Thursday, April 30, 2015

Reflections of an Outrage Merchant

I wrote a couple of annoyed/angry blogs this week, as is my wont, but I was thinking that they probably won't stand the test of time in a few weeks when everyone forgot what they were even about and, as is my usual style, I made next to no effort explaining the actual situation and instead focused on whatever I was thinking about in the moment using many unnecessarily long sentences like this one.

So, I thought it might be an idea to calmly and clearly discuss a few broader issues around the all too common phenomena of a celeb getting into trouble for saying something racist... I'm sure I'll wonder off from this point though sooner or later. 

Individual instances of Australian celebrities saying something that some people perceive to be racist is never made such a large issue by those who believe an event to be racist. We simply lack the media presence to do that.But it ticks all the right boxes for a slow news day story, a bit of the 'celebs behaving badly' mixed with 'PC nightmares' and 'outrage merchants' and 'I have a few black friends'... wholesome family infotainment.  

The times it is given so much attention is usually because it ties into a larger issue. In the case of Andrew Bolt, it tied into the Racial Discrimination Act and the IPAs long standing desire to get rid of the RDA... along with Land Rights, Native Title, and the Human Rights Commission, but I digress.

While it was wrapped up and sold to people as a free speech debate, that of course was nonsense. Just like the claims that Bolt is prohibited from discussing matters of race and racism are nonsense. He still does, and he must surely know, and the legislation reaffirms, that the issue of who is able to identify as Aboriginal and who is able to access any related government or NGO programs is a matter of public interest and is therefore fair game. You just can't maliciously misrepresent facts specifically for the purpose of racially vilifying people in the process.

You can even talk about reintroducing blood quotients, or make aspersions on the reasons some people might choose to identify as Aboriginal. What little free speech we do have in Australia more than allows  it. You just can't maliciously misrepresent facts in order to racially vilify people. And if you can't have a discussion or write a blog without misrepresenting facts and racially vilifying people then okay, you are for the most part prohibited from the conversation. Why on earth an individual so evidently racist and incompetent would even have a job in the first place is beyond me, but I guess such people will just have to settle for falsely martyring themselves and making grossly inaccurate innuendos about how they would comment on certain people or issues but are legally prohibited. Whatev.

The other instances though I find much more interesting because they don't involve celebrities who make their careers out of being racist or otherwise controversial. They are usually people who would be happy to never have to mention race or racism ever on air or on social media unless they knew 100% that it was safe to do so ie repeating what others have already safely said. TV presenters, actors, sports people, and the like; most know to avoid these topics where possible (a problem within and of itself), and usually fall foul of the line in off the cuff remarks, or in comments that they thought were being made in private.

These instances always make for a good story for the left and the right, so various white journalists on the left have a read of what a few of us write on Twitter or on our blogs and then they write their stories. Then a few on the right bemoan the outrage merchants and the PC nightmare that our lives have become and talk about how hard it is being a rich white person in Australia.... It's all very entertaining and even more pointless.

It whips everyone into a frenzy of who is on what side, who is or isn't racist, and that's pretty much it. It usually ends in a fauxpology containing hollow and unrepentant phrases like "I'm sorry if anyone was offended" or "I'm sorry if people misunderstood". Just as often the person just goes quiet for a few days and waits for the storm to pass, which it always does.  

It is very rare that anyone suffers any actual penalty except for embarrassment and an all too readily forgotten stigma. Even Bolt had no real penalty whatsoever. His articles are still available online, he was not financially penalised, served no jail time, lost zero jobs, he didn't even apologise for it, and he still gets to write racist nonsense on a regular basis for more money than he is worth.      

So, for something that usually has no real world consequence except for the frustrating microcosm of Australian racism that it reflects, we put a lot of effort in to talking about it, yet we never actually seem to get anywhere with the conversation. The discussion within the acceptable range of discussion is certainly heated and strongly contested, but it rarely ventures outside of its narrow scope.

We never seem to get to talking about why there are so few 'minority' voices in our media, and if we do get that point, we certainly never get to the point of actually doing anything about it. We may talk about the need for more traineeships and cadetships as though they haven't already been around for a very long time and we certainly never get to the bit where we ask ask about why the people who come through the various traineeship and cadetship programs rarely actually ever get a job on completion regardless of their obvious talents.

This comes to the heart of what this discussion is really all about. Sacrificing the occasional whoever to the Gods of 'Please don't make us talk about the system of racism that we actively benefit from'.

We prefer to look at racism as something that damages everyone, something that only lives in the hearts and minds of evil doers and freedom haters, rather than something that is instilled in all Australians from all sources at every available opportunity. Something that political and corporate forces actively exploit and amplify as convenient. We pretend it is something that doesn't benefit the overwhelming majority of white Australians in both practical, psychological, and indirect ways... Something that justifies and reinforces the continuation of white power while not making too many white people feel bad about how they benefit from it, and preventing those who suffer from it from openly talking about it as the normal, everyday, in your face occurrence that it is.

This is the conversation that is of importance, yet we never seem to get to it. Myself included. We try to, and we hint at it, but it gets twisted and convoluted into us being angry, irrational, playing the race card, and of course, calling all white people racist just because they are white.

We begin to talk in code to those whom we know will share our frustrations and eventually shy away from the emotionally draining and potentially career destroying battleground for the safety of our own camps.

For the left white peeps who feel that they have done so many favours for minority groups, and have so many black friends, and are just in general so fair dinkum awesome, that the very idea of being called racist, no matter who it is by, is so laughable and offensive and to justify any amount of mockery and ridicule in reply.

And for people like myself, to see peeps who usually like to claim they are not only not racist but actively anti-racist, while ignoring the existence of white privilege and their own connection to it and then pompously dismiss and ridicule various people I respect and empathise with... well, suffice it to say that it pisses me off enough to write two rant blogs in a two day period. 1 & 2 and write numerous frustrated but not necessarily clear and direct tweets to boot.

And eventually I remember a favourite quote of mine from Bruce Pascoe,

And sometimes this, less directly relevant to my own experiences and identity but still, powerful quote from W.E.B Du Bois written in 1903,

And I focus less on the less on all of the above, and more and more on my own well being. I calm my thoughts and usually decide that it is best to walk away and fight another day... but not today.

Today I am focusing on what can I actually do about all of the above. What can WE do about it?

How do we get more voices out there when we know that the gatekeepers have no interest in seeing that ever happen?

What do we do with the knowledge that the majority of our so called allies are happy to use our hashtags but not willing to fight for our rights?

Do we fight to rally the necessary support to get one or two extra people through the doors knowing that unless they reach the very highest echelons that they will be unlikely to be able to throw a rope back over to help those who come after them? Knowing that if they try they risk being thrown over the wall with the rope and actually damage the already limited chances of those who come next?

Do we focus on social media? Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and just wait for old media to come to its inevitable and long overdue demise?

Do we try to educate white people in the hopes that it will help remove these barriers, or do we focus on teaching ourselves and each other in the hopes that we can create something new?

I'm not sure at the moment to be honest... probably bits of all of the above.

I'm not sure if I have the capacity, the energy, or the resources necessary for running another IndigenousX project out of my already empty pockets... probably I do though, I'm a stubborn bastard when I set my mind to something. 

But I do know this is a problem I want to apply myself to. I know there are others who want to do with me, or next to me, or better yet in front of me so I can follow in their footsteps.

That's gonna have to do for a start...

Hopefully next time I won't take the bait and play in to the hands of this machine that was created long before I got here, but instead will start going straight for the heart of the matter, and only for the heart of the matter. 

Only time will tell.


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