Australia Day

It’s Australia Day today. I live in Australia. This I believe translates fairly directly to It’s my country day.

AKA ‘Slap A Jap’ day, ‘Target A Turban’ day, ‘Flog a Wog’ day, ‘Stabbo an Abo’ day.

Stabbo an Abo. Part of me wishes that this actually happened at some point. I like the idea of someone being racist (it is after all racist day) to an aboriginal. On Australia day. It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a spork. Maybe this will be the one thing that makes everyone sit up and thing, whoa, hey, racism is kinda dumb!

Hello horsey. My, you’re tall. Mind if I get up on you? Let’s talk about racism. None of this will be funny.

Where does racism comes from? Where does it breed, what leaky tap is the source of its flow. Are you racist when you’re born? Sort of. But you don’t have specific prejudices toward particular races. So what we’re really interested in is how racism can grow over time. The obvious culprit is the racist parents. This is fairly simple and hence of no interest; let me attempt to be interesting.

Patriotism. Let’s think of this as a form of pride and put it on a scale. What is patriotism? It’s about me being proud to be Australian, isn’t it? I could also feel proud of living in Sydney, or even the particular part of Sydney I live in, or the village is that suburb, or the East Side of the street in that village. But do I feel proud to be from earth? Well no. Not really. And why not? Because who am I better than?

For me to be patriotic, I need to be proud. To be proud I need to be proud of something, and doing something well. And the only way to measure doing well is to do it better than someone else. So patriotism is a form of comparison. One of the great things about patriotism is that I don’t actually need to do anything myself. I’m here to be proud of things done by other people that live, or lived, in my geographical location.

I have nothing against patriotism per se (by all means, keep God Blessing whatever nation you call home), but I am wary of what it breeds. And what it breeds is a sense of belonging to a group – not so bad, right? And how is the group defined? Well, by geographic location, which our leaders have neatly split up into political regions, let’s call them countries. So the first divide: by geography, comes in the form of ‘by country’. Another divide is the culture one. Often this coincides with political borders, but not always, and rarely perfectly. So we’re divided into little groups, by country, culture and colour. Good for us, nothing broken yet… But read the below and snap your fingers when I say something racist.

I think no harm is done to say that Oz is better than the UK at rugby. Off to a good start. How about, African countries seem to produce more than their fair share of Olympic sprinters? Not racist of course because it’s nice. And measurable. What if I suggested it’s because they all grow up running from lions? Still not racist, we’re just sittin’ chattin’ ‘bout statistics and survival of the fittest, strictly comparisons. But it sounds a little off, doesn’t it?

The French are a little grumpy. Racist yet? Americans are fat, and it’s someone else’s fault. Doesn’t really seem racist, although I suppose technically … Ahh, maybe I need to just comment on a group based on their skin colour, without direct comparison … I wouldn’t trust a black woman to clean my house, she’d probably steal something. There we go, good old fashioned racism. So what did I need to do: mention skin colour, not just culture, not just geographical location, and remove any obvious reference to statistics. But also I picked on something that we’re sensitive about. I could say the same thing and replace black woman with Armenian man and it doesn’t sound so bad. Just a racist though, but we haven’t seen it before, so it’s not really perpetuating something. Perhaps you know an Armenian man living abroad (if you’re from Armenia I’m sorry. I suggest you stop reading) and have heard stories of him being subject to racism, then you’re reaction to the above will be worse. But what are the odds of that, how many Armenians could actually find their way out of Armenia? So easy, just to be a little bit racist. This brings me to my next point.

Is it really that bad? A little joke about the Armenians?

Yes and no. You may know you’re not really being racist, just saying racist words, not believing in the crux of the message – perhaps just aiming to amuse. But what about the person you’ve shared this comment with (assuming they’re not Armenian. Why are you talking to Armenians)? What if they don’t spend time pondering what’s racist and what isn’t? They’ve just been given a little bit of permission to be racist in future. This spreads. And this, I suspect, is why some people are a little over-sensitive about the whole thing.

This does not help. Here’s another ‘spot the racism’ game. No clues this time, just think.

•       I went to a party on the weekend and met this black girl who was really nice.

•       I went to a party on the weekend and this black girl was there who got completely drunk and broke my glasses.

•       I went to a party on the weekend and this Irish guy was there who got completely drunk and broke my glasses.

•       I went to a party on the weekend and this really tall guy was there who got completely drunk and broke my glasses.

•       I went to a party on the weekend and met this girl from Bolivia who was really nice.

It might sound racist, but can I not use someone’s race as a way of describing them? Being Irish, to some, is an interesting trait, as is being tall, Bolivian, or black (assuming that you’re not in Ireland, at a basketball game, in Bolivia or Kenya). Is saying ‘Kenyan’ less racist that saying ‘black’. Of course not, it just sounds less racist, but neither of them are. There’s white Kenyans, you know. And a million shades between white and black. If you want to refer to someone by some feature, be it physical or culture or country of origin, then you damn well just do it and don’t be scared of sounding racist. By the way, I’ll skip the fact that ‘Blacks’ and ‘Whites’ aren’t those colours. I’ll skip the fact that more and more often, this is an artificial distinction (a manifestation of a discontinuous mind), especially when ‘interbreeding’ (what a horrible term) has been involved.

Some more:

•       I wouldn’t trust an Armenian man to clean my house.

•       If you want a good accountant you simply must go Jew or Asian.

•       Quite frankly generalisations annoy me and I don’t feel the need to think of any more.

Generalising is a sign of an efficient mind. When building knowledge of anything, you start broad and narrow in.

When you have little knowledge of snakes, it’s best to not cuddle any snake that you come across. If the need arises, you can go on to learn about the differences between different breeds of snake and then you can cuddle pythons to your heart’s content (they reciprocate). Your brain does this by building a model for objects and ideas in your head.

Someone not familiar with cars will just see a car. They’re all the same. Most will notice the difference between a 4WD/SUV and a Mini. This is because your brain has gone from having one model: car, to two: big car and little car. It did this for you when you started observing different cars. Some will look at a car and know the make, model and year. Their brains have created many different models for many different cars. The differences may be as subtle as a different coloured indicator, but that’s all your brain needs to look up the right model and return: 1993 BMW 535i, series II.

Feel free to swap out my car analogy for architecture, planes, trains, art, psychological traits. Often it’s to do with our professions. Perhaps you can glimpse at a line of code and know what programming language it was written in. In this case, your brain has created a model for many different programming languages. More abstract than a car, but the model works in the same way.

And now, on to people. If you’ve never met an Asian (funny how ‘Asian person’ or ‘Jewish person’ sounds fine, but ‘Asian’ or ‘Jew’ seems a little harsh) then you probably apply the same stereotype to all Asians. Any Korean, Japanese or Chinese person would see this as silly. And the French, and the Americans, and so on. Take the Americans (and if you’re American, take the Brits). What are your stereotypes? Now imagine that you go to live in the US. You may get to know some Texans, some Californians, Bostonians and New Yorkers. As you do, your brain will probably build a model for each of these sub-groups of American (the model would include things like personality and accent and so on). Assuming that your stereotypes are negative, you may ease off a little on some of these Americans and go harder on others.

I’ve deliberately picked a dominant white group here (although white Americans/English that have been to France may have copped a little racism themselves). What about the middle east? A rather diverse group I’ve heard, but with the help of maybe a few media headlines, we’ll just bunch them all in together, wrapped up in one collective turban. They all wear turbans you know. Your brain has one model for ‘Middle East’ and your positive or negative stereotypes will be applied whenever your brain identifies someone as matching that model. I wonder how many God-fearing White-loving Christians know that Jesus was a Jew from the Middle East. How they block out this fact?

You get the picture. But the big question is, is this a problem? No, it isn’t. And it isn’t a problem because it isn’t solvable.

For a conclusion, just read the above again faster.

If you got the impression from the above that I’m racist, read it again slower.

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