particular kind of racetalk--that used in joking contexts--is and isn't morally permissible. I examine three theories of racism and the conditions under which each determines a racial joke to be racist. I then offer an alternative view I believe does a better job of explaining the phenomena. The line I take is that racial jokes are racist when the speaker tells the joke with the aim of teasing members of the targeted group because of some stereotype associated with that group. On the other hand, a racial joke is not racist when it is told with the aim of subverting said stereotypes and the audience can be reasonably expected to pick up on this aim.

Biographical Info

Luvell Anderson is a fourth year graduate student in the department of philosophy. His research lies mainly in the areas of the philosophy of language and philosophy of race, specifically the semantics of pejorative words and racist humor.

Luvell Anderson