Dennis Pather
I think it was about 50 years ago that Martin Luther King jr wrote that white America was still poisoned by racism “which is as native to our soil as pine trees, sagebrush and buffalo grass”.

Well, much the same was true about South Africa at that time, with apartheid and racial discrimination as native to our soil as baobab, fynbos and proteas.

To our credit, we South Africans have made some progress in challenging racism through law and policy changes, but we are certainly not out of the woods yet, if you’ll forgive the pun. Twenty-three years after the advent of democracy, racism is still alive and kicking.

It may not come cloaked in white sheets any more, but its residue still bubbles menacingly under the surface, erupting ever so often into public outrage and conflict.

Which brings me to the issue of racially offensive jokes and hurtful comments bandied about these days in conversations involving friends, family and even colleagues at work.

My worry is that such jokes have become pervasive and usually go unchallenged. So how do you respond when someone you know makes an offensively racist, sexist or even homophobic joke? Do you say nothing; change the subject; ignore them; or go straight for the jugular?

Well, there’s a lot of free advice available on the subject on social media, which could prove useful.

If, for instance, you’re in a meeting and your boss or a senior executive cracks an offensive joke, don’t laugh. Your silence will speak for you and your boss will know his attempt at racially tinged humour was not funny.

Speak up, without being over-dramatic. “Hey, that’s not funny,” can have an impact.

They say it’s never too late to make your feelings known, later or even the next day.

Seek the advice of your colleagues if someone says something offensive. Rather than make a friend or relative feel judged, point out discreetly to them why you think their generalisation was wrong and not funny.

Depending on the circumstances, I prefer to take a more direct stand by letting people know discreetly such jokes are not funny and the stereotypes are false. 

I suppose in the end it’s a case of different strokes for different folks. But if you ignore racism and look the other way, I’m afraid the joke’s on you.

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