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By Jessica Zang

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About this blog: I’m Jessica Zang, a Palo Alto-born, slightly cynical Gunn High School student who’s passionate about linking high school life to the bigger picture. What’s really going on in our high schools in Palo Alto? Everything a high ...  (More)

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High School's Abundance of Offensive Humor

Uploaded: Mar 11, 2020
Walking around the halls, it’s difficult not to overhear snippets of loud, boisterous conversations around me, most of which I can easily ignore and put to the back of my mind. But every so often, and more commonly than I would like, I hear offensive comments that make me angry and indignant. Often disguised as jokes, these blatant expressions of racism, body-shaming, or sexism altogether make our high school a toxic environment.

A commonly used statement to defend these types of ‘jokes” is that in order for something to be funny, it has to be offensive. Whether it’s by generalizing a population, degrading a person, or just being plain rude, all of these comments affect our lives more than you’d think. Listening to these jokes every day can subconsciously hurt students; even if they don’t consciously process it, they will slowly adopt similar perspectives if these jokes are perceived as the norm. I understand jokes made to harmlessly poke fun at friends or an inside joke that everyone is clearly fine with; it’s “humor” that involve bad intentions about innocent people that makes me disappointed and mad.

It’s time to understand that our words have consequences:

“Jokes” that specifically target a race or ethnicity make it seem okay to treat these people differently than others, leading to work discrimination, implicit bias, and simply racist behavior later on in life. These negative effects of seemingly small “humourous statements” grow into huge consequences that plague our society today. I’ve seen too many foreign students be made fun of to their face and not realize what is going on, surrounded by laughing imbeciles. It’s baffling to me how many teenagers have lost touch with compassion, making rudeness and racism a form of normalcy and daily life.

Another common form of unfunny humor, as I like to call it, is blatant sexism, especially towards women. Slut-shaming, body-shaming, and relating women to age-old, traditional stereotypes are common in our high school environment. It’s even gone as far as delving into the horrible section of rape jokes. The culture of sexism already makes a huge impact on women today. From wage gaps to sexual misconduct cases to high rates of body discontentment, many difficulties women face can be traced back to discrimination like this in high school. These jokes cultivate the norm that women must look and act a certain way to be acceptable by society. If they decide to be anything but the way that men want them to be, they are portrayed as unacceptable, gross, and deserving of ridicule.

In addition to racist and sexist comments, other demonizing statements are often transphobic and homophobic. One thing that people who make these comments overlook is their effect on other people. What is the impact of expressing these ideas at school, where there are hundreds of impressionable people susceptible to their words? For one, it creates a culture of hate. Making these jokes the norm equates hatred with normalcy, and high schoolers exposed to these comments growing up will end up thinking that harboring these discriminations is normal and okay. Another thing that these comments sadly point out is some people’s lack of empathy and compassion. With no regard for who hears their statements, especially not those they target, it is clear that these students only care about themselves without regard to what harm these statements could inflict on others nearby.

The saddest part is that making these statements is that this behavior is considered cool and funny. These comments are made or tolerated with little to no opposition, a complete lack of upstanders to this kind of behavior. Not only are these people making offensive jokes, but they also make it a point to shut down those who feel uncomfortable around them. Anybody who tries to stand up against this crude speech is deemed “sensitive” and “not fun to be around”. This attack on people who have decent morals forces keeping silent on disgusting behavior the norm.

That said, it’s difficult to blame people who make these jokes. It can be hard to fit in without succumbing to this behavior. Yet, it’s important to keep in mind the consequences of these seemingly small statements, whether one makes them or brushes them off. When you consciously realize the damage this behavior causes, you are able to put a stop to it. Hopefully, people who make these jokes will come to discover that they can fit in without resorting to this behavior.

Reminder: saying “it’s just a joke” doesn’t make something less offensive; it’s just disguising an implicit hatred or discrimination of people as something less than it is. What it is, essentially, is expressing phobias of different people and defensively silencing those who dare to question it. So, moving forward, I’m hoping that people try to stop their preexisting judgments at the root, instead of continuing to cultivate their inner discriminations and displaying this behavior as adults later on.
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Comments

 +   4 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 11, 2020 at 1:17 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

When I was in college we had a professor who said that if you are equally mean to all women it is not discriminating.
His name was Vincent Starzinger and he's dead now.

Is that funny?


 +   12 people like this
Posted by YP, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Mar 11, 2020 at 4:45 pm

Perhaps part of the problem is kids listening to rap/hip hop music and videos and their misogynist lyrics and videos, oh but wait that is "cool" ....


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Dinosaur, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Mar 11, 2020 at 5:02 pm

I went to school in a different century, but really teens were not much different then than they are now. The biggest difference of course is not the jokes in the corridors but the mean things that are being said by way of social media.

Social media has to be one of the biggest causes of who is the cool kid and who is the social pariah. When kids are on instagram posting pictures of themselves with a pout and a meme, they are hoping for "likes". When kids are not getting the number of likes they expect they try harder next time to increase the number of likes. They want to be doing the cool thing and look down on anyone who is using the uncool app or without the latest phone because it doesn't have the cool apps.

I do understand and sympathize with what Jessica has to say. It is a problem, but what is said in the corridors have always been said in the corridors. It doesn't make it easier to hear, it is just the same as it has always been. This is not a new thing. This high school generation are not the first to go through it.

I don't know what the answer is, but talking it through in a blog like this may help. But then again, it might be another nail in the coffin or the reason for a fresh bout of jokes.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Equality & Prejudice Do Not Go Hand In Hand, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Mar 12, 2020 at 8:43 am

Times have changed but in many instances...ethnocentrism & sexism have not.

The only difference between the current time frame & decades/centuries past is the 'politically correct' factor/consideration that can get a bit overblown at times.

In a quest to be more sensitive towards others, have we maybe gotten too oversensitive to the point where just about anything & everything is now subject to censorship or public outrage?

Closing thought...equality can be legislated but personal prejudices cannot.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Clunge, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Mar 12, 2020 at 12:38 pm

Used to be that if you were offended, you could tell that person you were offended, if they continued, you could pop them in the mouth.

Now we just let kids be butt hurt or be the @$$ saying offensive remarks and they'll continue. Timeout doesnt work, but a fat lip always got the point across.

Guess life back when was better.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Mar 12, 2020 at 10:36 pm

plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose


 +   2 people like this
Posted by louise, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Mar 15, 2020 at 12:59 am

....and we have a president who is a leader in offensive behavior.....


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Family Friendly, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Mar 16, 2020 at 4:05 pm

Sounds like high school, to me. I always felt that a lot of it was driven by fear -- kids try to appear powerful in the face of confusing and overwhelming new urges and adult situations.

I'm not sure what the solution is. I am sure that I'm glad I grew up before social media magnified the problem a thousand-fold.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Local parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 17, 2020 at 12:54 pm

Thanks for bringing all of this up, Jessica. As someone who moved several times in my school years, I can tell you that these kinds of ills are not a given and they can be changed with an overt effort to change the culture of a school.

One way the local schools are better than some places I grew up is that I went to school with far more social class prejudice (in the South). Someone could be forever outcast in a way that no one forgot through graduation if they forgot to shave their legs once before gym in 6th grade, or didn't have the money to keep changing their skirt length to the whims of the season. Kids here locally don't have nearly that kind of pressure about their appearances or wealth, although I'm not saying there isn't pressure.

There are schools that have made major changes to school culture, some driven by students.

Looking forward to seeing your thoughts on school from home! (Don't say homeschool, homeschool is kind of a misnomer, local homeschoolers have been hit by in-person class and opportunity cancellations, too).


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 20, 2020 at 12:05 pm

"Closing thought...equality can be legislated but personal prejudices cannot."

That's exactly what segregationists were saying during the Civil Rights movement.


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