Regular readers are very aware that I’m a fan of the snarky come back. But it’s not right for every situation. Case in point: this situation that reader Kim e-mailed me about (reprinted with her permission of course)
I work in an office and there is a large candy bowl at the front desk where I sit. My boss fills it with all kinds of sugary goodness. It by no means bothers me that it is there and I don’t feel guilty eating some when the mood strikes. My problem is that at least a few times a week, customers make comments like “Don’t to eat it all” or “Save some for me!” or some other comment about me, the diabetes that I MUST have and how I have to struggle with my self-control because of the damn candy bowl. I find it incredibly rude that because I’m fat, automatically I’m a glutton for candy and have health issues.
One of the issues here is that this is a professional environment and so the reply that we use has to be professional. Another issue, at least for me, in replying to any situation where someone is using humor that perpetuates bigotry is that I don’t know if they are doing it on purpose. Regardless, any response where I point it out is likely to lead to them becoming defensive and/or trying to make me the problem – either insisting that it’s not bigotry, or that I need to learn to “take a joke.” One method that I often use in these situations is to act like I don’t get the joke at all.
This method works because this kind of “humor” requires that everyone be “in on” the joke – in this case the stereotypes about fat people and why it’s “ok” to make fun of them. If someone has to explain the joke it’s like pulling back the veil on their bigotry and nobody wants to do that – it typically either forces people who didn’t realize that they were being an ass to come to that conclusion on their own, or if they were trying to be an ass it deprives them of the opportunity to do it under the cover of humor. If they really didn’t consider that it would seem like they were making a joke at a fat person’s expense (for example, if they would have said the exact same thing to someone of any size) then I haven’t accused them of something that they weren’t doing.
So in this example it might go like this:
Them: Save some for me!
Me: Blank stare, saying as sincerely as possible “I don’t understand”
Them: You know, don’t eat it all, save some for me!
Me: (smiling, still acting confused and sincere) Why wouldn’t I?
Them: Well, you know, you look like someone who likes candy!
Me: Sorry, I don’t know what you mean.
The trick is to play it completely innocent – as if you really have no idea why this makes sense or would be funny. Of course it’s not fullproof (sadly no method of dealing with bigotry is) and “success” usually includes them mumbling something and walking away, I an only hope that they will reconsider their behavior. I find that this is great for a professional situation because while you can be accused of being humorless, you cannot be accused of being rude.
I find that this works best when dealing with attempts at humor that perpetuate bigotry, of course this is not for every situation and may not be for every person, and that’s totally cool. For me it’s just another tool in my activism/dealing-with-bullshit toolbox.
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