Ethnic humor and ethnic relations in the Netherlands: Jokes about foreigners and ethnic groups in the Netherlands, 1995-2012 How do ethnic jokes, a genre that is often considered to be offensive and discriminatory, relate to ethnic relations and discourses of ethnic difference? This article investigates the relation between ethnic jokes and ethnic relations in the Netherlands. It analyzes two corpora covering the range of ethnic jokes collected using an (almost) identical survey among high school students in 1995 (N = 248) and 2012 (N = 312). Finding a complex pattern of overlapping and shifting scripts, we identify three main categories of jokes with different dynamics. The first and second category, jokes about national groups and regional minorities and sick ethnic jokes, are both in decline. The third category, jokes about ethnic minorities, is prominent in both years, and the most important category in 2012. Jokes about minorities show considerable variation and a ‘lag’ in their reflection of societal changes. They refer to the most prominent ethnic stereotypes and ethnic discourse, and reflect the Dutch ethnic hierarchy and changes in ethnic relations over time. Besides, these jokes seem to function as a ‘cultural archive’, in which ethnic discourses are stored, even if they are (temporarily) less visible in serious discourses. We argue that a single theory or approach is not sufficient to explain all ethnic humor and its relation to societal relations. The large variety in ethnic jokes shows how varied ethnic discourses and interethnic relations are. We conclude with the question how ‘serious’ ethnic humor is and show two criteria to assess this seriousness of ethnic humor: the relation between jokes and actual hostility and exclusion, and the harshness of a joke cycle.

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Department of Sociology