joke also used the word ‘nigger’ and I asked him why this was different to other jokes I had heard between him and his friends:
‘It’s probably because if she’d kept it confined to her friends than that’s okay because they wouldn’t have said anything, but because she said it over myspace, on a bulletin and there are a lot of people who are going to see that, and a lot of people who are going to get offended by that’. Extending beyond friendship networks, and unmoored from the specifities of place the effect of the joke is reversed and perceived as ‘actual racism’.
Further it is important that it is face-to-face because this allows those involved to control or limit the joke if they feel it’s turning into something offensive: ‘All my friends are pretty vile with our jokes, but we know where there’s a line…With my friends it’s sort of like a look, you’ll get a look that’s a pure evil look and you’ll be like ‘right I won’t say that again’, but if you get a laugh, a bit of banter from it than it’s ok’.
Humour is used by pupils as a tool for exploring socially sensitive terrain, and for exploring relationships of inequalities that exist between social groups. The willingness to engage in this sort of boundary pushing joking is also an indicator of investment in a shared school identity. In this way historical relationships of difference and inequality can be remade as markers of belonging. As a year thirteen said: J: If you use laughter, if you get rid of the barriers with laughter than it just brings you together (22: 9)
Additionally for the white pupils it enabled them to develop an identity that was ‘anti-racist’ without denying the history of power relations that defines them both. As a year eleven said: ‘Lots of my friends who go to private school have prejudices about people, but their prejudices would just be so easily crushed if they came here because you find out that everyone is different but basically normal’
While for ethnic minority pupils it enabled them to actively explore and deal with the pain of being positioned in certain ways in a racist society, to end with Jerome: ‘Because it’s in society and it’s a very hurtful thing so you make fun of it, to downplay it and that’s what we do’