Prescription for Poison

Did you hear the one about the spic, the nigger and the chink? Or was it a Catholic, a Jew or a Protestant? Or maybe the faggot, the dyke and the fat retard? How many times have we sat at the lunch table and told the latest joke that involved some minority other than the one to which we belong? (And let's not kid ourselves: we all belong to at least one minority.) How many times have we laughed when someone else told the joke? Laughter has been called a panacea for whatever ails you. But laughter at jokes about differences in ethnicity, religious, race, orientation, etc. is nothing more than poison and we're nearing a level of toxicity that may yet prove fatal to the human race.

What harm can come from a little good-natured ribbing, you may ask? Ask that of a woman who was raped because of her color. Ask that of a mother in Bosnia or Israel or Iraq whose child is dead because of religious differences. Ask that of someone who was beaten because someone else thought he/she looked or acted like a homosexual. Ask that of a mother who must try to explain to her mentally challenged child why the other children won't play with him/her. Most of us mean no harm when we tell off-color or prejudicial jokes and most of us are mature enough to realize that it IS supposed to be funny. But when we tell them in the presence of children, we're injecting them with a dose of poison. Children aren't born with prejudices. Along with learning how to walk and talk and feed themselves, children all too often learn to hate. Unfortunately, the parents are often the (hopefully) unwitting teachers.

One of the first things a new baby learns to do is smile. As parents, we love to see that first smile and hear those first giggles. There's nothing that warms the heart more than hearing children laugh from the depths of their very souls. We teach our children that laughter is the best medicine when we tell them to "laugh it off" or to "put on a happy face". Laughter's associated with happiness. And being happy is what this world is all about— life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are unalienable rights guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence. Happiness is good. Laughter is good. So children come to the conclusion that whatever causes laughter is good. Many adults still feel this way. But lies aren't good. Lies don't make Mommy or Daddy happy. So what makes Mommy and Daddy laugh must be the truth since it makes Mommy and Daddy happy! "Did you hear the one about..." now takes on a whole new significance. From jokes like these, children are taught that Jews are skinflints, niggers are lazy, spics are untrustworthy, the mentally challenged are stupid, fat people have no self-control, chinks talk funny, Irish are loud-mouthed alcoholics, faggots and dykes are sex-crazed freaks— the list goes on and on. And the damage grows and grows.

If a child is lucky, s/he'll grow up in a house free of obvious bigotry and prejudice. Where other people are accepted for who they are— not for what they believe, who they love, what color skin they have, how much they weigh or any of the other countless categories we humans have devised for ourselves. If so, the child has a good chance of seeing off-color humor for what it really is. Unfortunately, most children grow up in a house that already has its prejudices. If we don't like blacks, we'll laugh all the more at jokes about blacks. Our children think what was said must really be good and God's honest truth since it made us so happy. And another brick is laid in the wall of bigotry, hatred and intolerance that divides us, human being from human being.

So do we need to get rid to off-humor jokes? Of course not! We need to be able to laugh at ourselves. But we also need to be aware of the subtler messages those jokes are giving to kids. Laughter really is the best medicine. But any medicine, when used in ways not intended by its manufacturer, can be dangerous. Read the directions carefully and always keep dangerous medicines out of the reach of children.

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