Is Cards Against Humanity Actually Racist — Or Just Joke Racist?

Illustrated By Elliot Salazar.
Welcome to The FAQs of Life, R29's new advice column. Each Tuesday, Colette will offer her sage wisdom on modern life and all its stumbling blocks. If you've got a query you'd like her to take on, send it to FAQs@refinery29.com or leave it in the comments.
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THE Q: Cards Against Humanity — you’re familiar? It’s a hilarious and delightful parlor game that’s fun largely because the cards involve a lot of very NSFW and sometimes downright offensive material. One card jokes about black people, another about “midgets.” My friends and I — a mixed-race and progressive group of people — love this game. I think we generally understand its offensiveness as harmless and funny, like good stand-up comedy.
Then, last weekend, a friend’s dad — a big, old, rednecky kind of guy — joined for a round. And, somehow, he ruined it. Like, we were all laughing at the racially insensitive jokes in a wise and knowing way, while he was laughing in a straight-up racist way. All of sudden, it just felt off-color and in poor taste.
I hear the absurd hypocrisy in what I just wrote, but tell me, wise one: Do I have to just give up CAH?
— It's My Favorite
THE A: It’s all "fun" and "ironic" until somebody invites a “real” racist who laughs a little too hard at the “whipping a disobedient slave” card, right? (Note: That’s a real card.) Not really, IMF.
So, you’re a person with a “mixed-race and progressive” group of friends who loves to play Cards Against Humanity, a game that revels in the taboo and rewards a turn towards the controversial and edgy. After a long day of reading your Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie novel, giving panhandlers spare change, posting a Facebook status about migrant workers, and not saying the N word, it’s nice to hang up your social-consciousness cap and be a little naughty, right? It’s liberating. And, you can laugh at ironic racism or ironic sexism or ironic homophobia because it’s all so archaic. We have a Black president (whom you voted for, of course), for God’s sake! No one actually believes this stuff anymore. So, you and your “mixed-race and progressive” friends can play a game that relies upon denigrating stereotypes and peddles in date-rape jokes because you’re all in on it. You’ve agreed that nothing is to be taken seriously. You know your privileges. You’re self-aware, and from this vantage point you can laugh at the sheer outrageousness of a card that says “the gays” as well as the people — other people, less progressive people, not you and your friends! — who usually speak like that. It’s satirical!
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Then, this dad had to come along and ruin everything for everyone. (Classic dad move.) This guy’s laughter took on a different, more insidious character. He was a bit too eager to play his “a black male in his early 20s, last seen wearing a hoodie” card. (Also a real card.) Having this guy around dismantled the already tenuous fallacy at the heart of your game’s frivolity, i.e., the idea that no one thinks like this anymore. The “rednecky” dad does think like that — and he thinks you do, too. Now, you can’t make hilarious jokes about “Auschwitz,” “Brown People” or “chunks of a dead prostitute” without feeling bad!
Illustrated By Elliot Salazar.
That’s the problem with ironic racism: From the outside, it sounds just like regular ol’ racism. Oh, sure, maybe you roll your eyes or wink a bit, but from where Duck Dynasty Daddy was sitting, you were perpetuating the same prejudicial ideologies that he adheres to. Your gameplay supported this racist turd and his malevolent worldview and, at least momentarily, normalized his behavior. But, damn, it felt illicit and thrilling, didn’t it?
Here’s the thing: This is a game that jokes about domestic violence, genocide, dead babies, and Helen Keller; it fulfills its self-assigned mission to be the “party game for horrible people.” That’s why it’s so funny that only in the presence of one of those full-blown racists did the game “suddenly” feel off-color and in poor taste to you. It’s always off-color. That’s how you win — by being as offensive as possible. To me, that’s fucking dumb. “Be as offensive as you can be” should only be a directive that we give to an elite force of thirteen-year-old boy soldiers who are off to undermine terrorist cells with Your Momma jokes. The best comedy punches up. When someone with power and privilege makes fun of someone who has neither of those things, it doesn’t qualify as being funny — it's just being an asshole. That’s why everyone hates Daniel Tosh.
Besides, you’re an adult person; you don’t need an “adult game.” You know what you can do? Add drinking to any board game you played as a child. Boom — adult game. I assure you, it will get inappropriate in due time.
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In the meantime, please don’t feed the racists.
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THE Q: My boyfriend and I have been dating for more than two years and we recently took the plunge and moved in together. All my shacked-up friends warned me that this could be the death knell of our relationship, but so far everything has been great. It doesn’t seem like the typical conflicts are going to be a problem for us; I mean, my boyfriend was the one who was counting down to Gilmore Girls showing up on Netflix, and we’re equally meticulous when it comes to cleaning the bathroom.
There’s just one problem: I hate his sense of design. We agreed to combine our belongings, but the more I look at his leather sofa in the living room or the ironic painting above our bed, the more I feel like I am trapped in some fraternity yard sale. I don’t want to be the kind of woman who nags her boyfriend about his movie posters or who ever says the word “man cave,” but... I don’t feel 100% at home in my own home, and I hate some of his stuff so much I fantasize about destroying it. If a couple of things got “accidentally” ruined, would that make me literally the worst?
— Burn All Boyfriend's Ephemera
THE A: Let’s start with the bright side, BABE: At least your boyfriend has belongings. Do you know how many dudes’ apartments I have entered with, uh, amorous intent, only to be frightened away by starkly blank walls, curtainless windows, and uncovered lightbulbs hanging in the middle of rooms — like we’re living in the cover art of a Goosebumps book? A lot. (Well, not a lot a lot. Just...a normal amount. A sensible number of dudes.)
So, great: Your partner has both belongings and an individual sense of taste and aesthetic. Less great: That taste is for garbage wrapped in faux leather, with a stack of Maxim back issues on top. There’s no saving it. Burn it. Burn it all in a giant fire in your yard. A phoenix needs ashes from which to rise; help your man be reborn with a mind as clean as Crate & Barrel’s Maple Edge Grain Heritage Serving Board.
Illustrated By Elliot Salazar.
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Just kidding! Put down the blowtorch, my friend. You had to know this was coming. When you agreed to combine belongings, you must have known that his included a framed Pulp Fiction poster and his favorite mustache mugs from you for the two years you were mere guests in each other’s homes. (If you didn't, and he is really that good at hiding things, I’d like him to come over and help me hide my vibrator. That's not an innuendo; my cat keeps finding it, which sounds harmless, but the steely gaze she locks on me as the toy’s buzzing reverberates in my drawer haunts me.)
Here’s the real move: Don’t focus on the stuff he (or you) already owns. Those are bygones. Let’s focus on the future — on new things you guys can acquire together. Over time, you will slowly fill the apartment with things you got together (and, in so doing, phase out those posters).
As dating coach Tracey Steinberg explains, don’t start with listing the stuff you hate. Instead, “show him a few posters you love, and tell him what you love about them.” Explain how your dream bedroom would look, and work towards that. Same for the couch. Maybe even “tell him how much you love snuggling with him at night — but you’re not fully able to because you find the couch uncomfortable.” Then, when you guys can afford it, pick out one you both like.
In the meantime, try to relax. There might even come a day when he’s out of town and that ironic painting makes you feel a bit nostalgic.
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