Stop creating racism

Day 66. 160 pages, 75,630 words.

So, this one’s probably not going to be very popular, but I’m in a brown study[1] so let’s just dive in and go for it.

[1] I always liked that expression. When I first heard it, I realised it meant much the same as “in a bad mood”, or at least “deep in thought and kinda not really happy”, but I couldn’t help but picture it as a guy actually sitting in a study, that was actually brown. Like, made out of poo-bricks or something. Come on, if you had to sit in a study made of poo-bricks to concentrate on something, you’d be pretty low too, wouldn’t you? Why are you still reading this, go back to the main text.

Now look. I am a white Australian. I am the last person you want to hear talking about racism and fake racism and the Not a Racist Butt. This is because the hideously ironic generalisation about white Australians is, we are all racist.

What I’m getting at is, I am Australian. I am clearly not Finnish. I have a solidly non-Finnish name and I speak English with an (admittedly Western-Australian-mild) Australian accent, and I probably speak Finnish with a funny accent too, and horrible syntax and pronunciation and vocabulary to boot. Actually there’s no ‘probably’ about it.

I don’t even look particularly Finnish, not that there’s a set and specific Finnish look.

Scandinavia and the World: winners

Ohh, my bad.

If someone asks me where I am from, I will tell them, “Vantaa,” because I am a wisenheimer, but I will then chuckle and say, “but years back, I originally came from Australia if that’s what you mean.”

Because that’s what you meant.

And that’s fine! What, is it now racist to think that someone doesn’t quite sound or look like a local[2] for various reasons, and ask him or her in a nice and friendly manner where he or she came from, in order to get to know him or her better? Fucking Hell!

[2] For the purposes of this blog … Local: adjective. The sort of people who typically and in the majority come from the region in which you are standing right now, regardless of whether or not that sort of people actually represents an immigrant or invading culture that displaced the technical locals hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands of years ago. Make like Queen Elsa and give it a fucking rest.

Now, I know. I know. This is easy for a privileged white guy to say. I know it’s easy to say, because I said it and it was easy. I don’t get any of the negatives that stem from this conversation. If I was super-sensitive I might find something in there to take issue with – some condescension, some hint of hostility towards foreigners, I don’t know – but for the most part I don’t, because I’m part of the Lucky Demographic. My case essentially boils down to Scandinavian-on-Brit profiling[3], which is going to be super-mild. I know, it all gets blurred when you have a big mixed community with people from all over the place and naïve white people may not even be the majority anymore, and different reactions will apply to different cases. I know, Africans and Asians and Hispanics and Middle Easterners get questioned in far less friendly, far more judgemental, far more fraught-with-meaning ways.

I’m sorry as Hell about that.

[3] Boils down to, oh my fucking God do you see what I did there.

But tell me this. How exactly the fuck am I supposed to ask you about your family history and heritage? Believe me when I say I’m not asking just to place myself as a local and you as a foreigner (because that would be dumb. I am a foreigner), and I’m certainly not asking in order to place myself as a majority and you as a minority. Am I going to be punished, accused of racism, because there are people in the world who do ask for those reasons? Should I be socially muzzled? I ask legitimately and seriously, because if the answer is “yes”, then that at least would be something. I’m all about fixing the things I can fix, and “the words coming out of my mouth” would seem to be a good example. Right?

No, I’m not asking for those crappy reasons. I am asking because I’m interested. You’d better believe I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t give a shit. I am a sociable kind of guy but I don’t go out of my way to have conversations with people or learn facts about them, unless I am drunk. So if I asked, it’s because I genuinely want to know.

So what am I supposed to do?

Yes, by all means tell me that you were born and raised here. That’s fantastic. Tell me you’re fifth-generation local. That’s brilliant. So that means there’ve been Asians (for example) in this area for five generations? Pardon the fuck out of me but that doesn’t erase your beautiful and special diversity, appearance and manner. It doesn’t mean we’re all identical and have no Goddamn characteristics that distinguish ourselves from one another, and about which we could have a conversation if we both just accepted that neither one of us is trying to be a dick to the other.

What am I doing or saying wrong? Seriously. If you want me to ignore the fact that you or your family could possibly have come from somewhere else, and that ‘somewhere else’ might be cool and interesting, then fine. I will. I will do that. I’ll pretend we’re all clones. I have a decent imagination. If enough of you[4] tell me that it’s offensive and unacceptable for me to ask about your heritage, then I will stop doing it altogether and across the board[5].

[4] And for “you”, read “Hatboy meant that in a generic sense, referring to people who have fallen afoul of casual or innocent racism and are sensitive to it and feel that they therefore have a take on this that he might appreciate hearing”. You know, or you can read it as “kinda foreign-lookin’ folks”, if you want to get in an argument. I like to argue with fucking idiots on the Internet.

[5] And for “board”, read “bored”.

Please don’t misunderstand. If you tell me you’re from here, I’m not going to wryly say “oh yeah, and where are you really from?”. I’m not saying “I know you’re not from around here, so how about you ‘fess up?”. In fact, if I ask you where you’re from or where your family’s from, and you say “two towns over”, that will be fine. I can take a hint, I won’t press it. It’s just … I have Lucky Demographic blindness and I don’t understand why I can’t have this conversation. If you feel it’s placing you in an uncomfortable position or putting you on the defensive, then maybe we don’t know each other well enough to be having a conversation anyway – because I would never say something to put someone in that position.

If it’s not possible to ask about the other places and cultures you might have sprung from without it being racist, is that what I need to do to help make things better? Just stop asking questions like that? Because I suppose I can do that, if that’s what it takes.

This is by no means something I only do with ‘minorities’[6], by the way. Nobody lives in the exact same spot the entire species evolved in. Okay, maybe if I’m standing in the Cradle of Humankind and I ask someone who actually lives there, they could say “I come from here” and arguably there’d be nothing to add. We could just high-five each other for being meta as fuck, and go back to digging up skeletons to upset Young Earth Creationists. But that doesn’t seem like a sufficiently-commonly-occurring hypothetical on which to pin a conversational standard.

[6] Again, I use the inverted commas because I defy anyone to find a much smaller minority than ‘Western Australian in Finland’. And if you do, I will see your feeble little minority and raise you ‘Western Australian with an arse around the front’. And fuck you very much indeed.

My point is, no matter what each one looks like, can’t two civilised people have a conversation about one another’s ancestry, without it being racist?

Maybe I could have just asked that question from the start, but we Western Australians are a wordy lot.

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24 Responses to Stop creating racism

  1. JonathanBloom says:

    I agree with everything you said here. I haven’t encountered it personally, but I’ve heard of similar stories and alway wondered how people then can express any kind of interest in others in any way if it’s going to be taken out of context like that.

    It’s like we never evolved into creatures with body language, complex nuances in language and dialog and – oh wait a goddamn second.

    • stchucky says:

      Exactly.

      I was trying to google the (I think) Buzzfeed article that brought this on, where people are holding up signs with the “casual racist” things they’ve had said to them are written, but the first twenty google hits on “casual racism” were all about Australia and so I stopped.

      • JonathanBloom says:

        It’s slightly off topic, but relates to the whole “casual anything” monicker. I’ve been told, after holding a door open for a lady, that that too is “casual sexism,” because it implies she couldn’t have done it herself.

        So really, with these kinds of parameters applied, we might as well become hermits because I too have seriously run out of fucks to give.

      • stchucky says:

        Yeah, I’m not going to stop holding doors open for women, because I do it for everyone and that would leave me just holding doors open for men.

        I have largely given up on the whole “ladies first” thing, in favour of just politely letting random people go ahead of me through doorways and stuff, just because it’s polite. If they choose to ascribe bigotry to my actions, don’t expect me to accept it just because I’m in the Lucky Demographic and don’t get to decide this shit. Fuck that.

  2. Apo says:

    DISCLAIMER: I’ll reply as the ethnically Carelian, oops Finnish, mother of two Chinese-looking Finnish children. This may not be what you’d get from my kids or someone who doesn’t look kantasuomalainen (or, dare I say, perussuomalainen?).
    IT GETS OLD PRETTY FUCKING QUICKLY when everybody you meet is interested in your family and personal history. You don’t see it, of course, because you’re just you asking this one question. But non-perussuomalaiset get this all the fucking time. Not so much anymore, not so much in Espoo (and I and my family in particular don’t because, I dunno, I’m so scary that people don’t want to give me any lip?) and probably not Vantaa either, but it does happen.
    Why are you even interested? What’s it to you? What makes you think that you can just ask personal questions from someone you just met on a train or who stands behind you in line in Prisma? I’m glad you’re so full of the milk of human kindness that you want to explain yourself to random strangers, but I’d sort of want to reserve that for people who I know, who know me, and for whom it makes some sort of fucking difference.
    I’ve had random people come up to me to ask if my kids are adopted; if they’re biologically related to each other (“real sisters” are the words they use); what we know about their birth families; where they’re adopted from; how long the process was; was it painful to wait… Generally I answer in patient good humour, but I have been known to ask in return if the questioner (or their child) was born vaginally or by cesarian section. I haven’t yet dared ask people if they shave their, um, legs, or why aren’t they married, or what bra size they wear – because I have manners. I don’t walk up to even the obviously largest-breasted females and casually ask what their cup size is _because you just don’t do that_, even if you’re curious and it’s clear to everybody that it’s not a standard size.
    Don’t get me wrong – I’m curious, too. For example, I know this girl with a sort of international name, dusky skin and perfect Finnish, we’ve talked about bullying at school, about ethnicity (in re my kids), and I’m fair dying to know “where she’s from” and “why she’s here”. But I’m not going to ask, because that’s her business to tell me if she thinks it’s relevant, not my business to ask her.
    And as for the racism thing, I think it’s a bit mislabelled. This intrusive curiosity paired with potential and occasional hostility tends to put people on edge and make them even less ready to answer those fucking questions.

    HTH.

    (p.s. Sorry about all the fucks I give.)

    • stchucky says:

      Wow, did you ever take this the wrong way. I’m talking about someone I have met, socially, and want to know more about. See my paragraph:

      No, I’m not asking for those crappy reasons. I am asking because I’m interested. You’d better believe I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t give a shit. I am a sociable kind of guy but I don’t go out of my way to have conversations with people or learn facts about them, unless I am drunk. So if I asked, it’s because I genuinely want to know.

      Or because I’m drunk, possibly. In which case, guilty as charged and you go ahead and shout me down.

      I am not talking about just asking some random stranger in a grocery line. I am talking about the times and places where I ask. And whether I even can ask, ever, without being racist (or in your view, rude).

      See, now I know not to ask you or your kids anything like this. So mission accomplished. But the response, while definitely interesting and worth saying (and reading), was not really what I was looking for.

    • stchucky says:

      In fact, strictly about you, I am curious and do want to know these things and ask you questions. But I’ve taken a hint and not asked anything, and just let you drop the information you’re comfortable with telling me. And that’s great.

      That’s who I am, and (I like to think) how I am with most people.

      But I’d like to know what I’m allowed to ask people about, and what social blunders I am committing when I ask. Which is why this has already been a very good educational lesson for me. Because I am enlightened as fuck.

  3. Apo says:

    (Why is there a Reply link in some comments but not others?)

    I took it this way because you take the original problem the wrong way, luv. If you and I are having a heart-to-heart at 2 a.m. in a pub, (or, in fact, any other time I feel like opening my heart to you), I do not object to YOU asking ME about my life history. (As to cup size, well, you’d be safer not going there.) Or if it’s actually relevant, like in this convo where I opened by offering the info that my kids are non-Caucasian Finns.

    Racism is a term that is overused, sure. But majorities do not get to define what constitutes discrimination; you and I as holders of the White Westerner Majority Card, do not get to define racism _at all_ in the context of race relations in Finland. (You, as a male, don’t get to define feminism, either. Sorry about that. But you do get to define… uh… anti-geek discrimination?) If a non-white person says “that’s offensive because it’s racist” then it fucking IS, regardless of whether you happened to realise it in this instance or not, whether you’ve been educated about it or not, and whether you get what discrimination is or not. Your feelings do not un-racistify something racist you just said.

    And note that I fell into that trap as well, using words like “mislabelled” and “overused”. Not editing because object lesson.

    • stchucky says:

      That’s fine. I’ll just sit here and wait for a non-white-westerner-majority person to tell me this is racist before I worry then.

      • Apo says:

        I thought your problem was specifically that they had…?

      • stchucky says:

        Hell no they haven’t. Not to me. You’re the closest I’ve come to it.

        I have, however, seen their reactions to other comments that are not unlike the comments or questions I might make, albeit in my own unique circumstances – so I’m wondering if these are questions and comments that are always going to be denounced, and always need to be. I have a hard time with that.

        So, boiled down, I guess it’s a #NotAllWhitePeople plea on my part. And if the answer is the same as the #NotAllMen issue, and the problems comparable, then that’s fine. I just think that saying “not all men are participants in rape culture” is (arguably) doing damage to the overall understanding and deconstruction of rape culture, while “all questions about your ancestry are racist” is (arguably) doing damage to the overall gift of human discourse, as Jonathan says.

        But that’s just, like, my opinion, man.

  4. stchucky says:

    I do definitely agree with the wider point that people who are not the victims of bigotry should not declare (let alone decide) when something isn’t bigotry. This is why I asked, instead of saying “this isn’t racist”. Although yes, in my opinion the scenarios I have outlined above make it pretty clear I don’t think a lot of this is racist.

    And indeed, so far it seems not so much racist anyway, as intrusive and rude and hostile-conversation to the (assumed) purpose of making the target defensive or marginalised – as I covered in the main blog. This based on the point of view of another non-racism-victim, from a famously private culture. That comes down to a cultural difference between sharers and non-sharers, not an issue of race (uh, except insofar as races are arguably a thing and arguably might have sharer vs. non-sharer characteristics – which is why “cultural” is better than “racial” anyway). But nevertheless, accepted. And unacceptable. When that happens.

    I do, however, think that the non-victims of bigotry should be allowed some sort of an opinion on bigotry. We should be allowed to say when we think something is bigotry (because how else are we supposed to help fix it? We’re the biggest weapon the bigoted-against have!), and yes – with the right attitude and disclaimers (that I think I demonstrated here) it sort of logically follows that we should at least be able to say when we think what we’ve said or done is okay.

    Without a dialogue on this, how is anything ever going to filter into the cultural psyche?

  5. JonathanBloom says:

    I’m still with Chucky on this one. Why on earth is it racist to ask if it’s small talk in the first place? I know, I know, white person, western, can’t say anything about racism, but the amount of times I get asked where I’m from based on how I speak is nearly always when I’m abroad. To me, it shows that the person is invested enough in the talk that they are curious. That’s cool.

    So whenever I ask someone where they’re from, it’s for the same reasons. Meeting a person of Japanese descent in a party who speaks American English? You bet I’m going to ask if they’re from the states or not. There’s a story there, probably. It’s also a great way to say “hey, I know where that is/I’ve been there” and then share mutual experiences together.

    Just shutting it down on accounts that there are asshats who are racist is going to shut down the amazing connectivity that humans are capable of.

    • Apo says:

      My opinion? Let’s gas the racist asshats, and then we can amazingly connect.

      I’ll make one more observation before leaving well enough alone (I swear): discrimination is not defined by the incident, it’s defined by the cultural context. Want to make something not discriminatory? Change the culture then.

  6. Linza says:

    I won’t lie, I skipped the comments.

    I ask people what their hometown is. Since we’re in the capital region and in the middle of a migratory shift, it’s a relevant question to ask Finns as well as foreigners. With foreigners from obscure towns, they usually reply, ‘Oh, just some village from [insert country here].’

    I have had people start conversations with ‘No money, go away’ and variations on ‘you’re foreign so you should have sex with me,’ so I see how racism happens. At no point has racism begun with, ‘So, you from around here?’

    • stchucky says:

      A good approach.

      And this blog, due to its obscurity, tends to have excellent comments rather than your standard “Internet forum comment” inferno. But I accept that you had taken this as read and were just saving time.

  7. aaronthepatriot says:

    Wow, Apo let you have it LOL. I can’t fully agree…no matter how annoying or frequent most of that small talk may be, I don’t accept that you should get offended over it. Now, asking ANYONE if their kids are adopted is fucking rude, there are truly examples of horrid behavior in what Apo said. But small talk WILL BE MADE of you by socially inept persons[1], and just because it concerns your ethnic origin doesn’t mean you get to label them racist. In my opinion.

    [1] You do NOT want me to give examples. Well, Chucky, you know some of my examples, but I have even better ones I have related to my close family and am trying to forget. The point is, sometimes someone is just an idiot but the actual question is fine, and sometimes the question is horrible and sure, rant away.

    I see this as akin to the PC bullplop pressure that causes some persons to look down on you if, in your description of a person, you include their skin color. Sorry, it helps to paint the picture of the person, and no, I’m not SAYING ANYTHING about all persons with that skin color. It’s just a fact, and a useful one in identification. Run along now, thanks. And yes, we DO have a right to notice those things in our mental picture of someone, as the counterargument goes. No one is actually colorblind, so stop trying to force us to be.

    • stchucky says:

      Apo is tough but fair.

      And I think the less we speak of family members and the cringeworthy things they say in the company or just-out-of-earshot of people of assorted non-whitebread heritage, the better. Something we can all agree on: things do improve as the march of generations goes by.

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