The Offensive Joke Wasn’t Funny in 1989, And It Isn’t Funny Now

‘Cancel Culture’ and ‘Political Correctness’ Battles Are About Protecting Privilege And Superiority

Who is the bigger snowflake? The people who nicely suggested to Trader Joe’s that its branding of cultural items pushes racist stereotypes and maybe they should think about changing it – or the white people who never even thought about the subject until someone spoke out, now acting like civilization will collapse because Trader Joe’s is no longer marketing its Spring Rolls as Trader Mings?

Photo by Jeffrey Czum on

It’s a rhetorical question of course, but if we treated it like a real question, what are the odds there would be great disagreement?

Ever since Fox News figured out the “War On Christmas” was crack for scared white people, and they could ride that cash cow right to the bank, “political correctness” has become a semi-regular social debate in our society. It goes a little something like this:

Person A says something offensive; Person B notes that it is offensive and explains why and asks for an apology; Person A feels attacked, explains that it isn’t offensive, everyone says it, s/he offends everyone and its just a joke, don’t take it too seriously; Person B is angered by this response and seeks out retribution in some form; Person A suffers the consequences and apologies and says s/he never meant to offend anyone and has learned his/her lesson and thinks the punishment is too severe and rallies society toward believing Person B is the wrong one, the “snowflake,” for asking for repercussions.

It’s unfair; it’s a mistake, what about due process? And so on and so forth.

Being offensive is about one thing – Power. Once you have to apologize and do better, you have lost that power. You are no longer superior. You are not longer dominate. That’s what “political correctness” threatens. If you accept the comment, you are protecting their power.

There always seems to be one line of defense the “anti-PC” crowd uses; Why now? We have always been using this word, this phrase, this stereotype. Everyone found it funny before? What happened? “My black friend doesn’t seem to have a problem with it!”

Here’s the thing. He or she almost certainly did not find it funny, but did not find it prudent to fight you on it. I can tell you this as a queer person that there were blatantly offensive gay jokes I heard for years. Stuff like:

  • Don’t give him the cucumber, he’ll sit on it
  • Something about tucking my penis in my legs so it looks like I have a vagina
  • A generous serving of the words “f*gg*t” and “s*ssy”
  • Male friends acting frightened at the idea of sharing a bedroom or bathroom
  • “Maybe he has a crush on you!” everybody whenever I get too close to a male friend.

I just smiled and laughed at, or rolled my eyes – being sure the smile while doing it, or just walked away. Did the joke offend me? Yes, very much so. Were they worth fighting a losing battle? No. Even if I lost the battle, would I lose an ally? Allies are hard to come by for the marginalized.

Or worse, would it lead to me getting beat? The fear of repercussions are real.

An exchange on social media that triggered my thoughts on this topic.

While some things, like jokes or racially insensitive branding, might seem harmless, what they do is give license to go even farther. It also desensitizes us to offensive characterizations. How many of us grew up thinking Mexicans were lazy and slept a lot because Speedy Gonzalez enjoyed siestas often? Did you also think, like me, the reason so many Mexicans avoided immigration was that they were small and fast like the Looney Tunes character?

A lot of this could be remedied if children were taught to recognize bigotry and reject it, and to their credit, there are plenty of parents who do this. My aunt was the one who told me Speedy Gonzalez was “not what Mexican people are like, it’s what bad people think they’re like.” But bigots, well, they’ll test to see how far they can go. First its Trader Mings, then its using racial slurs for Asians, until finally it’s accusing them of carrying deadly viruses and beating them in the streets.

Go ahead, roll your eyes. I know what you’re thinking, that’s a big jump from a store brand to hate crime, but its not. Once the lines are blurred, it’s like a runaway freight train that will eventually crash at high speed.

Are there people in marginalized groups who aren’t “offended” by racist, sexist and bigoted things? Sure. Candace Owens may be a grifter, but I think there are black people who think responding to racism only gives it power, which is a big part of her message.

There are plenty of people who also just shake it off because; why bother? If you say something, you just get a lecture on political correctness anyway – or worse, violence. They’re just going to let it not consume them. There will also be folks who feel it’s just a minor nuisance and a distraction from the real problems. But they’re also likely to be welcome and open to change, or at the very least not be bothered by it.

This is also an issue for good-intention white progressives – you know, the “woke” crowd. If a black person or Hispanic person isn’t offended by something, there’s often a push to get them to be offended. This is primarily because bigots will use the lack of offense as an excuse to push the envelope further. Having grown up around racists, I can tell you this is true. There are people who look to offend (This is why Trump keeps calling COVID-19 the “China Virus.” He knows it’s offensive and he wants to get a rise. If he doesn’t get it, he will pull out something worse).

It’s not that society has become more offended by things, it is that we now feel safe telling you things are offensive and have always been.

So why this battle over political correctness now? Or at least since Fox News started its annual jihad on Happy Holidays about 15 years ago? Well, as we become a more diverse, multicultural and accepting society, it has allowed marginalized communities the space to be able to step forward and say what has been on their minds for generations. The things you claim weren’t offensive 25 years ago, they were, its just the offended didn’t feel comfortable telling you. Archie Bunker was never a lovable bigot, he was always an example of what NOT to be. You weren’t supposed to idolize him, and yet people still look at him as an example of who they wish they could be. Al Bundy’s misogyny wasn’t something to admire – he’s a shoe salesman whose life peaked at 17 for crying out loud. His own children mock him.

It’s not that society has become more offended by things, it is that we now feel safe telling you things are offensive and have always been.

The truth is, the “anti-PC people” know that, and that’s what this crusade is so important. Whenever you see the meme about how it use to be “ok to be funny,” what they mean is “when it ok to intimidate people in letting me be offensive.”

Because that makes them feel superior…and powerful.


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