Holly Pittaway argues for more education and awareness of the history of Japan's comfort womenWritten by Holly Pittaway on 14th December 2018
Hate Crimes are Not Punchlines
Following the recent controversy surrounding transphobic jokes on Fab N Fresh, Velvet Jones argues that we must no longer be bystanders when hate crimes are reduced to punchlines
It's easy to think to ourselves that we would never stand by and watch someone getting beat up for things such as gender, sexuality, ethnicity or disability. But have you ever wondered if many of you have stood by while someone does this in more passive ways? Hate crimes are often portrayed as the stereotypes in the media i.e. beating someone up. But hate crime is so much more than that; it is about the systematic oppression which continues to be an integral aspect of society, which we often getting a glimpse of through the societal acceptance of jokes.
The kick-starter for this article is the joke which was made on ‘Fab N Fresh’, wherein one student under the guise of ‘freedom of speech’ used a joke to oppress and belittle the lifestyle of the non-binary and transgender community. This article is not going to go into the nuances of freedom of speech, as this is not the crux of the issue. Instead, it’s crucial to question why people think these jokes are okay to make in the first place. Why is it okay to further deride those who are already minorities in society?
“It’s crucial to question why people think these jokes are okay to make in the first place
People are often unaware of the fight that minorities have gone through to be viewed as the same as everyone else. Concepts such as ‘normal’ pervade our society like a leech unable to let go. This is why jokes or phrases that are ‘okay because I don't mean it in a nasty way’ are devastating. They reinforce this idea of the ‘other’. By someone on Fab N Fresh using the transgender community as a tool for a joke they were reinforcing the idea that this is not the norm and is something laughable. This is no laughing matter. People fight for their expression of gender to be accepted, a fight which still today hasn't fully culminated in total societal acceptance. What is so funny about mocking a fight for the right to be seen?
“What is so funny about mocking a fight for the right to be seen?
Jokes are often laughed off with phrases like ‘it's just a joke get over it’. But I'm afraid the answer is no. Check your privilege is something I would like to encourage. To make a joke as someone who is part of a minority community is different to someone who is not, and is therefore in a position of privilege to oppress through these jokes. I myself have often had to remind people of their ‘ableist’ language in relation to disabilities, or jokes surrounding disabilities which continue to make people feel oppressed, unable to speak up through fear of being mocked. This is the same for all. To laugh at someone's ethnicity, gender, sexuality or disability is to tell them they are beneath you. It is telling them they are laughable. It is telling them they are inferior.
I do understand many readers will disagree, as you have the right to do. However, once again I will ask you to check your privilege.
Sadly, this commonality of oppressive jokes is reinforced by peers who continue to laugh rather than make a stand against this. As one anonymous member of the UoB Drag Society commented ‘this is why people who are complicit annoy me more because they know what's happening is wrong and still do nothing.’ To laugh is to encourage, to watch is to facilitate, and to allow is to participate. Have you ever watched someone, desperate for some form of support or alliance with them, and turned away? This is being complicit. You may not wield the sword but you're mark was still made.
“To laugh is to encourage, to watch is to facilitate, and to allow is to participate
An anecdote from my first year relates to this idea perfectly. Often in group chats, remarks were made in relation to my disability, until one day I kindly asked for another term to be used in relation to mocking someone being what they viewed as stupid. Sadly, this led to further mocking of me which made me feel inferior. Now let me reiterate, this was in a group chat, where some participants were merely watching ongoing as this continued. This is being complicit. Another story from a member of the UoB Drag Society noted how on the tube they would often get their hair pulled but not a single person would step in. This is being complicit. I shall not undermine how hard it is to defend someone when it feels like you're the only voice speaking out, but just remember how alone the person feeling victimized may feel.
“Just remember how alone the person feeling victimized may feel
Rather than fostering an allowance for oppressive jokes, maybe it's time we fostered a culture of protection. Be that person who educates your friend, taking the load off from those being oppressed. Regularly I am reminded how I should always be the one to educate people on why what they're doing is hurtful, but why is it the members of a minority who are responsible alone to educate? Why cannot other people participate in this advancement of awareness and kindness? The moment a friend opened her mouth to defend me, was the moment I realized I should never be fighting this battle alone. This is why people joined in with defending the LGBTQ community when the joke was made on Fab N Fresh, because communal participation is the opposite of complicity. To fight becoming complicit sometimes means making a stand. This is why it's important to make sure you help in protecting your friends whose ethnicity may mean they are often bombarded with cruel jokes and isolation. This is why it's important to protect your friends who's sexuality might come under fire in our society. Protect your disabled friend from feeling alone. Protect your transgender or non-binary friend from feeling like an outcast. Just because some parts of society allow this passive hate, doesn't mean that we should all fall in line with this.
Be the person who stands than stalks away. Be the person who fights than flies. Be the person who protects not oppresses.