LOL or STFU?
I was in utter disbelief at the shit coming out of his mouth. His forehead housed a hundred pearls of sweat and he was projecting spit at the speed of light. It was the kind of borderline comedy where you’re not sure whether to compliment the performer on the size of his testicles (because being the scum-of-the-earth in front of live audience sure takes guts) or leave the premises and report him as a national hazard. For me, it wasn’t really a choice. I was inches away from the floor in actual fear of falling off my chair, laughing so hard my pants seemed looser afterwards – despite the amount of bar nuts I had stuffed in my pockets on the way in.
Political incorrectness has always been my favourite form of humour. There is little I enjoy more than saying really bad things at really bad moments, and if you can crack a perfectly-timed spontaneous sex joke, I will be your friend for life. However, as I was telling my mate about the best comedy show of all time, I realised all the jokes I was so eagerly re-enacting were based solely on stereotypical portrayals of race.
But I’m not racist, I thought, it was just funny ‘cos he made this joke based on characteristics commonly used to pigeonhole an entire people, and I can totally relate because I once saw this Asian guy spend 58 hours at the library, and… wait a minute, am I?
Globalisation has brought knowledge about other cultures into our sphere, community and living room. In fact, I eat more Thai food than Western food, wear sombreros whenever I’ve had more than two tequila shots and take pride in being able to keep simple conversation in Swahili. We are no longer confined to the borders of the nation in which we were born, and some of us are #blessed with the opportunity to visit, experience and even adopt other countries and cultures as our own. However, perhaps this knowledge, interconnectedness and relative tolerance we have for each other can create a dangerous environment in which we think it’s okay – or even freaking hilarious – to divide, undermine and disrespect the fluidity and complex relationship both within races and between races.
Sure – maybe these jokes are harmless and should be accepted in the name of humour; maybe irony can help resolve issues related to racism; maybe politically-incorrect comedy can bring us closer together by highlighting the fact that we are all just a bunch of freaks with different features. But more often than not, defences like these are made by white, middle-class male comedians who, in reality, have nothing to lose because the things you could ridicule them about are probably not linked to decades of oppression.
When you travel, you meet all kinds of people with different backgrounds and different personalities. some gentle, others batshit crazy. They will like you and they will hate you and you can make fun of them all you want because they will probably make fun of you right back, you smelly hobo. The problem, however, occurs when you stop treating people like individuals and start assuming things about them based solely on their appearance, language, religion or background. It not only reinforces stereotypes, but it also aids a sense of otherness and alienation, which in turn fuels harmful prejudice and xenophobia.
So let’s be friends. Let’s use the possibilities given to us to explore each other. Let’s share knowledge about our countries, our cultures, and ourselves. Let’s find common ground and bond over experiences. Let’s be mindful and respectful of each other’s backgrounds and history. Let’s fight fiercely, only to make up over red wine. Let’s laugh at our individuality, our differences and weirdness. Let’s get to know each other, and in doing so, break down the walls of the boxes we put ourselves in, fight our stereotypes and realise we’re quite alright.
And what’s really funny is that in the end, despite the fact that I eat sheep’s head and you eat puppies, we might even like each other.