Author and sociologist Raúl Pérez attended a diverse university in California that promoted mutual respect among students, “yet after hours, in the dorms, I saw many boundaries tested with racial humor.”
“We were sociology majors, we were taking ethnic studies courses,” Pérez said, “and here we were in an environment where people were free to make racist and offensive jokes.”
Convinced that there was more behind such experiences than “just jokes,” Pérez embarked on academic research on the intersection between humor, race, power and inequality. Now he has released his first book, “The Souls of White Jokes,” which aims to show how racist humor fuels white supremacy.
He also shows how pervasive its use is — from media figures and politicians to law enforcement and far-right groups.
Pérez, assistant professor of sociology at the University of La Verne, in California, knows that humor is often a form of release from everyday pressures. What he examines in his book, whose title recalls W.E.B. Du Bois’ seminal essay, “The Souls of White Folk” (1920) is how the stakes around humor change when the jokes are racist.
Pérez argues that racist humor goes well beyond the entertainment world, and that it is actually dangerous in certain segments of society. There are significant patterns, for example, of law enforcement agencies across the country circulating racist jokes among themselves.
“Whether it is the LAPD or the Border Patrol, we see racist jokes correlating to how people are being treated by these officers,” Pérez said. “These are not just jokes, these are rituals that allow for mistreatment and violence against people the police view with ‘amused racial contempt’ … If police culture allows for the dehumanization of certain groups, then what do we expect when the police interact with the people they view as subhuman?”
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SOURCE: NBC News, Raul A. Reyes