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.