Racial Humor

Texts and Courses

Primary Texts

Luvell Anderson: “Racist Humor”

Secondary Texts for Instructor

John Morreall: “Philosophy of Humor” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Jorge Garcia: “Current Conceptions of Racism: A Critical Examination of Some Recent Social Philosophy” (1997) Journal of Social Philosophy 28(2): 5-42.

Suggested Courses

  • Aesthetics
  • Introduction to Social/Political Philosophy
  • Introduction to Ethics
  • Philosophy of Language

Overview

The question—‘What makes humor racist, when it is?’—provides a rich platform for discussion about several philosophically interesting topics. The subject broaches issues in aesthetics, ethics, social and political philosophy, and even the philosophy of language. Challenges for constructing a theory of racist humor involve (1) distinguishing between humor and non-humor, (2) determining what racism is, (3) distinguishing the kinds of speech acts involved in humorous discourse and how they can give rise to racist utterances. Theorists have offered views of racist humor that focus on harm produced or the attitudes of speakers.

Discussion Questions

  • Does one need to endorse racist or sexist stereotypes in order to find such a joke humorous?
  • Why do you suppose the identity of the joke-teller affects the evaluation of a joke’s status as racist?
  • What is morally bad about racist humor?

Activities

Show students brief clips from Margaret Cho, Louis CK, Dave Chappelle, and Aziz Ansari on race and discuss the interaction between the aesthetic presentation and the ethical content. Have students summarize their views of when humor is racist after showing the clips but before discussing the article.

Author Information

Luvell Anderson (University of Memphis)
lndrsn14@memphis.edu