By ANDREA HO
“It’s been blown out of all proportion. I mean it was meant as a joke. Occasionally you have to have jokes that aren’t quite in good taste, that’s all.”
– Unnamed person on the streets of Canberra, as heard on 666 ABC Canberra this morning
“I don’t think Eddie’s being racial at all. I think it was, just, like you said, a slip of the tongue and it was a bit of a joke.”
– Caller to 774 ABC Melbourne last night
Dear complainant, thank you for your comments. Have you finished? Thanks. Now I have a few comments of my own, which I trust you’ll listen to in return.
Adam Goodes is right to call racism when he hears it. I’m sure he’s had plenty of practice at spotting it. More than you, clearly.
I’ve had some practice identifying racism. More than forty years of it. Like Adam, I’m born and bred Australian; my skin is brown, and I am subject to racism all the time.
‘Just joking – can’t you take a joke?’ I’m here to tell you: you’re not funny.
Racist jokes are crass. Vulgar. Hurtful. With your joke, you judge me before you even know me. You make me less than equal, less than human. You affect my employment chances, my promotion options. You affect how shopkeepers and security guards treat me. You humiliate me in front of colleagues, friends, family, strangers. You’re willing to get a laugh from people at my expense. Your joke is dangerous.
I’m not going to pretend this is acceptable any more.
‘Harden up, it’s just words; get over it.’
I’ve spent my whole life hardening up so you can have a soft time, making easy jokes and engaging in comfortable, casual bigotry. But I’ve got over a great deal this week, including the hurdles of politeness that made me hold my tongue to keep the peace, excused your ignorance so as not to offend you, cried in the toilet rather than stick up for myself. I’ve had so much practice at being hard, I’m now prepared to reciprocate with some hard words of my own.
They are: you’re racist.
I appreciate I might need to explain to you exactly what’s hurtful about your joke. You need empathy to understand another person’s hurt – that’s a good starting place, so let’s try.
Think about someone you hold dear (even if it’s only yourself) and remember the last time you felt hurt on their behalf.
Was that dear person a child bullied at school? Bullying is terrible. Though it happens all the time, it’s never justified, and can destroy a child’s early years, ruin their trust, mar their education.
What did you do? Speak with the school principal? Take it to the school council? Move the child to another school? I trust you did something for them, because bullying’s serious. I hope you didn’t tell the child it was just a joke, and to harden up.
Maybe someone was cruel to your special person: laughed at their weight, joked about their relationship, ostracised them behind a wall of whispers and giggles or rumours and lies because of some slight or faux pas.
What did you do? Take your special person for a coffee and lend them a friendly ear, or take them into your arms to comfort them? I trust you did something for your special person, because ostracism is serious and can have real physical and mental health effects. I hope you didn’t tell your special person it was just a joke, and to harden up.