Tag Archives: racial


“What’s the difference between a black Jew and a white Jew?

The black Jew sits at the back of the oven.”

Caleb said that he heard this joke about two or three years ago from his older brother who also resides in Leona Valley, California.  Typically this joke is told in an atmosphere away from either people of African descent or Jewish people so it will not offend them.  Caleb said that he knows many other versions of Jewish and black jokes that he learned from his brother and from his friends in high school and college.  A joke such as this would typically arise on an occasion with a group of anywhere from two to five people, as it is something that shows racism and hatred, even in a joking manner.  Often the way that this specific joke in particular would be told is if a group is trading jokes either of a racial or denigrating manner.

Clearly, this joke refers to two separate points in history that dealt with the degradation of black and Jewish people.  The fact that the black Jew sits at the back of the oven refers to the fact that before racial laws were enacted in America, black people were often forced to sit in the back of the bus.  Also, the generalization of Jews being put into ovens refers to the ovens that were used to kill so many Jewish people during the Holocaust in the midst of World War II.  Although it has been a long time since either of these occurrences, the visible moment of the joke is hard to define, because of the fact that there is still racism that exists and the pain and suffering endured by these two groups were so great that it is hard for some people to find this type of joke funny, even if they recognize the context.

Like many jokes, this joke does have a punch line that reveals the cleverness of the teller.  After the original question is posed, the listener expects a dirty response, which the joke teller will wittingly express.  I believe that the reason the joke is told is not to necessarily make fun of Jewish or black people but instead is told to portray the wit of the one telling it.  Over time, it is been considered easy to make fun of Jewish or black people due to the fact that they have been suppressed so much that they are easy targets of jokes such as these.

It is possible that due to the fact that Caleb is of German descent that he possibly relates to his own heritage and the way that the German’s treated Jews during World War II.  However, as is customary in California and the United States in general, racism is a subject that is often shied away from because most people do not want to be judged as “racist” even if they are or are not.


What does the whole world have in common with a jar of jelly beans?

Nobody likes the black ones.

What do you call White people inside a yellow bus?

A twinkie.

What do you call Black people inside a yellow bus?

A rotten banana.

At first, Norby was enthusiastic about sharing some of his jokes but became hesitant; eventually claiming that he needed a Black person next to him in order to tell his jokes. Then, after telling his first racist joke, he continued without hesitation this time to share the last two which build off of one another. After each joke he would stop and say that his brother had told him each of the jokes, except the very last one which he does not remember hearing from anyone specifically. He paused after the first one and commented that black jelly beans are nasty because they taste like licorice before continuing with his next joke. He did not want to comment or add much else. Although he did say that he only said these racist jokes for fun and not because he was racist or anything.

I purposefully chose to list the three racist jokes he shared with me together to highlight the sequence and also to illustrate in a sense his performance of these jokes; he said them one after another with only brief pauses to remember how each one went between these jokes. I believe that this adds to the nature of the jokes, which are obviously racist. Although he had little to comment and was reluctant to think that these jokes might have any significance other than being “fun”, I disagree. The first and last jokes are racist against African Americans, or Black people, and both betray strong sentiments of dislike. The sentiment is the same whether it is because black jelly beans do not taste good or because a rotten banana is unfit to eat and fit only for the trash; Black people are seen as unfavorable and dispensable in these jokes. Both images also convey the equally strong message that the black element in each joke ruins the rest of the jelly beans or the banana, which has larger racial and social implications. The ease with which he was able to recall these jokes and the people the jokes targeted also reveal something greater. It reflects how pervasive racist sentiments can be and also the nonchalant manner in which they are shared and perhaps even internalized without too much awareness of the ideas and beliefs at the core of these jokes. Norby learned them from his brother and then shared them with me. He also mentioned that he says them for fun or as a means of entertainment only. Also, the jokes were tellingly about Black and White people; two minority populations in the predominantly Hispanic community of Los Angeles in which he lives.