Humor in Self-Deprecation

July 18, 2016
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I walk into a room and automatically feel the tension—the straining tension that immediately envelops my thoughts as an Asian girl in a room full of predominantly caucasian people. While I’d like to believe that this is simply a false presumption of tension derived from my self-consciousness, I clearly see an unsettling feeling blanket the room. I mentally cringe and wait for the asian joke that is sure to come. It feels almost necessary, as if, the conversation cannot continue until the elephant in the room is addressed. For me, there are two options at this point. I can wait out the awkward silence until somebody cracks a joke that is sure to unintentionally degrade me, or I could jokingly break the ice myself and prove that yes, I know I am Asian and yes, I know all your mildly offensive stereotypes for me. I always end up choosing the latter for I conclude that it outwardly displays me in a more positive light.

There is no rational reason behind this “positiveness”, except for the truth that my generation views self-deprecation of one’s heritage as a trait of a favorable individual. Even I am guilty of factoring this minor component in when choosing who to acquaint myself with. So after many recurring incidents that seem to perfectly mirror each other, I have come to wonder where the thin line stands between a friendly banter and a cleverly disguised insult. By using a joking facade to hide my discomfort, am I setting a standard where people will blatantly disregard or unknowingly bulldozer their way past that line? I sincerely hope not, but throughout the past couple of years, the line has become extremely blurred to me.

I seem to be fine with my close friends saying. “No wonder you're an Asian” after I pull out a good grade on a test. That, of course, has no affect on me as I interpret it as a harmless joke, but when someone comments, “You’re pretty, for an Asian,” I am highly offended. Is my lack of negative reaction to the first comment, leading people to believe the second is acceptable when it is so clearly not?  As much as I hate to admit it, I believe so.

As a minority, I have concluded that we, collectively, must set boundaries even when it is a harmless joke that went awry. While a certain comment may not affect me, I have realized that it surely could hurt another and therefore must be stopped at me. All in all, I have postulated that all comments regarding to heritage or race must be carefully worded and thought over as to whom they are being spoken to and what they connotate.

Most importantly, know your boundaries and speak up when they are being violated, for we live in a world where lines get blurred, smudged and easily erased. It is our job to rewrite them and remind others to never assume that a joke is okay with the world based on one person. So, while my many exhausting social incidences have individually hurt me, they collectively have given me the skill of drawing boundaries that make me more comfortable and overall happier.

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