"what do you call a Black guy who flies a plane?": The effects and understanding of disparagement and confrontational racial humor

Donald A. Saucier, Megan L. Strain, Stuart S. Miller, Conor J. O'Dea, Derrick F. Till

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

8 Scopus citations


We conducted three studies to test our overarching hypothesis that racial humor may increase or decrease subsequent expressions of prejudice by setting social norms that indicate prejudice is either more or less acceptable, respectively. We selected riddles that were disparaging, confrontational, or neutral, and examined their effects on subsequent prejudiced expressions. We predicted humor that disparaged Blacks would convey that prejudiced expressions are more socially acceptable, resulting in increased expressions of prejudice toward Blacks. Conversely, we predicted humor that confronted prejudiced expressions would convey that prejudiced expressions are less socially acceptable, resulting instead in reduced expressions of prejudice toward Blacks. Our studies demonstrated that, consistent with prejudiced norm theory, disparagement humor, and confrontational humor perceived as disparaging, has the potential to disinhibit expressions of prejudice when used, even in brief social interactions. Our studies also showed that individuals often misinterpreted the subversive nature of confrontational humor, frequently perceiving the confrontation intended to challenge expressions of prejudice as instead intending to disparage Blacks. Thus, while it is possible racial humor may have the potential to tighten norms inhibiting prejudice, the perceptions of confrontational jokes as disparaging may result in jokes (created to subvert and inhibit prejudice) ironically reinforcing prejudiced responding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-128
Number of pages24
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 26 2018



  • confrontation
  • disparagement
  • racial humor
  • subversive

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Psychology(all)
  • Linguistics and Language

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