Speaker: Raul Perez (Assistant Professor, University of La Verne)
Title: The Souls of White Jokes: How Racist Humor Fuels White Supremacy
Abstract: Having a "good" sense of humor generally means being able to take a joke without getting offended. Laughter is often seen as a way to ease tension in an overly politicized social world. But do the stakes change when the jokes are racist? In The Souls of White Jokes, Raúl Pérez confronts this unsettling question, arguing that doing so is crucial to understanding the persistence of racism and white supremacy in American society. Drawing from W.E.B. Du Bois's prescient essay “The Souls of White Folk” (1920), Pérez synthesizes scholarship on race, humor, and emotions to uncover how humor can function as a tool for producing racial alienation, dehumanization, and even violence. Pérez tracks this use of humor from blackface minstrelsy to contemporary contexts, including police culture, politics, and far-right extremists. Rather than being harmless fun, a thing of the past, or “just a joke,” Pérez illustrates how the current widespread use of racist humor plays a central role in reinforcing and mobilizing racist ideology, solidarity, and inequality today.