Calling it a joke does not make it okay

Stephanee Bonifacio


I’m sure all of us have heard this phrase at some point in our lives, usually following a risqué comment someone made: “C’mon, don’t be mad, it’s just a joke!”  Sure, most of the time, it is just a hilarious joke, but when is it crossing a line?

There is no doubt that 2016 was a year full of debate and controversy surrounding political correctness (PC). What started with inclusive holiday greetings has spread like the plague, infecting education, media coverage, and (you guessed it) jokes. I know what you are probably thinking: “How dare those oversensitive liberals try to control what we can and cannot joke about!” I agree, it’s ridiculous, but let’s try to keep an open mind and see both sides.

First, let’s start off by eliminating the term “political correctness” from our discussion. PC has evolved into such a loaded term, that for the sake of having a civil conversation, it is best to remove it. I propose in return, we discuss what it means to be a kind and respectful human being.

When it comes to telling jokes, the intended goal is to get the audience to laugh. Seems simple enough, right? I could humor you with the analysis of the debate over what is considered “offensive” but in truth, that debate will never find a resolution. It is human nature to disagree or have opposing viewpoints, so naturally, what one person finds horribly offensive, another can just as easily find hilarious. This is a conflict that is never-ending and the only solution I can possibly think of is to be aware of your audience. It is probably not smart to tell a “dumb blonde” joke to a group of blondes. Similarly, it would be equally as thoughtless to tell a joke at anyone’s expense. Here is where the plot thickens.

Some of my strongest friendships have formed through ruthless teasing and mockery, and through the allowance of jokes at my expense I have overcome many insecurities. Just because this has been my personal experience does not mean it is everyone’s. Individuals are simply that; individual people with individual personalities and senses of humor who, as a result don’t find all varieties of jokes funny. Does that mean that you can never tell those jokes? No, of course not; it just means that if you want to be a decent person you will be conscious and respectful of who you are telling the joke to and what their personal boundaries are.

When any form of slur comes into question, that is where I see no need for any debate. As I stated before, jokes should be told with the intention to make people laugh, not to put people down. If someone is telling jokes with the intention of degrading an individual, group, or organization, they are not “taking advantage of their right to freedom of speech,” as some say, they are simply being an insensitive person. It sounds childish to describe a certain type of individual as “mean,” but that is essentially what it boils down to. Jokes and aggresive statements are set apart by their intention, to hurt or to entertain. I do believe that pushing the envelope in comedy and popular media is important when making political and social commentary, but there is a way to do so in which your point gets across while remaining respectful to other individuals.

The solution is fairly simple. If you have good intentions and are aware of your audience, feel free to joke away.