This isn’t really writing or about being authentic, or maybe it is, I don’t know. Last week I got into one of those facebook comments debate. Yes. I know. Facebook is not really the medium to have any sense of debate about complex issues in the world. It’s about the lolz, the linky, the bairns, the cats, the bairns doing things to cats, the cats running away from the bairns … you get the idea.
Anyway, said discussion had been sparked by an incident back home where a NZ Member of Parliament made a racist statement in a magazine not generally known for its enlightened approach to the world (one may goes as far to say that it deals in the sort of niche paranoia that also makes the Daily Mail a lot of money). As expected the mainstream media grabbed a hold of this, and much to my joy said article and MP was roundly and loudly condemned. So far, so good.
And then there was a comment in a friend’s post that kind of went “Yes MP X is a dick, but if you strip away the derogatory and racist language he may have a point – here’s a website that agrees with me”. I checked website, found it deeply disturbing and inaccurate, thought “perhaps I’m over-reacting” and went to clarify that perhaps the website was being posted as a joke? Got the reply that this person actually believed the site, and so I went in to bat for my fellow humans under seige on the belief that the only way to stop bigotry and prejudice is to call it out.
How did that work out?
Yeah, I didn’t last long.
I tried. I really tried. But when a person insists on an argument being about “them” and what “they do” (implying an opposite “us” who you align with), a rational discussion about the nuances of political and social history, the consequences, and how we move forward together from these acts, probably isn’t going to happen. Not on Facebook anyway. And not when someone is essentially yelling their talking points at you and refuses to consider what you have offered to the conversation as it complicates and contradicts their world view.
Where does this go? Well, on a different friend’s page, I saw this person throw out their talking points again. The same ones, stated in the same manner. I didn’t involve myself again, but I was pleased to see that others had called this person out on it even though they too had never met.
Here’s the thing. These mutual friends did not call out this person themselves. Maybe they do call them out on it, in person (I hope so). Or is it something that they (my friends) tolerate in this person like “oh, don’t worry about Y, they’re always like that we just ignore them”? Which is something I guess we all do in our friends? Having spent so much time with each other we get used to our friend bubble and ignore the casual prejudice that may be funny in a certain context, but isn’t in the outside world.
I live in a nostalgic friend bubble at the moment – I don’t have any friends here in Brisbane, so I only have those that I see online or write letters to. Instead, I’ve had to learn about Beloved’s family and acquaintances. At the start everyone was polite around me (obviously) and then once we got used to each other, they started to relax … and it was then, as an outsider, I saw the bubble – where off coloured jokes fly, but then tip over into casual racism. Nothing big, things lots of people do – complaining and imitating the Indian accent on the other end of the phone and assuming that a thick accent equalled stupidity or an inability to speak English (yes, that got awkward); showing a photo of Chinese students and giving a list of spot the difference (this got really awkward when I was handed the phone and said – you know this is really racist right? By the way, some of my immediate family are actually Chinese).
I feel like a party kill-joy. But then I’ve worked with and seen plenty of funny comedians who don’t resort to casual racism, sexism, homophobia, or classism (wow, this is a new one for me but the recession has seen a huge people who are struggling and direct their anger towards people who have even less than they do). I’ve also seen the kind of jokes comedians trade after hours – that shit is all levels of nasty, and I understand has gone in a disturbing direction among the younger comics, which I hope their elders are pointing out isn’t cool …
And that’s kind of my point.
Much like saving the environment starts at home with recycling, stopping bigotry and prejudice starts at home too.
We need to all call out the odd statement of casual racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, etc. when we see it with our friends and family.
Now don’t, for the love of god, DON’T tell someone they are being an idiot, or a douchebag, or any sort of name. No one listens when someone is yelling insults at them. Instead tell them that the language they’re using is not cool, and give a counter argument to their beliefs (i.e. “well, wouldn’t you …” or “how would you feel if …” or “it’s a lot more complicated than that and here’s why …”). If they persist in their argument, ask them why they think that, offer up a new perspective, challenge them.
My uncle used to watch Fox News, yes, an Indian man watching Fox News. Worse, a Hindu man watching Fox News and quoting back to me its Islamophobic talking points. So we had a long discussion about the news, how broadcasting is used to sell advertising, recalling times that the news would paint us Indians (regardless of religion) as the “big bad”, and showing him different news sources about the same event – demonstrating how narrative works to tell a particular view point. I showed him Al Jazeera English – and, as it covered more news about India and other countries, he got into it. I hope it’s still his channel of choice as well as watching the BBC or NDTV. During my last visit with him, he laughed at how the different channels were giving their opinion on the same event and he had to piece together the real story for himself. I hope when I return home to him in a few years, we’ll still laugh and debate.
I’ve talked to hockey teammates about equal marriage (easy to do when one was complaining about having to go to her friend’s third marriage and being cynical about whether this one would last); I’ve told an acquaintance that their jokes were sexist (they weren’t pleased, but I didn’t really do it the right way. That said, they haven’t done it again either); I’m trying in my own small way to be the change I want to see in the world.
I’m not doing anything new. But I wonder that if we all had a quiet word with our friends and relatives when ever some casual prejudice slips by that everyone usually ignores (you know, the “old, racist uncle”), we could do a lot towards furthering our understanding of each other as a whole?