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On Racism

Racism is not something you self identify with.

Think about that statement for a moment, while I fill in the background.

Over the last week, there has been a vague conversation taking place in Australia about racism. It is difficult to have a real conversation about racism in Australia, in part because to do so would be to admit that a lot of the country's foreign policy is based on racism. It goes much deeper and wider, as well--my girlfriend, who is American, is constantly shocked by the racist things we accept in the country (and it's not just about Coon cheese). But this particular conversation about race began when a thirteen year old girl called Sydney Swans player Adam Goode an ape while he was on field. Showing a hell of a lot of class, Goode made a public case not to vilify the girl, but to help her. It was an excellent thing to see, a moment of profound gravity and awareness of the situation that it turned an awful moment into something to admire... which of course, is about when Eddie McGuire called Adam Goode King Kong.

Since then, it has gotten ugly. McGuire has fronted the media, stated he isn't racist, that it was a slip of the tongue. People have defended him. People have attacked him. The good of Goode's original act has been completely lost and McGuire has said he'll wear the bad of it, but he isn't going anywhere.

Should he?

Personally, I believe not, but not because of any of the reasons that have been stated. There is a trend in the current media to take someone aside, put them in a box, and 'teach' them the error of their racist ways, off camera. Mostly, that teaching accounts to teaching them to watch what you say, and once the lesson is taught, the presenter, or whoever, returns to the mainstream media and everyone pretends it hasn't happened. You don't actually have to look far for that to see examples of it, most of it sport related in my recent memory. But I honestly don't believe that that is a reasonable way of dealing with the situation. It's all neat and swept under a rug, and it is all polite, and bloodless. For the majority of people involved--and for those who listen to these people--the over riding belief is that political correctness has gone to far, shrug it off, and come back later. Which is exactly why McGuire shouldn't be sent off to a box, but rather kept on air, and told to correct himself in front of everyone, repeatedly, and forever, if necessary.

The fact that is forgotten by many people is that racism is not something that you self identify with. A lot of the people who are caught being racist turn around and say something like, "Oh, hey, I'm not racist, that was a slip of the tongue, or a stupid thing to say." Some even have public work with disadvantaged indigenous youth. And though, when that comes up, I often feel like asking how much work they do with refugees, or if they volunteer in struggling African communities as well, the point is that they cannot be racist because they recognise the inequality that exists, and they strive to adjust it. Which, yes, is nice, but that doesn't mean they're not racist. It just means that they're not the small selection of people who will get on our TV and say how much they hate black people or yellow people or white people and then say, "At least I'm fucking honest about it," as if honesty somehow makes their hate somehow acceptable. That such people are now even giving birth to real political parties and movements is even more distressing, but they are still a minority, and even then, in those groups, people will say it isn't racism that drives them, but rather nationalism, and protecting their own people.

Most people are like that. Racist is not something that you decide to be. Racism actually doesn't work like that. It doesn't knock on the door and say, "Hi, I've worn my best hat of please insert colour you like." It sneaks into you. It gets in to the quiet little dark corners. When you look at two African kids sitting on the side of the road, it makes you think they're up to no good. It makes you think that the Asian girl ahead of you is quiet and submissive. It makes you think the white family down the road don't care about education. It's what makes you think that making a joke about King Kong, or black people lost in the dark, is alright, and not a huge problem, because, hey, you're not like that Golden Dawn Party in Greece who want to see birth certificates before they give you food.

Racism doesn't always work like that.

And it's time we all started remembering that.

Comments

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benpayne
May. 31st, 2013 08:36 am (UTC)
Well said.
ataxi
May. 31st, 2013 03:38 pm (UTC)
I guess you may have seen the Helen Razer Crikey "we are all racist" thing, and the Jeff Sparrow Overland "deepity" thing?

Much prefer the thesis statement of this blog post to "we are all racist".
benpeek
Jun. 7th, 2013 12:05 am (UTC)
you know, i didn't reply to this straight away because i hadn't read the razer thing. sparrow's, maybe? if it was the one a while back, then yeah, i had. but i thought i'll go read both and comment intelligently.

but, y'know, i forgot.

the we're all racist thing i've heard before, though. i tend to think it's a fairly heavy handed approach to the topic.
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