Thursday, 2 February 2012

Racism (Guest Post)

I don't have enough time apparently to write blog posts these days, so one by Nicola 'HarmoNicks' Hastings instead. I take zero credit for the content or opinions here - I didn't even edit this one

I don't really follow football, but a handful of my friends do, so by proxy I sort of have to tolerate all their talking about it in my presence. One thing that did sort of catch my eye recently was the fact that you can apparently get an eight match ban and a fine for calling a black person "negro", yet when you're charged with deliberately stamping on someone's face that only merits four matches.

Now maybe football boots are a lot softer and less covered in studs than I think they are, but personally I don't really see the consistency in that sort of system. 'Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words (and boots in my face) will never hurt me'?

My dad is English, but my mother is Japanese and I've taken the majority of my appearance from her, meaning I class pretty solidly as "Asian". On top of this, I also have the added bonus of having lived in the UK for basically all of my life, and therefore am totally out of touch with the modern Japanese way of speaking, and every time I go over there to visit relatives or whatever I find myself getting weird looks as people discover I have weird mannerisms and that I'm nowhere near as fluent or normal-sounding as they expected me to be.

Maybe I'm just not particularly bothered by it, or that there's some massive extra issue black people have with racist comments that Asian people don't have, because we didn't have the whole slavery deal, but I don't see why it's viewed by so many people as such a taboo and frightful issue.

I mean come on black people, you're stereotyped as people who are tall, athletic, and have large penises or curvaceous asses, depending on gender. We Asians are stereotyped as people who are small, can't handle alcohol, have small boobs/penises (or both) and eat weird food like dog or nattou (<3). And whilst most of those might be true, I feel that we have just as much right to complain about being tarred with the same brush as you guys. Personally I've always viewed there as being three types of racism: 1) Ignorant racism - people who say dumb shit because they're essentially culturally ignorant. The sort of people who will just assume that I'm Chinese just because I have slanty eyes, or that I can read Chinese, Korean, Thai, Hebrew, Arabic, or whatever other language they deem to be "Asian" on account of it not using the roman alphabet. Fundamentally these people aren't particularly dangerous - they're just stupid. They're just as bad as rich people who assume that anyone who is poor or didn't go to Oxbridge is a filthy moron whose opinion isn't worth the time of day. It's a combination of a loud mouth, insensitivity, and knowledge of the social cultures they're actually talking about.

2) Joking racism - people who say dumb shit because they're trying to be funny. This can be pretty irritating when you're the subject of the joke, especially if it's combined with a shitload of ignorance. Typically I either mind or don't mind depending on how well I know the person. If I don't know them, then it's over the line and isn't on, but at the same time whilst it really annoys me, I don't feel it's outright awful. It's just socially not cool. And if they do know me (i.e. Rosti and Daz ALL THE FUCKING TIME), then it's banter, and it only starts to irritate me when it becomes repetitive and/or tired. Either way though, the person doesn't hold the opinions they're claiming to (or it wouldn't be a joke) and really it's not that different to mocking a woman for being out the kitchen, or being shit at parking. It's near identical to joking that someone is going to steal your shit just because they're a Scouser, yet stuff like that is somehow far less antagonistic. It's repetitive at times, but it's rarely malicious.

3) Racist racism - people who genuinely hold negative feelings and prejudice towards people because of their race. The sort of people who vote for the BNP, believe the Daily Mail, or who hold the idea that they have some magical entitlement to have a job in the UK that other people don't have just because they weren't fortunate enough to be born there. By all means these people exist, and by all means they are vile and their intolerance shouldn't be tolerated. Alternatively this also applies to people using someone's race in a purely derogatory way to insult them.

The thing is, I feel that in the UK at least the vast majority of this sort of thing falls into the first two categories, i.e. it's typically not malicious racism, or not deliberately anyway. It can be stupid, and it can be pretty annoying or offensive, but at the same time it's not a lot worse than other things you can say if you want to be offensive.

I think part of the problem is that racism is viewed as being grossly impolite, and it's in the British nature to take an extremely dim view on anything which isn't polite. Which is fair enough, I just think that sometimes it can lead to pretty massive overreactions, or people tip-toeing around being politically correct when really they don't need to go to the effort. [That said, the Japanese are a notoriously polite race, yet also have a national trait of being horrendously xenophobic]

Ultimately a lot of it comes down to context and intent. If someone casually calls me a 'chink', then if I know them I know they're joking and don't care. If I don't know them I'd typically be somewhat surprised by their ignorance, but generally not particularly arsed. If someone I didn't know used the phrase while having a go at me, then there I get offended, and I feel I have the right to be because of the manner it's being used.

It's extremely comparable in my eyes to swearing. There's a massive difference in the phrases "oh fuck...", "that fucking hurt!" and "you fucking idiot!" in the way that the f-word is used, and in how much offence people are likely to associate with it.

Fundamentally I feel that racist terms should only bring the amount of offence that was intended in their usage. If someone is joking or being ignorant, then ignore them and move on, because there's really not much point in getting all irate about it. If they're intending to be offensive or are genuinely racist, then fair enough, that isn't on (though I don't see much difference if someone calls me "a fucking jap" to "a fucking bitch/slut" other than the fact they typically know they're crossing a socially forbidden line in the first instance).

The real way that racism is going to slowly disappear and stop being a problem is if people stop making it a problem. There are swearwords that are no longer particularly offensive when several years ago they were almost unheard of, purely because the stigma has worn off as their usage has become more common. If racism becomes a source of banter and humour then it ceases to be a source of hatred or insult. The fact that nobody is allowed to really say that sort of thing just makes it all the more shocking and stinging when people do.

It can often be quite difficult to distinguish the line between jokes and insults, and racists shouldn't be allowed to use the premise of humour to openly promote bigoted opinion, but fundamentally we should be frowing upon and eradicating the sentiments themselves, and not the language that people attach to them. Because if being called a "negro" is genuinely twice as bad as being kicked in the face, then we should be doing all we can to make it so that it's not.