If I Have Offended Thee

It has come to my attention that some find my sense of humor offensive. While conversing with a fellow blogger about race and language, she mentioned my post on Hot White Chicks and my assigning “Hoe Potential” and “Pimp Potential” rating to each. Personally, I found the ratings quite amusing and rather creative but this particular woman was not amused. She then asked me if I would find it offensive if she were to use a joke using the N-word. I had to think about it for a moment. I’ve heard white comedians use the N-word but they did it in a particular context. But if the joke starts off with “A gook, a spic and a nigger walk into a bar...” Then that’s all I need to hear to let me know that I’m getting ready to hear a joke that is going to offend my sensibilities.

But truth be told, I have yet to hear a joke that includes a racial epithet that wasn’t meant to belittle whatever culture that was at the center of the joke. In fact, if the joke uses nigger, spic, wetback, gook, slant eye, honkey, cracker, Jew, porch monkey or any other slur then it’s a joke that I don’t want to hear.

I shared a room with a white guy when I was stationed in San Diego. He told me a racial joke. I didn’t think it was funny but neither did I think it was offensive. But I’m sure he told it to me the joke because we had a history. I doubt he would have said it to some of the other brothers in our barracks. So in essence, it would depend on the joke and who’s telling the joke. But that’s a slippery slope isn’t? After all, what is offensive is subjective and art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

So I wonder at what point does art and jokes become offensive? Could my post on white girls be skewed as offensive? Could the way I use urban vernacular as texture for my skits offend black people? Where is the line?

Years ago an artist used elephant dung in his "art" depicting the Virgin Mary. I would consider that offensive. The Novel, "The DaVinci Code" I wouldn’t find offensive. In Jay-Z’s rap, 99 Problems he raps, “I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one”. I don’t find that offensive. However, everything from the Two Live Crew is easily offensive as is most rap videos. The black guy in “The 40 Year Old Virgin” was stereotypical but most of the characters were and the movie didn’t seem trite so I was cool with it. But the superficial, stereotypical characters in the movie “Soul Plane” were an abomination and they shouldn’t have wasted their time making it. All of this is subjective because the basis for my conclusion is my personal taste and perspective.

So what is offensive? I found some black jokes online and I wonder would any of you that are not black feel comfortable enough to share these jokes with you black friends. As a matter of fact, would any of you regardless of race, repeat the following jokes and if so, under what circumstances?

1. What do you call a white guy surrounded by
* Three blacks? A victim.
* Twenty blacks? Coach
* Thirty blacks? Quarterback
* 200 blacks? Warden

2. Why don't niggers like country music? * Because when they hear hoe- down they think their sisters been shot

3. What is a cocoon? * A black guy with a stutter

I found this web site and to be honest, I had no idea there were so many nigger jokes. I did some more research and found a site full of ethnic jokes. It’s some disgusting stuff out there. I won’t even promote them.

Let's Talk About It:

1. At what point does a joke become offensive rather than provocative?
2. When does art and music cease to go from challenging the mainstream to offending our collective values?
3. Would you tell a joke using a racial slur to a friend who is from the race the joke targeted?


19 Responses to If I Have Offended Thee

  1. P Says:
    I think the beauty in who we are and what we do is that we understand the dynamics of what we say, and are aware of what crosses the line of being offensive, versus us just having color (no pun intended) in our comments..

    I want to reference Dave Chappelle. I am not quoting, but I think the challenge that he had when he pulled his disappearing act, in that, while he understood the tongue-in-cheek humor of what was being said in his groundbreaking show, as it's popularity and audience grew and it became a phenomenon, he realized that even in his brand of humor, 'others' (and label whoever you want as 'others') were taking his humor as more of a branding/lashing true life perspective on our community, rather than his initial vision of the show.

    My apologies for the long sentence, I was too lazy to figure out how to break it up).
  2. James Manning Says:
    I think you're on point with that. It's happening to the black community as it pertains to the hip hop culture. Many would assume that how rappers act, talk and dress are indicative of everyone in our community.

    But no one would assume that punk, surfer or grunge guys represent white culture in its entirety.

    So there is this line with art that stops being individual perspective and taste, and become definitive of the group. Dave ran into that issue big time.
  3. Little Miss Chatterbox Says:
    I think we need to be careful & sensitive and not unneccessarily offensive. On the other hand I think people need to grow tougher skin and not be so easily offended.

    Unless someone has done something vicious to me I'm not going to purposely do something mean or offensive towards them no matter who they are. Now I know there are a lot of hateful people out there but it works best for everybody if we give people the benefit of the doubt. I usually do & there is sometimes a miscommunication on why I was offended. Other times I come to find out when I question someone that they meant to be mean :-). Thats when the gloves tend to come off.

    I have found all your joke stuff to be very funny no matter who it is poking fun at. Now obviously I usually skip the stuff on Bush but thats to be expected :-).

    Life is too short to take everything so seriously. I think a lot of us need to lighten up. But I also think we need to be sensitive to others & their situations. So hows that for seeing both sides :-)???
  4. Bushwack Says:
    James, I have heard a lot of ethnic jokes, I would not tell my closest friends the "cocoon" one. I have been involved in the "Dozens" with some "Brothers" and used some derogetory ethnic jokes. but in the context of verbal insults to get a laugh out of the group of friends within erashot only.
    Needless to say I didn't win many verbal battles due to the ammunition the stereotypical "White" people provide.

    Good post as usual James, always thought provoking (And sometimes funny as hell)
  5. James Manning Says:
    Many good men have gone down in flames playing the "Dozens". I agree with chatter that sometimes we can get too sensitive about things but there is a limit to everything and I think common sense generally will tell you where that line is at.
  6. The Phoenix aka ThatGirlTam Says:
    This is the first time I've actually taken some time to really READ your blog (let's face it...sometimes we just want to be entertained - not educated). I've trolled thru osme of your archives and I have to say...GOOD STUFF you got there!

    Racial jokes have always been a part of my life. Being bi-racial (chinese and black), I've heard every "ching chong" joke there is. It's taken me years to realize that not ALL material is meant to be offensive (in my opinion). But I also find humor in the observations of other races to that of my own cultures. Because let's be real...there is a joke to be told about EVERY CULTURE and race of people. We're a fucked up bunch of people on this Earth!

    I've also grown a few layers of extra skin to not let the shit bother me as it did as a child and thru my teens. And although sometimes jokes are made to belittle a certain class of people, folks get overly sensitive when the TRUTH is spoken - and sometimes those jokes are made out of ignorance - they just don't understand why we ARE the way we ARE...did that make any sense??

    Sorry...I'm workin on very little sleep and I haven't had lunch (and it's already 4:25pm)...

    GREAT POST...I believe I'll be back...
  7. Way Outside the Box Says:
    1. At what point does a joke become offensive rather than provocative?

    I don't know, James, why don't you tell me.

    2. When does art and music cease to go from challenging the mainstream to offending our collective values?

    Collective values? Someone's going to have to tell me what those are first.

    3. Would you tell a joke using a racial slur to a friend who is from the race the joke targeted?

    Certainly, I have in the past and I just did so above, but it all depends on who the person is.
  8. Diane S. Says:
    I would never, under any circumstances tell any of those three jokes.

    1. At what point does a joke become offensive rather than provocative?

    I think if you're a member of the group that's being satirized or made fun of it's okay. In other words, you, James, can use the "N" word. I cannot. Ever. No matter if I'm surrounded by black folks using the "N" word. I'm white, and it's offensive from me. Works the same for all racial groups. (Though I've never in my life heard a white person refer to themselves as a honky, whitey, or white bread.)

    A bunch of gay people together can use the words "queer" or "faggot" or "dyke". Straight people should not use these words.

    I have to admit that while I wasn't offended by "Hoe" or "Pimp" potential in your Hot White Chicks post, there have been times when you've seemed a bit homophobic to me, James. But I don't know you well enough to make that judgement. I know you've done some soul searching on the issue because you've written about it, but sometimes it does rub me the wrong way.

    2. When does art and music cease to go from challenging the mainstream to offending our collective values?

    When it belittles someone. It's that simple for me. Music, art, jokes, plays, books, etc. all should not belittle people. All human beings have a right to be treated with dignity and respect. Just a basic belief of mine.

    At the same time, I'm down with you in agreeing that Rap musicians do not represent black people any more than punk rockers or skin heads represent white people.

    3. Would you tell a joke using a racial slur to a friend who is from the race the joke targeted?

    I don't tell racial slur jokes. But I do occasionally tell gay jokes to gay people. That may be something I need to look at.

    I do agree with Chatter (and how cool is that?) that we all could benefit from some thicker skin. I've had a troll on my blog lately who has really challenged the thickness of my skin.
  9. Bushwack Says:
    James, how many white guys do you know that know what the dozens are?
    You know I get some kudos for that right? cmon man where's the love.....
    I'm thinking about a new blog, nothing but sports stuff, starting on the first day of NFL Preseason games.
    What do you think? maybe a co blog? No politics no religion just Football?
    Any thoughts?
  10. Nika Laqui Says:
    I didn't take any offense to those jokes, they are quite funny, and there is truth in comedy, that is what makes it so funny...
  11. Timmer Says:
    Good post...really one to think about.

    Personally, I am of the school that people need to be offended every now and then, especially if it knocks them out of complacency. But this is a difficult idea to defend because how you measure what's offensive or not is incredibly subjective. Example: I find racial humor (such as Dave Chappelle) funny...many others don't. I find religious humor or bashing (such as the DaVinci Code or the Islamic political cartoons) offensive...many others don't.

    I suppose the difference for me is in intent: Was the joke/artwork said/created to prove a point or foster discussion, or was it merely to demean or to just be an ass? Again, though, this is difficult because of its subjectiveness.

    Again, Manning, good post.
  12. Cynthia Says:
    1. At what point does a joke become offensive rather than provocative?

    All I know if a white man had rated black women the way you rated those white women I would have taken offense. Having said that, I thought you were just showing White people how much you really like White women...

    2. When does art and music cease to go from challenging the mainstream to offending our collective values?

    Gangster Rap is offensive. I find most Black shows so offensive I can't watch them. They stereotype Black people as being shallow and silly just like you put those White women in some type of category based upon your preconceived view of what they were representing to you.

    3. Would you tell a joke using a racial slur to a friend who is from the race the joke targeted?

    No. I wouldn't want to offend that person.
  13. Thawtz Says:
    1. At what point does a joke become offensive rather than provocative?

    When isn't an offensive joke provocative? That which offensive to some, is provocative to others. Perspective.

    2. When does art and music cease to go from challenging the mainstream to offending our collective values?

    First, society needs to realize that all music is bandwagon and repetitive. It has all been said and performed before. So when haven't we been offended? Eminem caused a monstrous stir when he arrived on the scene, but dissect his lyrics from album one til now, and not only see his maturity, but the truths he speaks as well. As with: Tupac, Biggie, Common, Jay-Z, Ice Cube, and a host of your prominent mainstream artists.

    3. Would you tell a joke using a racial slur to a friend who is from the race the joke targeted?

    Yes. As I have before, and could provide ample witnesses to me doing so. That is part of what being a friend is about: making sure the person you share your friendship with knows who you are and what is offensive to you, as you should them. I'm not referring to playing the dozens. I'm talking about sitting around and running off joke after joke after joke; and then walking away a lil wiser to the ignorance from what this country was unknowingly formed from.
  14. Sharon Says:
    Intriguing post, and one without a definitive right or wrong response. I definitely can't come down on one side or the other of these questions because of the inherently subjective nature of "being offended".

    I think that it is critically important to know your audience before venturing into these potentially perilous waters b/c many have drowned during this particular type of swim. However, what comes to mind for me is when I am around white people who hesitate with racial descriptors for black people in my presence b/c they are fearful of offending me. The mere thought that someone would have internal conflict about whether to refer to me as black, African-American, or Negro (none of which I personally find offensive), astounds me. Though I personally know black people who do take offense at one or another of these descriptors, I think its asinine and can't believe that any white person would let him/herself be caught up in or concerned enough to play this game of semantics. This begs the question, that if choosing which of these typically socially accepted descriptors leads to this much chagrin, how can any of us possibly navigate the waters of what is or is not offensive in the realm of the actually provocative?

    However, your posts that have possibly offended others, have not offended me, and I particularly enjoy your fairy tales. You and Jaimie both rock when it comes to creativity and I can only imagine how vivid Mini-Mom's bedtime stories become with the two of you in charge of concocting them! I've missed your comments over at my spot lately, and would have loved to have you weigh in on the post I published on Absentee Dads last week. Don't be such a stranger in the future!
  15. James Manning Says:
    Good thoughts everyone. Phoenix, we do have some fun over here at times... welcome.


    I think a sports blog is a good idea. I'd contribute to that.
  16. Bullfrog Says:
    I am a bit late on this discussion, and really can't add alot to what has already been said. Good comments all around.

    Something interesting though: one of my friends who happened to be a black man gave me "permission" to use the "N-word" because we were so tight. I appreciated the sentiment, but didn't take him up on it. To me, it's demeaning no matter what the context.
  17. Bushwack Says:
    James drop me an email, I am going to talk to a friend of mine about design and content and would like some ideas on what you would like to see on the Football blog.
  18. Rose Says:
    Too much joking is going on about racisim. Disc jokeys, commentators, rappers, just everybody. Soon folks will become immune to this.

    Beauty school drop out was my favorite and I still love it.
  19. jackt Says:
    I'm pretty sensitive to telling jokes making fun of racial stereotypes unless it's making fun of my own ethnicity, in which case I feel free to cut loose. So essentially I'm an insecure non-PC guy who acts PC most of the time. Too bad for me.