Good jokes versus racial slurs

Okay, I admit I sometimes listen to Don Imus’ radio show in the morning on my way to work. He has a good list of politicians and authors on that have interesting points of view. He also has a comedian on who regularly impersonates various people like Dr. Phil, President Clinton, and other celebs. Sometimes he’s funny. Many times he’s cranky, overbearing with the green cleaning stuff, and offensive. Last week, he made some serious racial slurs against the Rutgers women’s basketball team. I didn’t hear them but because I have listened to him off and on, I’m not surprised. In fact, I’m surprised he hasn’t been kicked off the air before. He calls Arabs, “towel heads”, I’ve heard racial stereotypes about the Chinese, gay people, and his sidekicks are worse than he is.

But, what’s the difference between good fun at another’s expense and a slur? When he has someone impersonate Bill Clinton as a womanizer who hates his wife, is that a slur? When he makes fun of the mayor of New Orleans, is that a slur? When he calls various politicians, “lying skunks” is that a slur? Clearly, what he said was a slur and unkind and not the kind of thing any respectful person should say. Unfortunately, I think the line has been that its okay to make fun of folk who aren’t going to be able to rise up and get you off the air. You can make fun of people in all sorts of ways as long as it doesn’t have to do with their race. I suspect that he could have gotten away of all sorts of slurs, just not ones that were racial.

But where is the line? I belabor this because I think we Christians have commonly had our fun with various liberals and wacko (is that a slur?) televangelists. Where is the line? When we start making fun of a person, we’ve crossed the line. Make fun of yourself or your own group and you might be okay. But make fun of others, and you’ve gone too far.

But, you might protest, don’t most of us like Jay Leno and his sort? Jay has people on making fools of themselves (“Jaywalking”) and we laugh. His monologues often contain great laughs at the expense of those making the news in the past few days? Is there a place to laugh at events and the funny misfortunes of others?

Well, wherever we draw the line, name calling and racialization isn’t going to be on the side of good clean fun.    


Filed under Cultural Anthropology, News and politics

7 responses to “Good jokes versus racial slurs

  1. Imus Addendum: Imus is trying to pick up the pieces and salvage his show. While his apologies are better crafted than most public apologies, he is quoted as explaining, not excusing, his inappropriate remarks through this lens: “I’m not a bad person. I’m a good person, but I said a bad thing. But these young women deserve to know it was not said with malice,” he said.

    Of course it wasn’t said in malice. But that doesn’t mean his sentences don’t show what was in his heart: a willingness to have fun at another’s expense; a belief that it is okay to use race as a tool for his humor. What is in his heart? An anything goes in the the name of fun attitude.

  2. Jennifer

    I think his apology is what is wrong with apologies today. People will say I am sorry, but I am not to blame. It is always shifting the blame around to someone else. Or it is OK if I didn’t mean it in a bad way. We have gotten away from understanding that what comes out of the mouth is from the heart.

  3. Jennifer, good comment. Many apologies fail for a variety of reasons. One reason is that we think that if we didn’t mean it the way others heard it, then it really isn’t that bad. Wrong. I think Imus says “I was wrong but I’m really a good guy.” He didn’t shift blame to others (though he did to circumstance–as in it just happened, we got carried away). This is another problem. As a recovering alcoholic, he should remember that nothing comes out of a drunk that wasn’t already there first (i.e., its not the alcohol’s fault).

  4. judi lemay-lusk

    let me get this straight…calling young women ‘hos was ‘not said in malice’… sounds a bit passive-aggressive to me… i guess i can say i hope his sorry butt gets fired, but i say that with no malice!

    my thoughts on imus? get the hook…for the likes of him and howard stern. they’ve pushed the envelope way too far for way too long.

    just my two cents…

  5. judi lemay-lusk

    you know..i have another thought on this… unless you want this thread to die a short death… reading in this morning’s paper about imus being fired. granted, his free speech was offensive and he should be fired, but where has the black community been all this time??? rap music for years has vilifed women; some of the videos have scantily clad women prancing around, while the men referred to them as ‘hos’, and what they’d like to do to them. where is the community in wanting to put a stop to that kind of thing? is it ok for a black man to call a woman a ‘ho’ but not for a white man? is there no self respect in black women that causes them to stand up and say ‘we won’t be talked to or about like this’? but all of a sudden, don imus makes a racial slur and the entire world comes crashing down on his head?


  6. This is a point made by many. I guess it is hard for white folk to point the finger back when much of the damage has been done by the dominant culture. However, those who point out that the words he used were made popular by non-white folk are correct. I heard one person talk about boycotting BET if they continue to give awards to singers who do exactly what you talk about. We’ll see.

    I believe, along with others, that what got him in trouble was not “ho” but “nappy”. Hopefully, the whole problem with how we talk about each other will stay in the limelight. But, I fear it won’t.

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