By Sandi Bhutella
Why did the Ukrainian cross
Three men enter a bar, a Jew,
an Irishman and an Italian. The bartender says.
These are examples of ethnic 'humour'.
I'd like to think that most people don't even know what they're
laughing at when they hear an ethnic joke. I'd like to believe
they're laughing because they think they've heard a funny
joke, and not because of the nationality at the butt of the
I recently watched Oscar's face contort
when the table next to us in the cafeteria was telling a Ukrainian
joke. The joke was so terrible, even I didn't laugh and I
tend to have a bit of a hair trigger when it comes to nervous
laughter. The point of the joke was that all Ukrainian people
are stupid. I never think of Oscar as being 'anything', and
I don't mean that in a negative way. It's just that he looks
like everyone else and he's just Oscar to me, so to see him
seriously offended reminded me that these attempts at humour
effect a lot more people than we may think!
So then I stared thinking about other racial
slurs we hear everyday - the names we call each other, seemingly
in fun sometimes. 'Nigga' is a term in common use right now
that's tied to the whole hip-hop scene, but is that really
okay? I don't feel comfortable using that term given that
the origin of the word comes from 'Nigger', which is a very
old and very offensive racial slur. Then I started thinking
about the way Oscar and I tease each other. Sometimes he calls
me 'Curry Breath' in reference to my Indo-Canadian ethnicity
and I'll call him 'Peasant' in reference to his Eastern European
ancestors. We do this in fun, but is it right? If people think
that somehow it's okay to call attention to our ethnicity
in a negative way, then how does anyone know when they cross
the line as they did with Oscar and that Ukrainian joke?
Humour can be used as a way to find a common
ground when talking about tough issues. I've watched a lot
of stand up comics and many of them use their ethnicity or
disability as a starting point for their jokes. They believe
that if we point out our cultural differences in a light-hearted
way, we can start to understand each other and maybe there
is hope that we can begin to respect our differences rather
than fear them. I guess that's their point, if you laugh at
yourself you can make people listen and hopefully gain a little
respect for differences along the way.
I don't know how I feel about it all. I
know I don't like being made fun of for any reason. No one
wants to be the butt of a joke whether it's because you tripped
walking into class or because of the colour of your skin.
I guess the best solution is to be accepting of all and sensitive
enough to know when you've gone too far. I'm going to do my
best and not make fun of others and I hope they'll show me
the same respect.
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