How a joke can expose classist and racist views

Blog post by PhD researcher Tamara Soukotta
Megawati Soukarnoputri
PDI-P/Antara

Former President Megawati Soekarnoputri recently made a supposed 'joke' when talking about meatball soup sellers and West Papuans.

In her post, PhD researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies, Tamara Soukotta, argues that Soekarnoputri's comments give a clear view of what political elites really think about the masses, the tukang bakso, and West Papuans

Soekarnoputri made the comments during her party’s recent 2022 National Meeting. 

At the event, Soekarnoputri told the audience how she had warned her children not to bring home a meatball soup seller (tukang bakso) as a prospective partner, prompting laughs from members of the audience. She then went on to say that she was glad that black West Papuans were starting to intermarry with migrants — like coffee with milk (kopi susu) — therefore becoming more Indonesian.

In her blog post published on the University of Melbourne website, Soukotta puts the comments into context, arguing that they describe ethnic replacement and eugenics, and reveal racist colonial ideas about Papua that hide just beneath the surface in the thinking of many in the political elite.

'Jokes do not exist in a vaccum'

Soukotta goes on to argue that jokes always exist in political and historical spaces that provide context.

For Soekarnoputri's statements to trigger laughter in the way they did, her audience would have to share the same understanding of tukang bakso and West Papuans, and the class and racial differences between them and the privileged.

PhD student

Tamara Soukotta

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