The difference


Women. Blacks. Immigrants. Women. Poles. Irish. Blondes. Catholics. People with mental health problems. Muslims. Vegetarians. Women. People with cognitive disabilities. Norwegians. Men.

If you belong to a group (you do – actually, you almost certainly belong to several. You have a gender and a race, for starters.), someone out there has made a joke about you. My father-in-law is fond of this one: What do you tell a woman with two black eyes? Nothing! Somebody’s already told her twice!

Har. Har.

The joke is poor, and hurtful. It’s also a common recipe for what many people think of as humor.

If you have to degrade a class of people to be funny, you aren’t funny.

But that’s not exactly what I’m on about today. There will always be stupid jokes like this, that are more about the dominant group trying to claim some imaginary and transient sense of superiority than about jocularity. It’s pathetic, but whatever.

When unibrowed fathers-n-law throw out trash like this, most wives shrug it off. Why? It’s simple: I know it isn’t true. Well, okay, abuse is true, and there isn’t a thing that’s funny about that. What I mean is this: I, as a woman, know that I don’t deserve to be smacked around, and that if someone finds this idea funny, the flaw is with him, not me.

Most of the common targets of this inept attempt at humor recognize this fact. Most, but not all.

There was an uproar a few years ago when a movie used the phrase, ‘Never go full retard.’ It was supposed to be funny. It wasn’t. It became the fine point on years and years of pejorative statements about people with cognitive disabilities, and the disability community focused on it in a concerted effort to say, ‘enough is enough’.

Can’t they take a joke?

No. They can’t.

A person with a cognitive disability will, by definition, have a harder time interpreting a joke (at their expense) and assigning it its true (lack of) importance. I know I don’t deserve to be beaten, and that my FIL is just a pitiful excuse for a stand up comic. I can shrug that off and move on. But someone who struggles with understanding every day life, struggles to make friends, struggles to hold even a marginal place in our ill-prioritized society… that person may very well not be able to place this type of statement in its proper place (the trash).

For the person with a cognitive disability, the joke really is on him. This isn’t funny, it’s just hurtful. This type of humor has no place in modern society. If this is the only type of joke you can come up with, you are not funny. Deal with that.