Am I a racist?

I was channel-surfing the TV the other night and came across a show by two young Australian men of non-European heritage, who were sharing insights on Australia from a “brown person’s” perspective. (I’m quoting them, so don’t judge me.) They weren’t the greatest comedians that I’ve heard – the second one, in particular, didn’t always get the timing right – but they were pretty good. They seemed to be funny, charming and clever. They were particularly witty when they had a go at the foibles of Australian culture and, in particular, racism.  I laughed, or at least smiled, a lot.

I think humour is an excellent way to educate people about racism, which is the product of a narrow, uneducated mind that is driven by fear, self-interest and ignorance. It is hateful, abhorrent, illogical and just plain nasty. Racist statements are often generalisations (another bug-bear of mine): all Muslims are terrorists; all New Zealanders have unhealthy interests in sheep; all Americans are warmongers. Racism assumes that the racist’s ethnic group and culture is superior to everyone else. It is the fault of the non-member for not being born in the superior collective and they should be eliminated (or at least moved elsewhere). So, I cheered the two lads on.

I realise they were cleverly turning the tables. This is what it feels like to be racially vilified, they were saying. It’s your turn, white people. Now, I get that. I appreciate the technique. I’m willing to laugh and agree: Yeah, those bogans in the Cronulla riots were right dingbats. The people who abuse taxi-drivers, or assume that all Muslims are terrorists, are ignorant starts-with-w-rhymes-with-bankers. But, as the material became more generalised, more bitter, more sweeping in its attack, I began to get annoyed.

All whites are racists; all whites are drunks; all whites have no culture; all whites are ill-mannered and stupid; Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth… Hey! Wait a minute! Could it be that these two young men are…racist? Or is racism a white disease and therefore only perpetrated by white Europeans? Hmm… Hutus vs Tutsis; Sunnis vs Shi’ites; Burmese vs Karens; Tamils vs Sinhalese; Arabs vs Jews… These conflicts have nothing to do with ethnic and cultural differences? Let’s face it: ignorance, hatred, racism and fear are endemic in every culture. It’s one of the major defects in the human condition.

I applaud the young men’s attempt to highlight the foolishness, the arrogance which often leads to violence, that is found in racism; especially in white people’s treatment of coloured people throughout the world. However, I think they scuttled their own boat when they descended to the same level as their oppressors. They lost the moral high ground. Or, am I a racist for not liking racist jokes about my skin colour?

Should I accept their statement that white Australians who have “brown” friends only do so as a form of tokenism, to show them off at parties? (I rarely take friends of any colour to parties. In fact, I hardly ever go myself.)  Am I a racist for having friends of various ethnicities? What do I do about my non-white friends now? If I de-friend them, because I don’t want to be guilty of tokenism, wouldn’t that also be racist?

I’m confused. Am I a racist? I realise it’s my fault that I was born white. I’m sorry for the hurt perpetrated by my ethnic group on all the other ethnic groups. I wish caucasians could be as non-judgmental, non-racist, non-exclusive, all-embracing as the other people groups on this planet. Damn, I think I’ve just been racist again.

Well done, lads, you’ve got me thinking. The trouble is, you’ve left me swinging in the air of indecision. I have this awful feeling that I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.

I should have watched the football,  instead.

11 Comments

  1. Adrian Fax
    Jul 14, 2012

    A great blog that leaves us with much to pinder. Thank you very much, Wendy. Racism works in many ways, and not just against other races, but also within races. I remember an Aboriginal family that I was good friends with, and they were the victims of racism from their own community. I remember the hurt they were feeling when they were called “Coconuts” (brown on the outside and white on the inside), just because they went to a “white” church and had “white” friends.

    • Wendy Noble
      Jul 14, 2012

      The human heart is a wicked thing. 🙁

  2. Ali
    Jul 13, 2012

    Hi friend
    Once again you have left me with food for thought and a smile on my face… especially if the footy you were going to watch was the Crows v Power! Ali 😉

    • wendy noble
      Jul 13, 2012

      Cheers, Ali. 🙂

  3. Lauri
    Jul 12, 2012

    I think most of us find it hard to draw a line to say everything on one side is racist and everything on the other side is not. But too, most of us know racism when we hear it or see it. Of course you having non-white friends is not racist. But then too I had some white South Africans wanting to rent my house. Before they moved in someone told me they were moving around the village trying to find the white neighbourhood (we don’t have one- this is Botswana). I told them no I wouldn’t want to rent our house to them because they were racists. The wife said, “I’m not racist, I have black people to my house for dinner all the time.” See? She apparently has black friends like you, but she IS racist. For her it is tokenism. It can’t be written down in black and white, but we all know it when we see it.

    • Wendy Noble
      Jul 12, 2012

      I agree that tokenism is hateful, demeaning and, of course, racist. But I resented the implication from those men that everyone who has a black friend or three, is only doing it for that reason. I make friends on the basis of mutual interests and personality compatibility; not that I think about it a lot. We click, or we don’t. Skin colour or ethnicity doesn’t come into it. I think everyone is a little nervous about people who are different, even if we don’t like to admit it. However, if we are bothered by that and try to grow beyond it, then we’re not racists. As I said, the young men on the show were funny and clever. They did a great job of pointing out the fallacies in racist thinking. However, as the show went on, it became obvious that for them the only people who are racists, are white. That in itself is a racist view point. They had me, and all the other whites in their audience, learning something, laughing a lot, cheering them on…but in the end they alienated us all. They had such a wonderful opportunity to make a difference but they blew it. Sadly, in the end, they demonstrated that they’re racists, too.

      • Ken Rolph
        Jul 12, 2012

        There’s an old science fiction story which I think was entitled The Day After the Day the Martians Came. It starts in a southern US town with some white scientists mistreating (in a casual way) some of the black staff. Then the Martians arrive and are very, very ugly. Reptilian, slimy, smelly. The story ends with a scientist treating a black janitor as a fellow American.

        As they sing in Godspell, someone’s got to be oppressed.

  4. Meg Rowlands-Murley
    Jul 7, 2012

    Its scary/confronting when you realise the inner racist that lies within all of us. I like to think I am not racist at all, but sometimes surprise myself with a ‘generalist’ attitude, I find is still lurking somewhere deep inside. At least when I identify it I can deal with it or begin to deal with it. It will be a wonderful day when we can all appreciate that our qualities and differences are things to celebrate and value not to be afraid of. Brad Chilcott had a wonderful column about the ‘boat people’ issue in yesterday’s Advertiser. He identified that many of us just don’t want to have to face the issues surrounding the suffering of our fellow human beings, so ‘Stopping the boats’ will keep that out of sight and out of mind’. Great food for thought Wendy, as always!!! Love your Blog!!!!

    • Wendy Noble
      Jul 7, 2012

      Thanks, Meg. It’s difficult sorting out whether I really am racist, in spite of my conviction that I’m not, or whether it is acceptable to be offended by another’s views. As for the boat people; unfortunately they suffer from being refugees post 9/11. We would never have treated them this way before the Twin Towers fell. The politicians, especially the Liberal Party, trade on people’s fear for political purposes and should be ashamed of themselves. As if we really have to defend our shores from a few leaky boats and about 6,000 homeless, oppressed, needy people every year! For goodness sake!

  5. Elle Carter Neal
    Jul 7, 2012

    Well said, Wendy. I think an argument is always more persuasive if it is presented with grace and humility. You reach more people if you allow them to draw their own conclusions.

    • Wendy Noble
      Jul 7, 2012

      Why alienate your audience when they’re already half-way with you?

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