For many years, I’ve been involved with a non-profit organization that, in its most fundamental document, promotes inclusiveness, acceptance of diversity and pluralism, and respect for all individuals.
And yet, in that group’s admittedly unofficial humor page on Facebook, my questioning its use of the “Florida Man” meme got me criticized by more than one person.
So what if we make jokes about men from Florida doing crazy crimes? Or make jokes about dumb blondes? Or about lazy Mexicans? Because jokes can reinforce prejudice. According to an article in Scientific American, “Whatever the neural underpinnings of implicit bias, cultural factors—such as shopworn ethnic jokes, careless catchphrases and play-ground taunts dispensed by peers, parents or the media—often reinforce such prejudice.”
And jokes can even be a part of creating prejudice and discrimination. That is apparently true of the dumb blonde stereotype. In studies, a majority of people have viewed women with blonde hair as less intelligent and less capable career-wise than brunettes. In some studies, the same women were treated as less intelligent–and more sexually available–when their hair was blonde than when brunette (Psychology Today, Mail Online, The Guardian).
In regard to Florida man, in my own mind I admit that, if I heard that phrase 10 years ago, my first image would have been of a Caucasian man with grey hair. I have never been to Florida, but back then heard several jokes about Florida retirees. Now, when I hear “Florida man,” my first thought is of a man from Florida committing a crazy crime even though the Florida Man meme apparently became popular just a few years ago in 2013.
For anyone who thinks that making jokes about the people of a particular state doesn’t matter, it can. I am very close to two people who had problems getting a job in one state when they moved to a state where people commonly made fun of their home state.
In my Ethnic and Women’s Studies classes, I relearned something I already knew–the biggest obstacle to equality and fair treatment is usually not the bigots. The biggest problem is most often regular people, sometimes nice, loving people. And sometimes the problem is exacerbated by people making fun of their own ethnic, racial, gender, or other group. They often don’t realize they’re contributing to the problem for others and possibly themselves. If they did, I imagine they would stop.
An opinion of an individual member of The Loveshade Family does not necessarily reflect the views of the whole family.
The image of the blonde doll used is from pixaday which allows its free use for editorial purposes.