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Ethnic joke

An ethnic joke is a remark attempting humor relating to an ethnic, racial or cultural group, often referring to a stereotype of the group in question for its punchline.


File:Jew jokes.jpg
A 1908 American joke book about Jews

Ethnic jokes have been around since people first noticed they were different from one another, and ethnocentrism and a sense of ethnic identity appeared. Jokes feed upon difference and distinctions (not only ethnic) and if one of the functions of ethnic jokes is to ridicule and depreciate these in-out groups, another function is to maintain and strengthen a sense of one’s identity in some in-group. It may be that ethnic humour helps people deal with hostility verbally instead of physically, but these slurs also reinforce stereotypes and sometimes lead to calls for violence.[1] Ethnic jokes are often considered to be offensive and as a form of hate speech.[citation needed] Perceived as such, they may sometimes be referred to as race jokes, or racist jokes.[citation needed]

But in other cases the ethnic jokes are addressed against those who are historically seen as the aggressors, like the multiple jokes published in Mexico about the Americans (also called gringos there).[2][3][4][5][6] Similar jokes have also been published in Barcelona.[7] However, Jew jokes and Italian American jokes in the USA have generated controversy because of how offensive they can be, though not as politically charged as African American or black jokes told by non-blacks in the USA, which are viewed as rude, immoral and socially unacceptable.[citation needed]

As public awareness of racism has increased, racial and ethnic jokes have become increasingly socially unacceptable in recent years, and have become socially taboo to tell in public in many regions. This can however, depend on who is telling the joke. For example, it may be deemed offensive for a white person to make a joke about Asians, whereas it would be more acceptable for an Asian to make a similar joke about their own culture, or an Asian make a joke about white people can be variously funny or offending to some extent. Many comedians from diverse ethnic backgrounds do this on a regular basis, about whites, other groups and themselves.

It is sometimes held that such stereotypes must contain a grain of truth. Research suggests that this is most often not the case.[8] However, it is claimed by some that ethnic jokes have a basis in fact,[9] and some ethnic jokes deliberately try to prove their point, for instance:

When talking about ethnic humour, distinctions are sometimes made as to whether the humour comes from the inside or the outside, the idea being that when self-mocking humour comes from the inside, it pushes out the boundaries of acceptable or expected behaviours by making fun of one or more of the group characteristics known to the insider. Complimentary humour coming from the inside works to increase group pride and satisfaction. In contrast, jokes coming from the outside are more likely to be critical or insulting. And even if they are no more critical than insider jokes, they are viewed more negatively, as their effect is to tighten the boundaries or freeze the stereotypes because the outsider is not in a position to bring about group change. What these distinctions ignore is that insult humour is only one kind of joking.

Other examples : In Costa Rica, there are Nicaraguan jokes, due to the influx of Nicaraguan immigrants (often illegal) looking for jobs. And Mexican jokes in the USA remain popular, despite social protest by Mexican Americans and immigrant rights groups.[citation needed] In France, jokes about Belgian people,[citation needed] in Quebec, about inhabitants of Drummondville,[citation needed] in Germany, about people of East Frisia, in Austria, about people of the Burgenland state,[citation needed] in Syria, about inhabitants of Homs.[citation needed]

Theory of ethnic humor

The predominant and most widely known theory of ethnic humor attempts to discover social regularities in the anecdote traditions of different countries by contextually describing jokes. Professor Christie Davies, author of this theory, has posed the main arguments in his article Ethnic Jokes, Moral Values and Social Boundaries, published in 1982. His approach is based on Victor Raskin's (1985) Semantic Script Theory of Humor (SSTH), or to be more precise, on the arguments connected with ethnic humor on binary oppositions. While Raskin merely describes the main binary oppositions providing examples mostly from the Jewish humor), Davies explores the situations where the scripts apply; for example, he has discovered that the most common opposition, stupid/clever, is applied under particular circumstances in the social reality of two ethnic groups concerned.

Davies in his monograph published in 1990 has surmised that "Jokes in every country (or reasonably homogeneous cultural and linguistic domain) have certain targets for stupidity jokes - people who dwell on the edge of that nation or domain and who are perceived as culturally ambiguous by the dominant people of the center. In addition, they will likely be rustic people or immigrants in search of unskilled and low-prestige manual work. They are to a great extent similar to the joke-tellers themselves, share the same cultural background or even speak a similar or identical language." According to Davies, ethnic jokes are centered around the three main themes of stupidity, canniness and sexual behavior.

Davies is featured in the 2010 documentary film, Polack, exploring the source of the Polish joke.[10]

See also


  • Davies, Christie. Ethnic Humor Around the World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990, ISBN 0-253-31655-3
  • Draitser, Emil. Taking Penguins to the Movies:: Ethnic Humor in Russia. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8143-2327-8.
  • Charles Jaret. "Book review: The Mirth of Nations". American Journal of Sociology. 
  • Leon Rappoport. Punchlines: The Case for Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Humor, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2005 [1].
  • Henry Mitchell, "Ethnic Humor Around the World", National Review, June 24, 1991 [2]
  • Arthur Asa Burger, An anatomy of humor [3].

External links