Those jokes are not OK

My friends’ racist and sexist “jokes” make me uncomfortable but I’m scared of calling them out. 

It’s important to speak up, says our elder. Here are some good techniques.


Dear EWC

Here is my question: Sometimes my friends will tell an inappropriate, racist, sexual, or some other kind of joke that makes me uncomfortable, but none of my other friends will notice. Should I call them out for it and potentially embarrass them, or let them ‘enjoy their innocence’? No one else has ever called them out for it, and it doesn’t seem to bother anyone else around us. They seem to have no idea that they are being rude and making me uncomfortable, however they are extremely educated in current events and almost always know the difference between right and wrong. Should I tell my friends about this problem they seem oblivious to? I cannot simply guess for fear of guessing wrong. My school is the type of place where, if you do something wrong, you are left for the vultures. Please help.


William replies

Thanks for taking the time to write in and share your dilemma with us. I am one of the Elder Wisdom Circle volunteers. I picked your letter because I have some experience in this area. I will explain in the next paragraph. You have every right to feel racist and sexual jokes are inappropriate. Any “joke” that you think is offensive or out-of-line in your opinion is not something you need to hear. While we don’t live in a vacuum, and these things are always going to rear their heads from time to time, they do cause harm. They “normalize” the negative view of the person or group which they are targeting. Taking it a step further, once it’s deemed acceptable to make fun of a person or group, some people will consider them inferior and may try to harm them. 

I’m going to divert a bit and explain the “experience” to which I referred. Many decades ago, I used to go to sea for three-to-four-week intervals in an environment where liquor was allowed, and the crew was almost entirely male. We were a mixture of scientists and “blue collar” sailors. It was a daily occurrence to hear misogynist and anti-gay jokes over a beer or a few drinks. I am embarrassed to admit that, in the early days of my sea-going, I listened and laughed at these jokes myself. Part of it was to fit in, and part of it was my incorrect belief at the time that they were harmless. Some years later, occasionally women were sent out as part of the team. I became aware of at least two occasions where crew members sexually assaulted/raped these women using date-rape drugs slipped into their drinks. No one seemed to think this was wrong or felt anyone should do anything about it. It was because of the culture created by decades of “harmless” jokes that implied women were somehow inferior. The thinking at the time was it was OK to do such things, and if anyone spoke up, they were “breaking the code.”  These women were my friends, my colleagues, and I was shocked at the attitude and subsequent coverup. I won’t go into details, but I was part of a group that helped change the culture. It didn’t make me popular with the other men at the time, but today I’m proud of what I did. This experience taught me that these jokes are not harmless, they are not funny, and they can lead to people getting hurt. I’m telling you this story because I want you to know I take your letter very seriously, and I’m talking from experience, not some ideological position.

You seem to have come to the same conclusion I did some 30-40 years ago. We’ll never stop this sort of behavior, but we can help minimize it. It doesn’t matter if the jokes are sexual, racist, anti-gay, etc. We don’t have to join in or accept them as funny or tolerable. You are in a quandary because there will be consequences if you make your feelings known. You say this in your letter, so I know you understand that your friends might turn on you if you act. It’s the price we sometimes pay for doing the right thing. Your request for advice when others make tasteless comments or tell inappropriate jokes is not unique. I have heard and responded to some similar situations. I found an excellent website dedicated to deal with this issue:

Please, save this website as a “Favorite,” “Bookmark” or whatever your browser uses. I think it’s invaluable because it has many tools and techniques that are good to review from time to time. You won’t use all of the things mentioned in every situation. It’s important to read it over several times and decide which ones will work for you. Two of my favorite methods when dealing with this, and elaborated on that site, are:

(1) Share why the comment bothered you

(2) Criticize the comment, not the person

Finally, stick to your guns. It’s hard not to give in to peer pressure. It’s not easy to speak up when you know you’ll be in the minority. Sometimes we are vastly outnumbered. That said, if you change one person’s mind, or stop one unacceptable comment or joke, you are making a difference. There’s a saying that no one raindrop blames itself for the flood. If every drop “thinks” that way, the waves of unwanted, harmful water will never end. Change comes gradually, and I’m heartened to hear that you want to be part of the solution. It may seem more comfortable to join in, or at a minimum, stand by and let bad behavior go unchallenged. You come across as someone who can, and will, make a difference!

Article #: 436550

Category: Other


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