Ethnic joke

Ethnic joke

Ethnic jokes, sometimes refferred to as race jokes, or racist jokes are jokes that exploit ethnic stereotypes. They are often considered to be offensive and as a form of hate speech, though they still remain popular.

Ethnic jokes come and go with social change, particularly with waves of immigration from one country to another; for example, Polish jokes, once common in the United States during widespread Polish immigration, are now little used, as Polish and other Eastern European immigrants have long since been absorbed into the large community. Similarly, Irish jokes have become far less common in the United Kingdom as the social status of Irish people has risen with increased wealth in Ireland, the consequent reduction in Irish itinerant labor, and the absorption of Irish people into the community. As public awareness of racism has increased, racial and ethnic jokes have become increasingly socially unacceptable in recent years, and have become socially taboo to tell in public in many regions.

It is sometimes held that such stereotypes must contain a grain of truth; research suggests that this is most often not the case. Some ethnic jokes deliberately try to prove their point, for instance:

Racial targets

Ethnic jokes are often aimed at minorities within certain regions, or peoples from neighboring areas. A common ethnic joke format is the "stupid person" joke, where the stock character, who is the butt of the joke, belongs to an ethnic group singled out for abuse. Such jokes are often interchangeable, with the stigmatized group varying from region to region (e.g. the English tell such jokes about the Irish, Canadians about the Newfies). In other ethnic jokes, the targeted ethnic group is one that has historically been associated with the privileged ruling class, as in the "Jan van der Merwe" jokes of South Africa, which make fun of Afrikaners (Jan van der Merwe being a stereotypical Dutch name).

People with different skin color may be singled out for offensive jokes, with Black people being an example of a common target in certain countries. People of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent, who are a substantial minority group in England, are the target of similar jokes. Jews (and sometimes Poles as well) are also a common target of ethnic jokes within Europe and North America.

Black Race

Black people are often portrayed stereotypically as very lazy. One example of a joke against black people states that:

This particular joke makes reference of a black man's inability to care for a family, a stereotype that is widespread amongst people prejudiced against the black race, though which has no scientific evidence in support of this.

White Race

White people are often portrayed stereotypically as athletically inferior, nerdish, and for males having small penises'. One particular joke that is made to highlight the white races alleged nerdish behaviour is :

Irish Nationality

The Irish were common subjects of stereotypical ethnic jokes from the English during the early and mid 20th century, when many Irish immigrants had emigrated to England. Jokes typically portrayed the Irish as being incredibly stupid and having a culture entirely revolving around potatoes. One example which portrays both of these qualities goes thus:

Arab Race

Arabs are often depicted in ethnic jokes as being stupid, unclean or as Islamic extremists.

Other targets

A closely related topic is the telling of jokes about people with disabilities, such as jokes making fun of the mentally ill, which often mirrors that of racist jokes. The same can be said for jokes about homosexuals, the obese, and people of a certain gender.

Roman Catholics

In stereotypical jokes, Roman Catholic priests are often depicted as paedophiles. For instance;


In jokes, Muslims are often depicted as being terrorists and wife-beaters.


Homosexuals are often portrayed in jokes about them as being sexually promiscuous and having the AIDS virus.

See also


  • Davies, Christie. Ethnic Humor Around the World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.
  • Draitser, Emil. Taking Penguins to the Movies:: Ethnic Humor in Russia. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998. ISBN 0814323278.
  • Charles Jaret Book review: The Mirth of Nations. American Journal of Sociology. .

External links

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