Are White Men Allowed to Laugh at Black Men’s Expense?

Race Manners: If you’re scrutinizing your boyfriend’s every chuckle, you probably have more serious questions than whether sagging pants are “objectively funny.”

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Your being irked by your boyfriend’s response suggests not just that you’re wired differently for jokes but also that you’re extra sensitive to any evidence of how he sees himself in relation to people he deems “different.”

An assessment of a person’s open- or closed-mindedness, curiosity or dismissiveness, and compassion or lack thereof is something you’d be smart to do with anyone you were dating. And this is a reminder that people in interracial relationships aren’t, contrary to popular belief, always extra sophisticated when it comes to racial awareness and understanding of different perspectives. Or at least, this sophistication doesn’t happen without work.  

I get the feeling that you two haven’t talked about how your backgrounds might color the way you see the world, how you relate to other people and what your sensitivities are. I’d be willing to bet that your concerns over his humor come from the fact that you have a lot to learn about each other.

Are these incidents just reminders that what’s “different” to him isn’t different to you? Do you think he’s narrow-minded? Is it that you’re uncomfortable with his seeing whiteness as the default when it isn’t for you? Do you have a nagging worry that he doesn’t respect the cultures of people who don’t look like him?

Or is it that he hasn’t done anything to suggest any of this, but you’re terrified that he will?

You’re scrutinizing him as if he’s a stranger, not someone you know, like and see eye to eye with. Which really isn’t fair to him. Wouldn’t it be preferable to be in a relationship in which you could relax and joke about things without reading into every giggle, feeling confident that, when it comes down to it, you share the same values?

Finding out whether you’re compatible in that way will take a few (or more) serious conversations. Until then, I think you have to let him laugh. 

The Root’s senior staff writer, Jenée Desmond-Harris, covers the intersection of race with news, politics and culture. She wants to talk about the complicated ways in which ethnicity, color and identity arise in your personal life—and provide perspective on the ethics and etiquette surrounding race in a changing America. Follow her on Twitter.

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Previously in Race Manners: “White Woman in a ‘Chocolate City’ Shirt: Is It Wrong?