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24 March 2009 @ 11:38 am
Lighten Up! I was only joking!  
This entry is prompted by a discussion with a particular person, but I have been meaning to write it for ages, and the discussion this morning was merely a reminder.

If there's one excuse that's guaranteed to piss me off when you have upset someone it is It was just a joke! This phrase is generally trotted out by people in a position of power when they have upset someone who is in a less privileged position. I am bang alongside the right to free speech, but the right to free speech cuts in all directions. Yes, you absolutely have the right to say offensive things; but the corollary of that is that other people have the right to call you out on it, and to tell you that you are being offensive and why.

If you thoughtlessly (or even purposefully) say something sexist or racist or whateverist, and someone calls you out on it, and your instinctive response is to say but I was only joking!, think what you are saying by saying that. You are saying Not only do I reserve the right to be inconsiderate of your feelings, but when I hurt you, I will compound that by making out that you should expect to be an object of fun. How does that make things better? Why is it funny to pick on people who are weaker than you and then laugh about it? That's not humour, that's bullying. That's why Johnny Vegas sexually assaulting people on stage isn't funny, because he is the one in the position of power and he is abusing it. That's why racist "jokes" aren't funny, because white people are in a position of power, and they are abusing it.

Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, and I am fully in favour of it being as extensive as possible. But if you use your freedom of speech, you have to accept that sometimes, you are going to upset people, and that is a perfectly valid reaction for them to have. Belittling people for being offended is missing an opportunity to learn why something is offensive. And this absolutely does not mean that you can't say the offensive thing again; but if you say something offensive with the knowledge that you are being offensive then that is you being a bit of an arsehole. That's cool if you are OK with being an arsehole, but it's a bit rich to pretend that you're not.

And do you know what makes it worse? If you then follow up a conversation about why picking on people is not funny with anti-racists/feminists are so HUMOURLESS!! and telling the person who has called you out that if they don't like it then they aren't your friend and you're taking your bat and ball and going home. I've said this before, and I'm saying it again: my definition of a friend is someone who cares enough about me to not be afraid to tell me when I am wrong, or if I am being thoughtless, or if I am being a bit of a twat. I might not always be totally receptive to criticism (quit it with that hollow laughter at the back there!) but I'll always at least try to hear someone's criticisms of me before dismissing them.

So next time you feel like saying but I was only joking!! when someone tells you you are being a twat, consider if that is the message you really want to send. If it is, then that's cool, you fill your boots. But if what you actually mean is I'm sorry, I didn't realise I was being hurtful, and I'll try to actually be funny next time I am attempting humour then why not say that instead? It'll cause a lot less strife.
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