I had an interesting moment around The Hummus the other day: I was raving about it to an acquaintance, explaining that it was a self-proclaimed “Muslim Onion,” when she asked, “Written by white Americans?”
It was a great reminder that in all our consideration of intention versus impact, both are filtered through our perception of who is delivering the message. In my experience, people tend to accept joking about your own (whether your family, your friends or your ethnic group) more readily than joking about others. And if you’re going to joke about others, there’s a tacit guideline to joke “up” the social power scale, i.e. about groups dominant groups. The thing about jokes made by members of dominant groups about groups on the margin is that they carry extra punch–intended or not–from the weight of normative beliefs, biases and everyday practices that perpetuate a worldview that those people are weird/funny/strange.
Not surprisingly, the fallout of the fact that all groups aren’t equal sometimes rubs dominant groups the wrong way, as in, hey why don’t we get to make Polish jokes (anymore)?
Well, in my opinion, you do. At least, no one can stop you. At the same time, no one has to laugh when you do. And that seems to me more of the issue: that there’s an indignation about not being entitled to a laugh that comes at the expense of other people whom you’re stereotyping anymore. That there’s an expectation that you oughtta be able to joke about them.
But oughtta, woulda, coulda, shoulda… the fact is sometimes we think something is funny (or not) without knowing or thinking about who said it in what socio-p0litical context. And that’s not right or wrong, it’s just human. That said, we can think about why we thought something was funny, and where that comes from in our experience and worldview.
So let me ask you: is “Muslim Man Faced With Choice Between Beef Jerky And Heaven” (http://www.thehummusnews.com/) funny? And how much does it matter to you who wrote it?
In an interview on NPR, the editors of The Hummus identified themselves as Muslim-Americans. Now how do you feel?