Asian American pro skateboarders, gooks of hazzard

Are Racial Jokes Funny? The Gooks of Hazzard

Asian in America

Asian American pro skateboarders, gooks of hazzardAre Racial Jokes Funny?

Thanks to Nathalie who sent me this article from AdWeek of pro skaters Don “The Nuge” Nguyen and Daniel “Shimeez” Shimizu depicted in a cartoon that references racial slurs. What do you think of it? Can you get away with racial slurs if you are making fun of your own kind? Is this offensive?

If you like retro TV and racist slurs, have we got the T-shirt for you. Baker Skateboards is taking some heat this week for its shirt called “The Gooks of Hazzard,” which refers to two Asian men as “good orr boys” driving a car called the General Li. The shirt probably doesn’t bother the two guys it depicts, whom we assume are pro skaters Don “The Nuge” Nguyen and Daniel “Shimeez” Shimizu. But it’s not sitting well with the Asian American Justice Center, which tells TMZ it’s “unacceptable for Baker Skateboards to create a depiction of Asian Americans which uses racial slurs and perpetuates racist stereotypes.” Our prediction: Non-skaters try to turn this into a cultural debate over self-referential racism, while skaters just laugh at the rest of us for being old and lame. Adweek

Are we taking this too seriously? If the skateboarders depicted don’t care, then we shouldn’t? What do you think?


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13 thoughts on “Are Racial Jokes Funny? The Gooks of Hazzard”

  1. How many racists does it take to change a light bulb?
    None. They’d rather stay in the dark.

    Posted by Scott Evans

    From my LinkedIn Group Harvard University Alumni

  2. I wrote my senior honors essay WAYYYYY back on ethnic jokes, and how people tell them as a source of in-group boundary keeping.

    But I do kind of like Scott’s joke.

    Posted by Lois Leveen

    From my LinkedIn Group Harvard University Alumni

  3. I like Scott’s joke also. As for racial jokes, I don’t like them when they’re about a particular ethnic group, but you can substitute the word ‘Martian’ or similar. What I find interesting is when people make jokes about their own ethnicity.

    Posted by Kerry Hurwitz

    From my LinkedIn Group Harvard University Alumni

  4. t’s such a difficult area – but I agree with Andrew. What matters, I think, is the context. I also think what applies to one ethnic group should apply to all. For example, I have seen the very sad situation where anyone who is white can be called an incredible array of ‘descriptive terms’ without the blink of an eye, but someone from another ethnicity or race will be offended by even an innocent comment (for example, referring to someone as Indian rather than Asian) and action taken.

    Posted by Rosalind Bergemann

    From my LinkedIn Group Harvard University Alumni

  5. Well, I’m part Irish, part English, part German and have enjoyed teasing jokes about these ethnicities. I notice a lot of people with a strong ethnic identity actually apply to themselves terms I’d thought derogatory. I never knew what “guinea” (“ginny”?) referred to until an Italian friend berated himself for a mistake. Really, we can stand up for ourselves and each other, or we can all cower isolated in silence. I don’t really tell ethnic jokes, and never about blacks, now that I think of it, but can’t we just let people express themselves? We’re human, we love each other and we also bug each other. Do we really have to treat every ethnic joke as if it were Krystallnacht?

    Posted by Andrew Wolfe

    From my LinkedIn Group Harvard University Alumni

  6. Scott, we are NOT all equal. Look at how people treat Harvard graduates! My height and weight are probably not the same as yours. You probably dance better than I do. My wife certainly looks better than me!

    Subcategories are useful. I’m not likely to ask for a test for sickle cell trait (although my daughter’s college required it) or thallassemia. Non-profits use them in their reporting to make sure they aren’t inadvertently overlooking a segment of the local population whom they should be helping.

    True parity is achieved when subcategories are not used for the wrong purposes. Sadly, somewhat subjective. True parity will also be achieved when non-profits don’t have to worry about whether they’re reaching a particular category of people.

    But there will always be categories and subcategories. They will continue to provide delightful diversity [IDIC] rather than humdrum homogeneity. And of whom will we tell the jokes when we DO meet “Martians”?

    Posted by Joseph Yao

    From my LinkedIn Group Harvard University Alumni

    1. It’s also interesting that when you have a homogeneous population like say, Japanese of Japanese descent living in Japan, you still have categories and subcategories. It’s human nature, I think, to figure out differences and similarities. Perhaps it comes from our caveman days of trying to figure out who is safe from who is dangerous?

  7. Folks may be interested in the piece I wrote about ethnic jokes, though it was years ago. It’s here: and also here

    I do think jokes can be very powerful–and subtle. My novel THE SECRETS OF MARY BOWSER is narrated by the eponymous protagonist, who is black. During a debate about the merits and drawbacks of UNCLE TOM’S CABIN, she thinks, “who cares what some white lady writes in a book?” That, of course, was me telling a joke on myself, because like Harriet Beecher Stowe, I’m a white lady writing a book about slavery and abolition. Not everyone gets the joke, but I think for those that do, it’s a way to wink at questions of race and authorial intention.

    Posted by Lois Leveen

    From my LinkedIn Group Harvard University Alumni

  8. Keith Basso has a chapter, “Joking Imitations of Anglo-Americans: Interpretive Functions,” in his book Keith Basso, Portraits of The Whiteman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

    In this chapter Basso says something like a joke is only funny if it is not taken literally. Jokes are away of saying something that would ordinarily invoke anger or insult or sadness or embarrassment in a way that is pleasurable. Often comedians have a way of telling us that something is not to be taken seriously. If I remember correctly Groucho Marx would at times flutter his eyebrows of take a drag on his cigar. Listen to any comedian you enjoy and ask yourself, how would I respond if I took these jokes literally?

    I remember once when I was playing softball and started using the Black tradition of teasing, which amongst the Blacks I grew up with would not be taken literally. I quickly learned that there were some teammates who, when I teased them, would take it as a joke and enjoy it and some who would not. I then only teased the ones who did not take me literally.

    Back to ethnic jokes. They can be funny when not taken literally. Only tell them when you are sure you will not be taken literally. Same rule applies to almost all jokes.

    Posted by Carl Jorgensen

    From my LinkedIn Group Harvard University Alumni

  9. You bring up a good point Carl. A joke is only a joke if taken that way and that is difficult to predict. Those who take it literally may have underlying sensitivities that get triggered while others can “take a joke.”

    Gooks of Hazzard rhymes with Dukes of Hazzard. The pro skateboarders also do hazardous tricks. I think there is also the sense that “Shimeez” and “The Nuge” by sheer fact that they have well known nicknames are seen an individual athletes rather than part of a minority group that is typically picked on. I can see how they would laugh it off, more as testament that they’ve made it as professional skateboarders versus wannabes of Asian descent.

    There is another controversial topic. The music dance band, The Slants, are being denied the right to trademark their name and logo because the court views their name as derogatory, particularly because the band is made up of Asian Americans.

    It’s interesting that the law protects us from denigrating ourselves ?? Is that actually what it proposes to do?? And should we use terms that were used as racial slurs against us to form a new identity? Why should this be a legal matter?

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