Somehow, we have popularized the notion that being offended by a joke is wrong, that it’s your own fault for feeling that way and that feeling offended is your personal choice. If you say or even imply that something has offended you, you’ll likely hear something along the lines of ‘learn to take a joke.’ or ‘Get a sense of humor!’ Both of these phrases are dismissive, suggesting that you’re wrong to think critically about comedy and feeling offended is an invalid reaction.
What this attitude ignores is the underlying reason behind peoples’ reactions. Why were you offended by that? What about that joke made you feel uncomfortable? Sometimes people may be ‘overreacting’ to things that would not cause real harm, but in many cases, especially when the joke is racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise targets a marginalized group, there’s a good reason for people to be offended. These jokes, whether they’re intended to be harmful or not, have the effect of normalizing and reinforcing bigotry, prejudices, and stereotypes. What’s worse is that these jokes often feel like a direct assault to the people who are being used as the punchline, like the way rape jokes often trivialize the experiences of victims and make rape out to be a crazy happenstance instead of an atrocity. So, next time you feel like someone isn’t justified for being offended, try to find out why they felt offended in the first place. You might find that what sounded hilarious to you felt more like a punch in the gut to someone else, and it’s hard to laugh when you’ve just had the wind knocked out of you.”