To Get to The More Diverse Side.

This week in DiversityJC, we discussed humor and how it can be a detriment and a boon to diversity. The whole discussion can be found here.

One thing that was brought up early on was the idea that under-represented groups can be told that they lack a sense of humor when they hear a disparaging joke. This is one form that gas-lighting can take.

And if you are in a privileged position, it’s important to consider what form your humor takes:

This doesn’t mean you can’t make any jokes, but being disparaging towards anyone is likely problematic. However, if someone is a public figure, it is still OK to make jokes about them, sometimes it’s well deserved, but that still doesn’t mean sexist/racist language/”jokes” are OK in this context. It still has to be about the individual, not generalized to a demographic group they’re a part of. Humor probably works best when it focuses on actions as well.

However, in the paper on disparaging humor, it showed that humor had a reinforcing effect only on those that are already highly prejudiced, though this reinforcing effect shouldn’t be so easily dismissed because a lot of bias is unconscious and that can lead to teachable moments:

Implicit association tests do exist online so anyone can find out just what their implicit biases are and at least be aware of it.

Humor can also be a uniting force and rally a community around pointing out stereotypes and subverting them

Humor is disarming and can engage people to reinforce positive norms as well:

Even with humor though, it can be hard to speak truth to power:

And this is where humor’s power to unite may really shine, by building a community around a humorous idea/meme/hashtag, it is no longer a lone person speaking truth to power, but a community. Though the online community is a bit tenuous, after all, individuals will have to go back to their departments/jobs where they may well still be alone in a bad environment.

It can be hard to know where the line is:

Defining the line does depend on audience, but also joke teller as well. Satiric sites like The Onion can likely cross lines more than the average scientist, most likely, because an Onion headline can be designed to elicit the “I can’t believe they said that!” response.

Something to always keep in mind is that if someone’s not laughing at a joke, believe their non-response that the joke didn’t work, and it is possible that it offended. Especially in a group, it’s important to be sensitive to those that seem to not be responding well to the group dynamic.

Thanks to all that participated in DiversityJC this week. Humor is really important to us humans as social creatures. It helps us in all sorts of ways, however it does have the dark side we have to be aware of as well. It can reinforce social norms, no matter what they are (including humor that is self-deprecating, can degrade ourselves, so it’s to be used with caution as well).

See you next time for DiversityJC!

Ian Street


Emily S Klein


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