Friday, 31 May 2013

From the MCG to McGuire: The ‘Racists’ that Shocked a Nation.

Racist' – one of the biggest six-letter words in the English language.  It’s a label as damaging as it is undesirable. In the last week alone, it’s brought a young girl national infamy and now looks set to cost a football club president his job.  So are such repercussions justifiable or has Australia been isolated from the true face of racism for so long, that it’s forgotten what it really looks like?

This issue seems to have very little to do with racism.  It’s about much more than a radio gag made in poor taste or an ignorant comment made by a 13 year-old football supporter trying to sledge an opposing team member.  At the heart of it, the issue is with what people deem ‘offensive’ as much as it is about people being a little to quick to label others as racists and feeling good about themselves for doing so. The question should be; why were these same people so silent when Harry O’Brien called Tom Hawkins a “fat f**k” and where was this same level of disgust when Stephen Milne was being berated by a Collingwood supporter on the boundary line and, among other things, being called a “rapist”?  It seems concerning that many of these critics are unwilling to address the issue of abuse in general.  Given the implications on the recipient of the ‘racist’ tag, rushing thoughtlessly to call someone a racist doesn’t make you a good person. If anything, it more than likely paints you as a tad prejudicial.

Some are calling for people to have a ‘thicker skin’, which given Australia’s leading position in ‘world obesity’ rankings seems a little ironic. In light of this, in terms of the more general topic of what offends us or what we consider hurtful, is it possible that we’re breeding a generation of people who no longer believe in the “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” philosophy?  Yes, certain words have been deemed ‘offensive’.  Some have even been used with undertones ranging from racist to sexist.  However, I’ve heard the words ‘chicken’, ‘noodle’ and ‘string bean’ used in derogatory ways, should we start censoring the list of ingredients in a stir fry recipe?  Words can hurt, they can heal, they can entertain and they can enrage.  Maybe it’s worth examining people’s actions, after all, it’s so often said that they "speak louder."

The problem appears to be a general inability or unwillingness to distinguish between ‘racism’ and ill-thought-out comments that are deemed ‘offensive’.  If this is indeed what the moral majority is up-in-arms about and what they hope to change, there’s going to be a lot of work to do.  For instance; no more ‘supermarkets’ because they denote all other markets as ‘non-super’, ‘ordinary’ and ‘inferior’.  ‘Knock knock’ jokes would be outlawed on the basis that they offend the homeless.  Saying ‘bless you’ to people who sneeze will be outlawed as it is offensive to atheists.  Also, no more advertising Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Lufthansa, the song ’99 Luftballons’, Bosch products, Siemens products, Blaupunkt products, and Boris Becker – because they arouse too many painful memories for holocaust survivors, who are all too aware of ‘German efficiency’.  This might seem a little over-the-top, but you certainly see what I’m getting at.

Ultimately, saying the wrong thing without thinking and having to apologise for it isn’t an example of racism, it’s the foundation of marriage.  Making one thoughtless comment doesn’t make you a ‘racist’ any more than writing a couple of letters makes you a ‘novelist’.  Just over 300 years ago, English poet, Alexander Pope wrote in ‘An Essay on Criticism’, “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”  So many people are rushing to label people as ‘racists’, and taking joy in doing so, that it seems they’re more interested in being seen to be doing the right thing than doing the right thing.  Dangerous, considering that following the masses without exercising rational thought is kind of what persecution predicated on, right?  Realistically, the people that have been so vocal in their criticism of Eddie McGuire’s gaffe are the same people who have remained suspiciously quiet about this “pot” that’s been racially labelling “kettles” all these years.

Perhaps the biggest issue, as Jim Rohn once said, is that common sense is not so common.  We’re humans; sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes we misspeak, sometimes we’re misunderstood.  Some of us are even malicious and sometimes, unfortunately, are indeed discriminatory of others.  It’s important for us to know how to tell the difference.  It just seems that maybe if people exercised a little more discretion when it really mattered, they’d exert a lot less energy on things that really didn’t.