The first chapter introduces the theme of the book: that humor plays a role in the reproduction of racism. I introduce the concept of amused racial contempt, a concept drawing on the sociology of W. E. B. Du Bois, and show its connection to racism, whiteness, and humor in the reproduction of white supremacy. The chapter also provides some brief historical background on blackface minstrelsy, linking this form of entertainment to systemic racism and racialized emotions. The first chapter introduces the book's analysis of racist humor in three key settings beyond entertainment: the far right, law enforcement, and in electoral politics.
This chapter develops the theoretical argument of the book—what racist humor is, what it does in society, and how it is linked to white racial dominance. In developing the concept of amused racial contempt, the chapter draws on humor theory and ties it to sociological theories of race and racism. Ethnic humor theory is also addressed in this chapter, and it is critiqued as an inadequate model for analyzing racist humor. The chapter then sets up how the theoretical model for analyzing racist humor will be used in the following chapters.
Chapter 3 examines the ways in which the far right weaponizes racist humor, in the past and in the present, as a tool for racist radicalization and agitation. The chapter links the recent strategic use of racist humor on social media by alt-right propagandists to earlier forms of racist humor by white nationalist leaders and propagandists since the civil rights era. The chapter highlights the racist cartoons featured in the white nationalist newspaper, White Aryan Resistance, and the racist violence that is animated and articulated in these images. This violent racist content, downplayed as "just jokes," aims to inspire and celebrate the use of racist violence among disaffected young white men.
This chapter looks at the use of racist humor by law enforcement officers in the criminal justice system, from the civil rights era to the present. Drawing on public records and federal investigations of the Ferguson Police Department and the LAPD, and linking these reports to incidents and media analysis of racist humor by police officers throughout the country since the civil right era, this chapter highlights the decades-long prevalence of racist humor within U.S. law enforcement. The chapter illustrates that the racist humor of the police is a cultural tool that contributes to the dehumanization, racist abuse, and violence that is pervasive in the criminal justice system today.
This chapter looks at the ways that anti-Black racist humor is mobilized in the political arena. Specifically, I examine how Barack Obama was racially mocked and ridiculed by conservatives and Republicans using racist images associating Obama with depictions of monkeys and apes. The chapter looks at the historical development of this racist trope, implicating racial science and popular culture in the reproduction of white supremacist imagery and ideology. The chapter links this history to the controversies and debates that unfolded following the use of these racist images against Obama and shows how Republicans and conservatives consistently tried to downplay this racist behavior as innocent jokes.
The Epilogue ties together the uses of racist humor discussed throughout the book in various settings with the politics of whiteness and white nationalism and the legacy of white supremacy, colonialism, and racial capitalism. I highlight how the politics of racism and amused racial contempt were most recently wielded by Donald Trump and his supporters and how this racist contempt was weaponized against Asians and Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic, linking this practice to racist abuse, violence, and murder. The Epilogue also calls for a rethinking and decolonization of how we understand the sense of humor—so that we can reimagine what humor is in a just society.