My Kid Told a Racist Joke: Advice Needed

Monday, January 31, 2011

I'm so upset right now I don't know what to do. Tyler got in the car after school saying he had a joke to tell me.

"An American, a Canadian and a Mexican get on a plane."

As soon as he got the words out I bristled. I knew where he was going and I wasn't happy. I'd not heard the joke before but there's no way a joke that starts out like that is going to be good.

He finished as we pulled into the driveway. I put the car in park and, I'll admit, I lit into him a bit. I kept my voice calm but he could tell I was very angry. I told him jokes like that are not OK, not appropriate and he's never to repeat it.

I asked him to substitute a white person, black person and an Asian in the joke. Was it still funny? Did he still think it was OK to repeat?

I asked him if he'd heard the words racist or racism. He hadn't so I explained their definitions. I talked about Columbus, slavery and immigration. I didn't get too deep into those issues since he's only 8, but the examples I used from TV we've watched were things he could relate to and understand.

I told him what I was most angry about, that a joke like that is making its way around the playground. I told him I was angry at the situation, not at him. He told me which friend he heard the joke from. It's a little boy he had a playdate with a few weeks ago. Tyler said the boy heard the joke from someone else. I believe him. I don't think he's devious enough to make that up on the spot to protect his friend.

My dilemma is, should I call this boys mother and tell her what her son is saying? I know that, for the boys, the joke was funny because someone gets punched in the face, not because of its undertones. As kids they just hear the slapstick. But it's something I would want to know about. How do I even begin a conversation like that?

If someone you only met once called you with this information, how would you take it? I want to be clear that I'm not accusing her son of being a racist, merely passing on the information. I don't want to put any strain on the boys' friendship. But, I hate to think of the (blond haired, light eyed) boy telling the joke again around someone some of the older kids and having one of them call him out. I hope I'd be opening the door for Tyler's friend and his parents to have a conversation about acceptance. What if it backfires?

Would you call the other mom? Has another parent ever called you with something like this? Have you ever made a phone call like this? HELP!


  1. Oh, Melanie, I have no advice here. We are probably the most inappropriate family on the planet when it comes to this stuff.

    I'd probably call her and let her know - just say what you said here. I know if I received a phone call like that, I wouldn't wig out.

  2. I would have Tyler to tell his friends that jokes like these aren't funny and they are very hurtful and wrong. Coming from him to his friends might be received and if that doesn't work, feel free to write a note to the mom!


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