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Tuesday, 16 October 2012


I think too much.  That's my problem.  I wonder how much easier or simpler my life would be if I could shut off that annoying, critical thinking facility that truly forces me to scrutinise every thing I hear or read.  What if I could be ignorant to everything but my own immediate needs?  What if I didn't care about anyone or anything but me?  Would I be happier, more sated with life?  I don't know. All I do know is that thinking gets me in trouble.

That's not to say that I'm versed in all subjects of life here on this planet, because certainly I am not -- not even close.  There is so much I do not know and will never know.  Sometimes it's because I haven't learned something because I do not have time to learn it.  Other times it's because I can never know.

Consider this:  I'm white -- my heritage is French, English, Scottish, Irish, and a trace of Native American (from one of my great-grandparents, I'm told). I'm a proper mutt, and clearly my family got around the genetic block a little bit, but then again, not so much really. So I grew up and went to school as a white kid, in an area that was 95% white. I've lived my entire adult life as a white guy.  I can only ever know what it's like to be white.  Because I cannot be anyone else.

No matter how much I read about other cultures, no matter how often I talk about race issues with my friends who aren't white and what's it like for them, indeed no matter what I do, I can never fully understand or appreciate what it's like to be black, hispanic, asian, oriental, or from any other culture or "race" including Native Americans.  It's an impossibility, and any white person who thinks they do understand this is fooling themselves.  You cannot know because you have to live it to truly and fully understand it.

Sure, I can try to make assumptions about what it might be like to be from another culture, yet I suspect these will be false and incorrect. I can draw comparisons to my own experiences and assume what someone else might feel, but I can't really know even if its spelt it out for me.  Certainly, I can learn about someone's culture and I can learn what is acceptable and what is not. I can get by on that much -- I really have no other choice. I can certainly feel for people's crappy situations, but that's an emotion, not an understanding.

The very best I can do is to be what I believe is a decent person and treat everyone equally, on an individual per-relationship basis and learn how that person wants to be treated and treat them that way.  In that regard, that's how I've lived my entire life.  Getting down to brass tacks, the only thing that matters is how we treat each other, regardless of culture, heritage and race. Because I don't think in terms of race. I think only in terms of how you treat me as an individual.

And I think (this is the part where my mind gets me in trouble) that some people too often class someone's actions as racist when in fact it is fear of different cultures, ethnic or religious, or simple ignorance.

You cannot hate something you do not know or understand. You might fear it, because it's unlike anything you do understand, but to instinctively hate it? No, I think that's an impossibility.  You can choose to ignore something, too.  It is true, however, that you can be taught to believe in something, or taught to hate, or both at the same time. You can reject all that you have been taught, too.  You can also choose to embrace anything that is different from yourself and your views and accept the things you see for what they are, or in the case of people, who they are.

Furthermore, I accept that that personal experiences will greatly affect how we interpret and interact with the world around us. For instance, a person who was assaulted by someone of a different culture or race could very well conclude, quite incorrectly, that all people of that culture and heritage are of the same violent ilk.  Logically, we know it's utter bollocks to believe that, but I think something entirely different is likely to be at play here.

We have these big brains in our skulls, which should help us work out if what we think or feel is irrational, and yet our basic instincts for survival, for avoiding pain or harmful situations, predominate our decision-making processes, at times for the worse in respect of personal relationships.  A woman who is raped by a man may conclude that all men are rapists (or at least "potential rapists"). It's not remotely true that all men are potential rapists, but truth in this instance doesn't matter to the woman who was raped. What could matter to her most is never being raped again (note: I have no experience with rape issues at all, and not being a woman I cannot possibly know what matters most to woman who was raped -- consider it a hypothetical statement, please).  Her conclusions about all men may be illogical, certainly reactive, but I think that's how our brains are supposed to work, so that we can learn from the terrible things that happen and make sure it never happens again to us.

In fact, I think all animal life on this planet works precisely this way.  Because it has to, else nothing would survive for very long. If every time I hear a bell ring and someone smacks me in the face, eventually, and I hope fairly quickly, I'm going to start ducking or covering my face when I hear bells ring.  I don't know, though, and maybe I'm wrong. I can accept that my views are incorrect, because I'm not an expert on life, the universe and everything.  I'm only expert in understanding me, and I reluctantly concede that I may not even be expert at that.

Still, I believe there has to be a difference between racism and eugenics -- the Master Race line of thinking that the Nazis idealised -- and just not getting on with a culture that is different from your own because you don't understand it or don't want to understand it. One is based on an idea, and the other is likely based on personal identity or, in the larger sense, belonging to a group.

I almost wrote here that I understand racism because I've experienced it many, many times, but truth be told I'm not certain that is what I actually experienced.  I lived in Japan for a time, and there were several bars and other establishments that would not let me enter simply because I was not Japanese. They were Japanese-only clubs. "No gaijin allowed."  On what basis they decided that particular policy is a mystery to me. Did some British or American servicemen once tear up the joint, or too many times perhaps?  It's possible; it's even likely.  Yes, I was excluded on the basis of my nationality, but was that a racist decision or was it something else?  I'm not sure because I don't know how they came to that decision.

Likewise, I've been refused entry to pubs and clubs that cater to a black crowd. One of these incidents was particularly hilarious to me because my band was playing in the club that night and the doorman didn't believe that I, then a 21-year-old skinny white kid wearing Dr Martens and plaid shorts, would be in a blues and soul band. The doorman was pleasant enough about it, but he wasn't letting me in. I don't remember his exact words, but I remember the look on his face said to me, "Kid, you ain't got no business in this place."  I had to wait outside in the car park until our guitar player, who was the only black guy in the band, showed up and gave the doorman the low-down.  Yet a wonderful thing happened.  We owned the club that night -- this tiny place which could comfortably hold 80 people at best was packed with 200 people, and everyone in there was dancing and had a great time, including me.  There was no stage -- we played in corner of the dance floor, and people were dancing all around us, sometimes chatting us up while we played.  One of my fondest gigs, to be honest.

When I look back on that time, I wonder if the doorman was being racist or was there something else at play? One could argue that I didn't belong in that club because I was white, but I don't think that's a good argument. If I was white and there to cause trouble? Better. Indeed, you could make a compelling argument that some dickhead white guys came in there more than a few times and fought with the black customers, and that the management had decided to keep all of the white guys out in order to preserve the peace and the business.  I really don't know the reason. Maybe it was racism. Or maybe it was something else.

My very first "best friend" came when I was aged eight or nine.  His name was Mark, and Mark was black.  He was one of three or four black kids at my school. I never gave his skin colour much thought because the reasons I liked Mark had nothing to do with race.  We both liked the same things. The same cartoons. The same sports. A little later when we were about ten or eleven, we liked the same girls, so long as those girls also liked the stuff we did, and I think there was exactly one girl who did, which caused a little bit of contention between us.  Anyway....

Mark had this joke about black people that he use to tell all the time to anyone new that he met, and when I think about it now I know that if anyone said it today, it would be branded "incredibly offensive." Or "insensitive." There would be gasps of horror, cries of inappropriateness, and any kid who would dare tell this joke these days would be suspended from school. Likewise, adults who tell the joke will likely lose their jobs, or maybe in Australia or Britain they would be arrested for being racist.  But back then we used to laugh and giggle at Mark's joke, like kids do.  It wasn't offensive, and not because it was the black kid who told the joke so that made it OK kind of thing.

Fair warning, dear readers: I am going to write the joke below. I am fully aware that some truly sad people out there, in Australia and Britain no doubt, will complain that it's racist and and offensive and I will have yet another takedown, but screw it -- I'm telling you a true story and you need to understand what the actual joke was in order to ken what I'm on about.  If you can't deal with that, I would humbly suggest voluntarily leaping from a great height to end your miserable, pathetic and humourless life. Just a suggestion, really.  Because it's a joke, people. And some jokes, like this one, quite often hit home with the painful truth of what so many are unwilling to face.

The joke went like this.
Mark would hold up both of his hands and say:

"Why are black people's palms lighter than the rest of their body?"

Dramatic pause, murmurs of I dunno. Mark would then turn and face a wall and put both hands on it.

"Because they all had their hands up against the wall like this when God spray-painted them black," he'd say.
That's the joke. Is it really suspension-worthy these days? Arrest-worthy? I hardly think so. But then I always think too much. I don't know who would be more offended by it -- those who actually experience racism or those who perpetrate it and feel guilty about their actions. My guess would be the latter.

Of course, I know now that the joke had more to do about the endemic racism and race profiling in the police forces, but as a young kid I really didn't understand that aspect of it. That was way above my head.  I laughed back then because the idea of people being spray-painted by a god was utterly absurd, even for an eight-year-old, and of course one's cartoon-brain kicks in and that made it funny to me.  I have to also wonder if Mark fully appreciated the scope of his joke. I don't know, but I'd bet he did.  In the summer when I was twelve, Mark's family moved away and I've never heard from him since.

A year or two later, I had a brief summertime girlfriend who was black, but in all honesty I never thought about her skin colour, because we had grown up together and she was a friend. When I was sixteen and seventeen, I dated a Korean girl.  I also fell in love for the first time at seventeen with a Chinese-Hawaiian girl.  At nineteen, I got engaged to a different woman, whose parents were bigots and racists, and it was the very first time I had ever met anyone openly racist. I despised my fiancĂ©e's parents. It strained our relationship. Fortunately, our engagement ended when I went to live in Japan (which may be why I chose to go to Japan).  There I dated several Japanese girls, and to this day I'm still trying to remember how we got past the language barrier.  My Japanese was horrible at first. The relationships were a funny mix of sweetly humorous misunderstandings and an intense curiosity about a culture I could never fully understand but really wanted to know better.

After Japan I was in America and there I dated a number of other girls (as you do when you're young and you play in bands), and one I had fallen for was Mexican-American. Again, I didn't really think about her heritage -- I just really liked her.  But I also remember a conversation I had had with someone around that time, who asked me, "Don't you like white girls?"

Well, yeah, I did. I liked all women. Race, culture -- what did that have to do with anything?  But then I started thinking about it (because I think too much) and realised they had a point. I looked back at most of my ex-girlfriends and realised only a few had been white. I had not considered this at all before.  I briefly entertained the notion of being racist against your own race. Was that even possible?  I suppose anything is possible, yet I did not feel this applied to me. No. I liked white girls too. I was certainly not prejudiced against white girls. But the truth was, I liked people who were different than me even more, so I was more likely to be attracted to girls who were not white.

I also came to understand that I'm not alone in this preference for things outside of my own culture. In some regards, it's built in to all of us.

For instance, Americans hear a British accent and say, "Oooh! You're British. How wonderful to meet you! I just love your accent. It's awesome! Say something. Oh! Say it again! Hey everybody, come over here, we got ourselves a Brit! Listen to that accent! Go on, say something. Isn't that great? I love it. By the way, have you ever met the Queen or Prince Charles?"

Whilst Britons hear an American accent and say, "Is that a Canadian accent I detect there, mate? No? Oh, terribly sorry. You're American. Gotcha. And em, sorry about that, mate -- Canadians get a bit tetchy if you ask if they are American. Safer to ask if you're Canadian, you know since Americans don't get offended by that, but the Canadians...Good christ.  By the way, you didn't vote for Bush, did you? No? Fucking tosser, that man. Right, then. Lovely to meet you."

Speaking of voting. The Americans are having an election in November. I'm sure you've heard almost nothing about it.  I gotta say that I'm truly disinterested in all things political, except that I think we should vote them all out to end the career politician corruption thing.  Churchmouse Campanologist has been ringing some bells about the Obama/Romney matchup for a few weeks now. Well worth checking out. Seriously. Do. I hope to cover the election in a different post later this week, but read CC's for a primer.

If I had a point to this post -- and I'm not certain that I do any longer -- it would be that some things aren't necessarily racist. Sometimes it's "culturalist."  I think it depends on intent, primarily.  We are too quick to categorise something as racist when it is merely ignorance, or something far more sinister: Class-ism.

Humans are tribal, group-oriented beings. We instinctively yearn to be part of a like-minded pack of similar beings, some kind of group identity to associate ourselves with and feel like we belong to something greater than ourselves and for our survival.  Politics manipulates and exploits that human yearning magnificently, to our great detriment.  Likewise, the Public Health and The World Is Doomed Because of Mankind's Carbon Emissions Global Warming religions do the same. It is no coincidence that anti-smoker / anti-drinker / anti-everything prohibitionists align themselves with the Green and Global Warming movements. It is all much for muchness to them, different but with the same end result. Save everyone from themselves. It's about power and control. And that's why politicians embrace it.

Some of us, however, do not require any sort of group to identify with in order to feel fulfilled. These peculiar people recognise our greatest strength lies within our individuality and differences, an acceptance of all people for who they are and how they act and treat others, not the colour of their skin, or what religious beliefs they hold, or where they hail from.  I try to be one of these people.  I should also add that I love your imperfections, for these are things that make you special and unique. I do not want to change you into some idealised version of a human, because then you wouldn't be the person I loved.

Right. This epic post is ends with this observation:

I can trace almost every great evil inflicted on the populations of the world throughout all eras of human existence to a groupthink, hive-mind, propagandised crusade for an unachievable construct of perfection or an ideal existence for a particular group of people.

Perhaps if we just let people be themselves, perhaps if we stopped trying to control others by forcing a set of beliefs upon them, the combined sum of our imperfections and differences would result in a much more perfect world than we can possibly imagine.

Or not.

Worth a go, I think, for the craic.