Racism persists individually and institutionally in the U.S. and race-based comedy prevails in media, accepted by diverse audiences as jokes. Media priming and Social Identity Theory theoretically ground this two-part experimental study that examines Latino participants' judgments of in-group (Latino) and out-group (White) alleged offenders in judicial cases after being primed with race-based stereotype comedy performed by an in-group (Latino) or out-group (White) comedian. First, participants read race-based stereotype comedy segments and evaluated them on perceptions of the comedian, humor, enjoyment, and stereotypicality. Second, participants read two criminal judicial review cases for alleged offenders and provided guilt evaluations. Importantly, a distinction was made between high and low Latino identifier participants to determine whether racial identity salience might impact responses to in-group and/or out-group members in comedy and judicial contexts.
The results reveal that the high Latino identifiers found the race-based comedy segments more stereotypical than did the low Latino identifiers. Latino participants rated the comedy higher on enjoyment when the comedian was perceived to be a Latino in-group member as opposed to a White out-group member. The high Latino identifiers rated the White alleged offender higher on guilt than the Latino alleged offender after being primed with race-based comedy.
Simply projecting in-group or out-group racial identity of comedians and alleged offenders with name manipulations in the study influenced how participants responded to the comedy material, and persisted in guiding guilt judgments on alleged offenders in the judicial reviews based on participants' Latino identity salience. A Latino comedian's position as popular joke-teller in the media overrides in-group threat, despite invoking in-group stereotypes in humor. Even with greater enjoyment expressed for Latino comedians' performing stereotypical race-based material, the tendency to react more harshly against perceived out-group members as a defense strategy to maintain positive in-group salience remained in real-world judgments on alleged offenders. Despite the claim that light-hearted comedy is meant to be laughed at and not taken seriously, jokes that disparage racial groups as homogeneous, simplistic, and criminal impact subsequent responses to out-group members in a socially competitive attempt to maintain positive in-group identity, to the detriment of out-groups.
- Ramasubramanian, Srividya Professor and Presidential Impact Fellow