Ashley joins in: ‘You’re going to go to Muslim hell now, did you pray this morning Amal: ‘No’ Ashley: Well I don’t think you should anymore, there’s no point. What would Allah say. Amal: Its going to happen anyway so it doesn’t matter. Jerome turns to me and says proudly: See we’ve totally corrupted him. He got lashed on Saturday night, we had one shot and then he was like more, more! Turning back to Amal he concluded: There’s no point now, you might as well start eating bacon as well (6:6).
Through ‘taking the piss out of him’ Amal’s friends are also offering recognition of the particular demands on him as a practising Muslim and how this conflicts with notions of what it means to be a ‘teenager’.
To return to the example I gave at the start, the game SNTN is a good example of how white pupils, by temporarily occupying a racist position within a joke, can present themselves as not racist. Jokes like SNTN enable pupils to acknowledge the presence of racism in wider society. Because the joking is contained within friendship networks and relationships of mutual affection these relations can be explored without fear of being labelled racist.
However the delicate balance between humour and racism is also recognised by pupils and they are conscious of how their jokes might be perceived by those outside their friendship networks. When I initially asked what SNTN stood for Blair (white American) answered ‘say no to negroes’, when her friend Alice (white British) corrected her she answered that she ‘was trying to be a bit more polite’, however Alice justified this language by emphasising ‘we weren’t being rude, ‘cos its all a joke’.
On another occasion after a similar jokey exchange a year thirteen turned to me and said ‘we’re all quite racist here, well not racist but, yeah racist but its only cos we love each other’, another added: ‘and they’re racist to us, its really joking at those people who are really racist’
The delicate balance that exists between this type of humour and racism is further exemplified when the effect is reversed and words are perceived as more racist than humorous. To have the intended effect the humour must conform to certain conditions; it must be face-to-face, be between friends, interactive and moored in co-created spaces.
For example Jerome, a key participant in the joking told me about an incident in which he felt offended by a racist joke written by a fellow pupil on a myspace bulletin (a bulletin is a message automatically sent to all myspace ‘friends’). The