This archived article was written by: Kevin van der spek
Sitting in the back of a truck with the caption, “hood rat immigrant-ish” isn’t funny, it is dehumanizing and demeaning. Jokes like this deepen stereotypes making it harder to break from the bounds of racism and at the same time-killing-relational value for minorities.
Coming from a place of privilege means coming from a place of acceptance from birth, society’s precursors either puts you to be on successful or neutral ground. This means stereotypes associated with a social class are positive. Someone saying that white people are smarter than people of color, which intelligence isn’t unique to race, is an example of negative stereotypes.
Having positive stereotypes makes it harder to empathize with people who are associated with negative stereotypes. Not empathizing is what allows xenophobic jokes to be accepted. Xenophobia is defined by Google as, “intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries.” Lack of empathy is what allows jokes like, “hood rat” or implying immigrants come from the back of a truck to be funny.
In reality hood rat is incredibly offensive. Alex Anderson explains that “hood rat” means the lowest of low in the economic classes and at the bottom of society’s bottom. Hood rat deepens the stereotype of poverty and violence of any social group, that isn’t white-upper-middle class, and makes breaking systemic or institutional racism even more difficult.
Sitting in the back of a truck and saying being an immigrant is offensive because it degrades the struggles of people who had to provide a better life for themselves or their children. Downplaying their struggles is saying that their problems do not matter and they are not worthy of your respect; it is dehumanizing. This is when you make someone less human, meaning you do not hold the same value to someone as you would to someone you know or to yourself.
Think of a time when you thought life was hard and you could not stop crying, no matter what the problem, and then imagine that you saw me walking around laughing at you for crying about whatever that problem is. To me, in this example, your problem is a joke.
Another reason why jokes about immigration and riding in a truck are offensive is that it does not acknowledge the scope of immigration. Not all immigrants come from south of the border or even by land. Jokes that look at the stereotype deny the existence of the rest of the problem. This not saying that one form of immigration has it worse than any other, but denying the existence of someone and their problems is also dehumanizing.
Lowering one’s value makes people feel unwanted and unimportant. What happens when someone feels like they are not important is a loss of relational value. This is how important we feel to other people, but not limited by people we feel are important to us. According to Mark R. Leary in, “Sociometer Theory and the pursuit of relational value: getting to the root of self-esteem,” appearance and inculcation increase relational value and when relational value is up so is productivity.
Leary writes that self-esteem is a tool used to measure relational value. When jokes are being made, it is important to understand what the jokes mean and who’s self-esteem and relational value is being hurt because you are dehumanizing and belittling their problems.
It might be funny, to you, to make fun of people who are trying to make the lives of their families better, but don’t be surprised when people are offended because you are unable to look beyond your point of privilege.