Amidst the entirely unworthy debates of whether one wealthy white guy is allowed to tell another wealthy white guy that he’s a ‘social climber’ or not, you might have missed that Senator Jacqui Lambie has introduced an ‘anti-burqa bill’ into the Senate. I think that there are fundamental legal problems with it (but they’re boring and technical) and it probably won’t get beyond second reading. But even if there aren’t technical problems, I still think — as a conservative — that there are problems with the Bill that we should debate. The key problem, from my perspective, is the extent to which people should be able to preserve their anonymity and defend their privacy. This Bill is an unrestrained attack on your ability to regulate the extent to which other people can monitor you and coerce your behaviour.
Working in an office one day, a conversation was taking place down the corridor. A sharp difference of opinion was under discussion in which various people were advancing various viewpoints. One of the participants left the conversation and walked up the corridor towards my desk. Overhearing a bit more of the discussion behind him, he turned around and shouted clearly: ‘Yeah, but he’s such a poof!’
I was rather shocked at the outburst. Prior to it, the conversation had been heated but on point. This random homophobia came entirely out of left field and was entirely out of place. How did the conversation get to this point? How did this person think it was appropriate to make that comment? What the hell is wrong with this person that they’d think this was an appropriate thing to say?
It would be a while before I was this thrown by out of place prejudice again (yay, privilege). Fortunately, Richard Dawkins was on call to provide such an experience over Twitter. This time, it was his weird and entirely unprovoked declaration that hatred towards Muslims isn’t racist.
I love Free Comic Books Day. It’s a great time of year for publishers to advertise and attract new readers. For example, I didn’t know that The Tick was still in print (or that Chris McCulloch’s published stuff was available in trade paper back. Oh yes it is).
At the same time, there’s something which makes me feel awfully uncomfortable about comic books. Think of any superhero, then think of a superhero from Marvel, and then one from DC. Bets are on you either thought of a white guy or a female known for impractical clothing.
As a bit of a proof, I went to the Marvel Database and hit random until a person of colour appeared. I gave up after 12 attempts. More than twelve in thirteen comic book characters (even including all the minor nobodies) are white. At least until it gets edited again, Wikipedia says that only 75% of people in America are white (7.5 out of every ten, so by the time I got to 10, I should have had at least one POC). So either there is a disproportionate number of whities getting superpowers in the Marvel Universe (making it eerily like the Harry Potter universe), or the Marvel team aren’t proportionately interested in writing about non-whites. [Okay, it’s also possible that the Marvel Database is lacking in data about all the hundreds of POC superheroes they’ve had. I’m happy to be corrected]
I chose Marvel because I like Marvel a lot and rather wish it had performed better. I doubt I’d get a better outcome from DC.
You could argue that Caucasian-dominated comics sell better and that there is little appetite amongst the comic book audience for non-white stories. You would, of course, be arguing that comic book audiences are jerks.
And, frankly, I’m rather willing to agree. News circulated this week about the ‘nerd rage’ regarding Idris Elba (a black actor) playing Heimdall in the new Thor film.
My favourite line of that article:
Some of the Elba’s staunchest – although ostensibly not racially motivated – opponents accuse Marvel of left-wing social engineering, noting that it attacked the Tea Party movement in a recent issue of Captain America, and that Stan Lee is known to support left-wing politicians. Other complainants, who are more directly racist, talk about the “filthy culture of judaism [sic]” and how Elba’s casting is an attack on “White Culture.” While the latter accusation is both disgusting and ridiculous, the former – that the left wing is using the media, and especially Hollywood, as a vehicle for propaganda – is not new. It was also leveled at DC Comics following the news that Superman was going to renounce his US citizenship. [Source: ‘Black Thor Actor Talks About Racist Comic Book Fans‘, The Escapist]
Could there be any more deliciously stupid position? Oh, the real racists complain that it’s an attack on white culture (and that’s disgusting and ridiculous) but the totally ordinary fans think it’s left-wing social engineering?
How is ‘Darkies can’t play my white hero’ not racially motivated? In what universe do the words ‘disgusting and ridiculous’ not apply to both positions (and not just the latter)? This is a baffleplex and I am baffled.
And don’t you go confusing me for one of those socially sensitive, well-meaning lefties either: I’m a conservative and even I think it’s outrageous that people are getting upset that an African American is playing a comic book character.
Damnit. Back in 2004, the very first episode of Boston Legal preached:
Judge Rita Sharpley: No one is denying this little girl an education, sir. She just can’t play Annie.
Reverend Al Sharpton: You may think this is a small matter. But this is no small matter. This child is being denied the right to play an American icon because she doesn’t match the description. Those descriptions were crafted 50 years ago! We’re supposed to be in a different day!
Judge Rita Sharpley: Reverend…
Reverend Al Sharpton: You talk about racial equality, how we’re making progress. The problem with that progress is it’s always a day away. Tomorrow, tomorrow-you love that!-because it’s always a day away. I’m here to stick out my chin today! Today! Give us an African-American Spider Man! Give us a black that can run faster than a speeding bullet and leap over tall buildings in a single bound! Not tomorrow-today! Today! The sun needs to come out today! Not tomorrow, your Honor! God Almighty! Give the American people a black Orphan Annie. It’s just not good enough to say she doesn’t look the part. [Source: 1×1 ‘Head Cases’, Boston Legal]
The preoccupation with protecting ‘white characters’ from the evil machinations of sinister left-wing producers is obscene. It’s a fictional character being reinterpreted for a new media. If ever there’s a time to shift the framework, surely it’s when comic books are trying to reach out to mass audiences. With any luck, we’ll see Heimdall represented in the comics the way he ought to be: as a freaking awesome black guy. Like Spock’s skin tone being doctored post-production from yellow to white, I like to think that Heimdall is actually a Nordic-African but his skin colour keeps getting doctored post-production to white.
But it’s not even like there’s a lack of precedent for this kind of thing. Meet this guy:
Nick Fury was a WWII vet who then became the super-spy head of SHIELD. He was the poster boy for bad ass, punching Nazis and then taking down supervillains. Few characters were as awesome as he was.
Oh, and he was white.
When Marvel started up the Ultimate Universe, they decided that Nick Fury was far too awesome to be modeled on anybody other than Samuel L. Jackson.
Where was all the pathetic whining then? Where were all the fanboys rabidly protecting the treatment of their white identity then?
Despite being about people who surpass human limitations and who live in a futuristic world just around the corner, the comic book world seems intent on living in the distant past when it comes to issues of racial identity.
There’s a fun game I like to play called ‘Are you sure about that?’ I usually play it with racists. You let them shout off their ignorant prejudices for a while before getting them to commit to a short statement which is unequivocally their belief. And then you systematically destroy that statement and watch them squirm.
I sometimes play it with my grandmother. She, like a lot of old people, is incredibly racist. After she went on about how Arabs are intrinsically violent and uncivilised, I got her to commit to the sentence: ‘Arabs have not made a worthwhile cultural contribution to the world.’ Then it’s a simple matter of explaining that algebra exists before going on to the massive cultural output during the Dark Ages and how the Renaissance wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Arabs (including the current theory that Leonardo da Vinci was the son of an Arab). The misconception provides a springboard to have a productive and wonderful conversation and, in the case of my grandmother, a greater interest in Arabic history.
Bigot: [Something that looks suspiciously like racism]
Me: Ease up on that racism there, good buddy, or we can’t be friends any more.
Bigot: It’s not racism because [group I am slagging off] isn’t really a race. It’s a [culture/sub-culture/religion/ethnicity/group/nationality/&c.].
The above is frequently seen in the comments section to Pat Condell’s YouTube tripe. For the record, I think Condell is both a racist and a terrible human being. I think it’s nothing short of a travesty when people hide behind their State-given right to the freedom of speech to justify marginalising a systemically oppressed group.
SaidSimon used the WEW to claim that the often extremely vitriolic comments made by many atheists toward Muslims was not really racism because Islam isn’t a race.
But what is really a race? The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination states:
In this Convention, the term “racial discrimination” shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life. [Source: International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Art.1(i)]
For those of you who enjoy the history of the history of the international treaties and conventions, check out the lengthy, lengthy debates which surrounded this passage. Wow.
The Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (‘CERD’) has not, as far as I’m aware, defined ‘race’ in any useful sense but tend to roll with the bellyfeel interpretation: if it looks like racism, if it smells like racism, if it walks like racism, bets are on that it’s racism.
What was fun was tying SaidSimon to the statement: ‘The Irish are not a race, they are a nationality.’ Unfortunately, he didn’t participate in the conversation much after it was pointed out that, not that long ago, they weren’t considered ‘white’. Similarly, Jews were considered a group unto themselves.
There are two ways through the conversation. The first is to be more rational when it comes to the term ‘racism’. We all seem intuitively to believe that there are racists in the world. At the pointy end, we have people who run about in their haberdashery setting fire to crucifixes. At the soggy, mundane end, we have people who don’t interview people with funny sounding names for job applications. At the same time, our best science has proven conclusively that there’s no such thing as race. What we thought were genetic differences between the tribes who evolved on different ends of the giant land mass turned out to be little more than culturally-fuelled smoke and mirrors. The most rational interpretation of this is to believe that we can have racism without the need for races.
There’s a danger there that we undervalue the importance of the culturally crafted race to an individual’s identity. It’s a short jump from denying race to whitewashing.
The other, probably more productive way, through the landmines is to ask: ‘If I have to justify my behaviour by crafting an snarky argument that I’m not picking on a race but a [culture/sub-culture/religion/ethnicity/group/nationality/&c.], am I really being an awesome person or am I being an arsehat?’
There is a pathological need for a lot of people to avoid being called ‘racist’. In Australia, a bunch of guys did a blackface sketch on national television (which aired shortly after an advert where a white guy appeased a group of blacks with tubs of fried chicken). Even the deputy Prime Minister (now the Prime Minister) had to come crawling out of the woodwork to say: ‘No, it’s not racism; it’s just the Australian sense of humour.’ Our beloved Prime Minister has also said that she understands and sympathises with white Australian’s distrust of the burqa…
Anyway, back to the subject. I can now get people to say, without a trace of doubt, that they feel that being called a racist is actually, factually, 100% worse than being racist.
So if you have to crawl out of an accusation through semantics and witchcraft, you probably shouldn’t be doing whatever it is you’re doing. (In fairness, SaidSimon wasn’t playing with a full deck: he appears to claim that, if you take a true statement and replace a noun arbitrarily, you necessarily get a new true statement).
Which brings me nicely to the question of whether atheists are an oppressed group. There have been a number of posts where I argue that we’re not and that we should stop being such insufferable crybabies. Oh my Higgs boson, you have no idea how difficult it is to be an educated white atheist, dear Internet. I can’t even go down to the supermarket and purchase atheist milk. When I go to the hospital, they don’t give me the special atheist medicine. When I walk down the street, theists don’t even say hello to me. It’s a horrible life. I don’t know how I manage it.
- People might complain about my bus adverts.
- People might try to get my church on my state… or my state on my church… or something.
- I’m an unprotected minority in the armed forces.
I think I’m still unconvinced that I’m a persecuted minority. As if reading my future state of doubt, TKoA cleverly — like a master chess player — used my own citations against me.
Respondents had various interpretations of what atheists are like and what that label means. Those whom we interviewed view atheists in two different ways. Some people view atheists as problematic because they associate them with illegality, such as drug use and prostitution—that is, with immoral people who threaten respectable community from the lower end of the status hierarchy. Others saw atheists as rampant materialists and cultural elitists that threaten common values from above—the ostentatiously wealthy who make a lifestyle out of consumption or the cultural elites who think they know better than everyone else. [Source: http://www.soc.umn.edu/~hartmann/files/atheist%20as%20the%20other.]
I agree with the respondents. I associate most atheists with those things as well.
More relevantly, is this what atheists are whinging about when they claim that they’re persecuted? In fairness, TKoA explicitly states that comparisons to persecuted groups are wrong (unlike The Australian Book of Atheism…). Should we get another bus advert to let everybody know the real incarceration rates of atheists?
I can’t work out why other atheists whine as much as they do. Over at Rationalists’s (sic) blog, atheists are the most discriminated against group in society.
Apparently, the author of the blog — who is plural and believes that knowledge is based on a priori, non-empirical facts — because people responded to the question: ‘Whom do you hate most?’ with: ‘Those atheist scumbags’, atheists are more persecuted in the United States than African-Americans (who are still more likely to be incarcerated than whites for the same crime) and Muslims (who can’t even build a mosque without most of the country freaking the freak out).
But, no. Atheists are the most persecuted group.
A now former friend on Facebook posted this video:
They then wrote in praise of these police officers for speaking out against people who were leading the charge against the evil ‘liberals’ who were using the word ‘racist’ to dominate conversations through intimidation.
For those of you who can’t get through the slack-jawed ranting in the video, it basically amounts to: ‘Dear person who accused the police of racism: “Shut up! Just shut up!” We are personally insulted by the claim that we’re racists. It’s very offensive to call us racists. We put our lives on the line to help the community and you call us racists. We protect you from terrorism, y’know? Oh, and activists are evil.’
What they should have said was: ‘We have been accused of racism. We don’t believe that we are being racist but we welcome scrutiny to clear our reputations.’
During the conversation, her husband weighed in to say that he had the right not to be called racist, even if he was racist, because being called a racist is offensive… Yeah. This was more than slightly ridiculous, and I said as much. Continue reading “Falling out of aeroplanes and hiding out in holes… and why respect is not always deserved”
The ‘race debate’ in Australia has been set back several years. It was already in trouble and the ugly side of unleashed its fury during the Hey, Hey ‘controversy’. I use ‘controversy’ liberally there because ‘Blackface is racist’ was only a controversial comment to red necks.
There’s a fundamental problem of conception in Australia and Britain, and it’s a problem with many fathers.
As with most things, the problem seems to have begun in the U.S. where the American PoC set the tone of the debate: American blacks were — entirely reasonably — interested in the problems and situations they faced. Liberating themselves was more important — entirely reasonably — than setting up a conceptual framework which could be exported to other countries. When that model was exported to other countries, instead of adapting itself into an appropriate framework, it charged ahead and became quite rigid. The systemic issues which were pushing indigenous Australians into cultural extinction, which were excluding Muslims from mainstream discussion, and which were privileging British migrants were not only functionally different to those in the U.S.: they were also conceptually different. We required vastly different tools to combat our problems.
Instead, the debate has gone entirely the other way. People who hold racist views feel vilified when others correctly identify those racist views and call on the power structures to protect their self identity. That’s what happened this week in Australia: describing racists as ‘racists’ was declared to be more disrespectful than being a racist. Continue reading “Two kinds of people in this world… racists and people who are open, frank, and honest”