[Content note: this post contains examples of topics that may be triggering (fat bias, rape, rape culture, misogynistic slurs, gun violence)]
We do not live in a void. The things we do and say have consequences larger than the immediate ramifications that are apparent to us. This goes especially for marginalizing tropes and “jokes” that feature mendacious stereotypes as the punch line.
“But it’s just a joke,” you may say. Except that it isn’t just a joke.
“Jokes” that feature marginalizing tropes (like “dumb blonde” jokes or “put down the cheeseburger fattie” jokes) aren’t just an attempt at poking fun. They entrench and normalize ideas that make living difficult for individuals who aren’t thin enough, white enough, male enough, heterosexual enough (etc...) for society at large. They present a falsehood as fact and pretend an entire population of people can be described by a single adjective.
“What about free speech? I shouldn’t have to police my words to save someone’s feelings,” you may say. Except that it isn’t about feelings.
It’s about medical professionals whose fat bias is entrenched to the point they ignore a fat person’s symptoms, resulting in further injury or death. Talking about obesity as if it has only one cause and pretending it causes disease allows such individuals the comfort of their hatred. It’s about white men shooting young black boys for using a sidewalk. Narratives that paint all black men as violent gave this shooter his mental ammunition. It’s about teenage girls being raped by their boyfriends because those boyfriends are taught that women “don’t say what they mean” and have no right to refuse because they’re no better than dogs (i.e. calling women who don’t act like you want “bitches”).
“That’s not what I meant,” you may say. Then say what you mean. If someone who is a member of the group you’re marginalizing can see the bias in your words, then so, too, can someone who believes that group IS lesser.
“You’re being too sensitive,” you may say. How do you know? Have you lived in the shoes of the person you’re hurting? Have you been forced to listen to those same tropes day after day, sometimes from people who claim to love you? Have you ever been denied a job, healthcare, or marriage rights because someone believes those tropes?
I could go on.
These are all silencing tactics. Ways to prevent yourself from hearing that your attempt at humor was harmful to another person. Ways to prevent yourself from learning something new and being expected to change because of that learning. Ways to prevent yourself from having to examine those you’ve put down and realize they’re people.
And I believe you’re better than that. I believe you can grow past mendacious tropes and see the beauty in diversity.
I believe this, and I expect it.