There is an idea about a sense of humor, which I have rarely seen in communities other than Indian. Be it said that most Indians do not adhere to this idea of what constitutes humor but most of those who adhere to this idea of humor seem to be Indian.
“I just love the way you give directions - Go straaaight! Turn left – the longer the straight goes on, the longer I have to go before I turn left”
That, said in an appropriate tone and to a friend, is meant as a joke. If the friend takes offence, it would not really be out of place to accuse him of lacking a sense of humor.
A sense of humor, to me, is the ability to laugh at one’s own idiosyncrasies. If you can laugh only when someone else is the butt of the jokes then your sense of humor may legitimately be considered to be deficient. Your laughing at those jokes is merely because you feel superior to the person who is the butt of the jokes and not a shared amusement at the foibles of humankind.
“Go straaaaaaaight! Turn Left? Dude, don’t you know a better way of indicating the distance for which I have to go straight other than this? It sounds horrid”
This may or may not be a joke to the recipient although I would not be particularly surprised if the recipient got angry about it. The moment someone starts adversely judging your foibles I’d consider him as bordering on insulting. Of course, depending on the length of your relationship and your idea of his personality, you could still laugh it off.
“Go straaaaaaaight! Turn Left? Dude, don’t you tamilians know a better way of indicating the distance for which I have to go straight other than this? It sounds horrid”
I am afraid that from this point onwards, it stops being a joke and starts becoming an insult. I may have a right to accept a value judgment about my own foibles as a joke but the moment someone plasters it across my community it ceases to be a one.
Rarely have I found people around the world accepting derogatory jokes about their community or their nation lying down. In fact, when someone is seen to laugh at such a joke when his community is the butt of the jokes, far from lauding him for his sense of humor his compatriot tends to look down on his lack of self respect. In India, however, insults dressed in humor can get passed off as jokes and you would even find people decrying the lack of your sense of humor if you got offended by any such statement. Any statement becomes racist the moment it generalizes about an entire community and is derogatory.
Let me reiterate the fact that if someone pulls my leg about my foibles or even addresses it to the entire community I belong to it can still be a joke as long as there is no inherent sub-text about others’ idiosyncrasies being better than mine. The moment the comment places my idiosyncrasies as being inferior to that of others, it becomes an insult. The very fact that the person felt free to make a derogatory joke about my community to my face either tells me that he thinks that I dare not take offence or that I have little sense of belonging to my community. If it was a thoughtless statement and I laugh it off, he would think either of the two going forth. I have found very few people who can respect someone trying to disassociate himself from his origins.
Self-deprecating humor, to my mind, is something that communicates, “I am not all that superior. I have my faults” and not one which revels in its inferiority. Whoever sold that bill of goods about a sense of humor making it necessary for you to swallow insults, merely because it is dressed up nicely, was a very good snake-oil salesman and, it seems, that his best customers came from India.
I have never had any use for snake-oil!