Saturday, August 16, 2008

Racism sucks

I've just come from 2 hours' volunteering at the book exchange.  Some days this involves  being flooded with customers - mostly tourists, interspersed with some locals and occasionally friends who drop in to say hi and laugh at the 80s sewing patterns which are accumulating in the art and craft corner.  Other days, it involves sitting with a book or a crossword (or, in today's case, a Sudoku) enjoying peace and quiet, not a customer in sight.

Today looked like it was going to be a 'no customer' day.  After one and a half hours, a lovely old lady came in.  Dissatisfied with her current Miss Marple, she perused the shelves for another murder mystery.  She settled on another Agatha Christie which we both hoped to be better.  She was traveling on the Ghan - the only way to do it: first class!;  She enquired about my dreadlocks - Now that I'm up close to someone with them, I've always wanted to ask: how do you wash them?  As she was leaving, she told me how disgusted she was with the amount of rubbish around the tourists information centre.  Somehow, her disgruntlement at the litter escalated into sweeping generalisations that 'Aboriginals' were responsible for it, and that 'the white man' shouldn't be cleaning up after 'them'.

I grappled with self-composure while trying to dissuade her of her assumptions by pointing out that many Indigenous people are employed, work hard, don't throw rubbish around, while many white, highly educated tertiary students leave rubbish all over university grounds, and that you can't make statements about an entire race based on the behaviour of a couple of people you saw in a public place.  She would not be moved.  She continued 'us'-ing and 'them'-ing, and making irrational arguments about how well behaved 'they' were in Darwin (because there's less rubbish in Darwin - heaven forbid this has anything to do with our respective town councils' diligence in rubbish collection!  No! It must be how 'they' behave themselves that accounts for Darwin's messlessness!).

This is not the first time I've encountered racism.  Nor, unfortunately, will it be the last.  Whether it's locals or visitors, I am always astounded (not to mention disgusted) that this attitude persists, almost unchecked.

When I complained in person to the local rag about a racist cartoon published last January, they told me to write a letter:  
Thumbs down to [the local rag] for publishing such a distasteful, nasty and racist cartoon last week. With the theme 'Australia Day' no less! Are there no moral guidelines (let alone media guidelines) to prevent such a things from going to press?
Despite short letters being preferred, mine was never printed.

Racism is something that isn't talked about in this town.  Redneck locals will knowingly confide to each other their opinions on 'their' alcoholism, unemployment, social dysfunction, domestic violence, packaging their prejudice neatly into one term:  'anti-social behaviour'.

Nothing could be more anti-social than racism.

P.S.  Despite the misanthropic bent of this post, it ain't all bad; check out what I'm going to next weekend: Lipstick and Ochre.


Gnome said...

That sounds so incredibly frustrating - and really dim of the old lady not to realise how unwanted and offensive her views were, to just go on and on about it! Some bigoted people seem to talk more and more if they see that you disagree with them, as if they can bombard you into agreement. Or they believe that secretly all of 'their people' agree with them but won't admit it.
Bet she didn't have any evidence for who dropped the rubbish either - it certainly didn't sound like she was doing any cleaning up herself. Well done on keeping your composure.

I had a frustrating convo tonight with a friend who is completely clueless about feminism and he likes to rant about it to me, thinking he is surprising me with his clever and insightful arguments, that are, in reality, so uninformed as to be laughably simplistic. I had him worried when I innocently (well, outwardly, heh heh) asked him to name one feminist theorist who advocated the wild, ambiguous stuff he kept accusing them (us!) of; he said "err, err, um" and quickly changed the subject. He's never read any feminist theory or history - never educated himself about it in the slightest beyond reading the Herald Sun's depiction of Germaine Greer - but he happily holds forth that 'the problem with feminism is...' and expect me to take him seriously.

I can't even properly debate with him on the subject because he has these strongly entrenched, simplistic and irrational beliefs re feminism and he fights tooth and nail to avoid having to verify or substantiate them - they're obviously serving some important emotional function for him. Maybe it's the same for your Miss Marple-loving racist. Good on you for speaking up though - I'm sure social peer pressure can effect change, especially in people holding strong herd-mentality 'us and them' beliefs.

"Nothing could be more anti-social than racism."

Well said. Going to do a blog post on the Lipstick and Ochre performance after you see it? :)

Wamut said...

Good post hooch. I loathe the term 'anti-social behaviour'. It's become Right-wing PC-speak for 'anything that black people do that white people don't like'.

But don't try to tell a rightie that they use political correctness. Only us lefties do that!

bulanjdjan said...

Right on, wamut! Though perhaps you mean anti-social behaviour is a euphemism, rather than being PC? But then again, I think 'PC' has shifted to mean 'euphemistic', so carry on!!

Speaking of racism and the local rag, Hooch, you may find an old post of mine to be worthy of a read.

Hooch said...

Thanks Bulanjdjan. Your post was a great read. When I first came to Katherine, everyone talked about the term 'anti-social behaviour' as though it was newly coined. I wonder how many of the people whinging to the paper realise just how rehashed and old hat their observations on society are? They're certainly not constructive.

Daniel said...

I too need to look at blogs more (rather than just lazy old Facebook). Your anecdote of arguing against prejudice is much better than mine. More amusing too - the zeitgeist conveniently supplying me with a prejudiced image of this old biddy arguing with you!

Thanks for taking a stand. Even if she cannot agree I think the experience of facing resistance is still a worthwhile one for her to have had.