Yesterday, my friend told me an offensive joke. It went like this:
Q: What’s something good about Islam?
A: It encourages Muslims to die.
I laughed. It was a terrible joke, and I laughed.
I’m currently visiting my family, and soon after my friend told the joke, my parents walked into the room. I started to tell them the joke – but stopped.
My parents probably wouldn’t laugh. They might laugh a little, then chastise me – and that scared me. I didn’t want to see my parents not laugh at this joke.
Why? Because my parents really, really hate Islam.
When I was about to travel to Turkey last year, my Dad sat me down and told me all about how Muslims are taught rape is normal and that I need to be very careful because they don’t have morality and that they would be happy to do terrible things to an innocent foreign girl. My parents believe Muslims are the biggest force of Bad in the world right now, that their faith is a disease, and that even moderate liberal Muslims are still dangerous because of their beliefs. My parents speak publicly and write popular articles about the dangers of Islam and terror attacks are a natural and normal cause of regular, everyday Islam.
They probably wouldn’t like the joke – because it was too close to being true. They don’t advocate for actually killing Muslims, but their hostility towards the religion might be misconstrued for it. If they laugh at the joke, people might think they actually do want Muslims to die.
But when I laugh at the joke, nobody is going to think I actually want Muslims to die. I can do it safely – and they can’t.
This is why I feel suspicious of some groups that strongly oppose offensive jokes – they have the suspicion that every person is like my parents – that every human “actually wants” all the terrible things to happen. This is why they believe telling offensive jokes carries weight, and this is why they strongly oppose those offensive jokes. Telling an offensive joke, even privately, isn’t ok, because it “contributes to global racism/sexism/discrimination” – but it can only do that if it’s influencing the people who tell and hear the joke to ‘actually believe it.
According to these groups, nobody can be so far distanced from a bad idea that they can make a joke about it, and that feels like an ugly assumption to me. I personally hope we can get to the point where everybody is comfortable making offensive jokes – but we’re not there yet. People like my parents aren’t there yet.