Alternate post title: Alex Explains the Joke So It’s Not Funny Anymore!
Okay, so. There have been many instances where a person who is white and/or a dude has said some mind-bogglingly racist and/or sexist things, and when called out on it they claim that they are so not racist/sexist! It was SATIRE. This happens all the time. Many of these are actual racist/sexist jerks trying to defend themselves in any way possible. HOWEVER, I have found out that it is entirely possible that these white people and/or guys are, in fact, well-meaning and did actually intend for their racist/sexist comments to be satire!
This is similar to “hipster racism/sexism” as it is called in some parts of the internet, where a person tells racist or sexist jokes in order to show how NOT racist and/or sexist they are. Because it is ironic, right? Like wearing a Fall Out Boy shirt to show how much you think they suck? Except with the oppression that people have to deal with every day.
I never understood the logic behind such jokes, or all the not-really-satire… UNTIL RECENTLY! And it’s not that the people saying these things don’t understand what satire is.
The logic–and let me preface this by saying that I still think this stuff is damaging and just bad satire–is that the people who make these jokes or say these things in the name of satire think that saying something like, say, “this game sucks because a woman made it” is sufficiently ridiculous enough to be laughable. The problem is the people who say these things are too privileged to see that other people say exactly the racist/sexist crap they are supposedly saying “ironically”, but with a straight face, or simply a nasty veneer of joking. They don’t realize–because of privilege–that racism and sexism are still very much mainstream. It’s ridiculous to us, but there are plenty of people out there who believe these things, and that fact still affects us daily.
One reason it doesn’t work is that, when you have a person of color saying something racist about their own group, or a woman saying something misogynist, the sarcasm is a lot clearer because they are talking about themselves (even women with internalized sexism generally count themselves as exceptional, or “not one of THOSE women”). You don’t have this extra “sarcasm indicator” when it is a white person saying racist things or a dude saying sexist things.
The other reason is that there’s generally no criticism of what is being said. There is a lead-up but no payoff. The racist or sexist comments are just put out there without any real absurdity or criticism. For a great and succinct example of this, see this paragraph from the Girl vs. Robot post about #EAFail:
Women don’t like science fiction, Peter Jackson (who you got to meet), or comics. They just don’t. Let’s settle that right now. All those women you’ve met who like all of those things were robots. Robots created by the feminist conspiracy to fool you.
It’s pretty much perfect. It starts out with a stupid sexist remark that a surprising number of people actually believe, and then it goes on show how absurd that remark is (although I’m sure there are some people out there who believe in robot feminist conspiracies, most don’t–a sufficient level of ridiculousness has been met, you could say). The intent is crystal clear: to make people who believe the first sentence feel stupid.*
Racism and sexism are quite stupid, really. This type of humor tries to show just how stupid it is, in a funny way. But if racists and/or misogynists are laughing along with you (and not in an embarrassed chuckle sort of way), you’re doing it wrong. Simply repeating racist or sexist comments isn’t enough to be funny or satirical, it just makes non-racist or -sexist people uncomfortable.
* I am so sorry for ruining your awesome joke, Derek!