An Open Letter to Anyone Who Has Ever Made a Racist Joke
Last week, we Egyptians went head to head with Cameroon at the Africa Cup of Nations’ finale and lost. Shortly after our defeat, disgusting, racist posts from Egyptians that targeted Cameroonians took over the Internet. Needless to say, it struck a cord with me.
To the people who have “joked” that, as I’m Filipino, I should give up on all my dreams and professional goals because the only thing I can ever be is a “maid” or a “nurse.” To the people who have “joked” using any kind of racist content. And to the people who have laughed at racist “jokes.” This letter is for you.
I love jokes. I always have. One liners, knock-knocks, stories, even throwing shade. To me, there’s nothing better than a clever word play that makes me laugh. And yet, as much as I love jokes, there’s always been one type that makes me uncomfortable. You know the type that I mean.
“Did you hear the one about the Zengi (translates to nigger) girl?”
“Did you hear the one about the Seeny (translates to Chinese but is used in a derogatory way to describe anyone of Asian descent) guy?”
I need you to know that racist jokes aren’t funny. And I need you to know that ironic racist jokes – jokes intended to demonstrate your awareness of ongoing racialized oppression – aren’t funny either. So, what’s the big deal? It’s “just a joke,” right? Am I just being a drama queen and too sensitive? No, I’m not. These jokes are hurtful, regardless of your intentions, and they need to stop.
But here’s the thing: as much as I love joking around and laughing with and at people, I’ve never found anything funny about these casually racist slams. But you know what I haven’t really done? I haven’t said, “Shut your mouth. What you’re doing is wrong, and it’s fucking racist.” And I—and, in my opinion, everyone —need to start saying that.
Racist jokes risk making racism a normal and destigmatized part of everyday life. By participating in them, you downplay of a long history of oppression against people of color. Personally, I think it isn’t hard to avoid saying offensive things. Sure, you’re inevitably going to mess up and hurt someone (accidentally or not), but when that happens, the wrong response is “Oh, everyone is offended by something.” I, as well as everyone, need to stand up for this. Don’t let anyone get away with saying a racist joke.
All of that said, please know that this isn’t an easy thing for me to write about. I’m not a social justice crusader, I’m an Egyptian-Filipino who is obsessed with Netflix and has seven cats. I’m not nearly as smart as my many friends who’ve written brilliantly about this issue. Hell, I’m not even someone who can spell restarunt right on the first try (ugh—restaurant). But my heart hurts. My heart is broken. My eyes are filled with tears. What the hell is happening in 2017 when people in our country attack others for no reason other than the fact that their skin is darker than theirs.
WE SAID THIS: What a world, what a disgusting world we live in.