There’s a song in the musical “Avenue Q” called “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist.” It goes a little something like this:
Everyone’s a little bit racist
Doesn’t mean we go
Around committing hate crimes.
Look around and you will find
No one’s really color blind.
Maybe it’s a fact
We all should face
Everyone makes judgments
Based on race.
I’m inclined to agree. In Psychology, we’re taught that it’s easier for the human brain to register information when things are grouped together. For example, we say “3 groups for 4” instead of 12, or write down phone numbers like this: “04XX XXX XXX” (i.e. with a space after every 3 digits), to make it easier to comprehend.
The same principle applies to race. That’s how stereotypes are born — it’s our sad attempt at trying to understand the behaviour of 6 billion people. Instead of trudging through the personal histories of everyone in the world, it’s simply easier for our brains to think of Asians, Americans, Australians, Europeans etc as neatly-packaged single units.
Plausible as this explanation is, we all know that it can get out of hand. Like the song says, even if we don’t go committing hate crimes on the streets, racism comes in a non-violent, “benign” form too — better known as prejudice. It doesn’t kill people, but it’s often embarrassing - and ALWAYS awkward - from the receiving end.
A colleague once sent an email around saying “Three Chinese students will be using one of the consulting room in our floor to work on their case study. Please let me know if they are disturbing you.” I found this a bit offensive - couldn’t she have just simply said that there are students in the consulting room? Was it completely necessary for her to point out that the students were Chinese? It kind of gets you thinking: would they be disrupting our work because they are students, or is it because they’re Chinese students? If the students aren’t Chinese, would they still be a bother?
Let me give you another example: a few weeks ago, I moved out of the place I was staying because the landlady came up to me one morning and said, “In Australia, we only take 3-minute showers.” This pissed me off immensely, firstly because it’s not exactly true. There’s been a drought in Australia for some time and efforts to conserve water are encouraged — taking shorter showers among them. However, when I asked my Australian colleagues and friends about it, they all agree that there is no standard length of time for showers. More than anything, they reckon, my landlady was more concerned about her water bill than conserving water for the nation’s benefit.
But what ticked me off the most is that she didn’t have to start her sentence with “In Australia…” It’s like pointing out the obvious: “You’re not from here, this is ourcountry, so you have to do things our way. If you take a minute longer to shower your ass, then just GTFO.”
Well, mothafucka, two can play that game, “In the Philippines, we don’t really care where you’re from. We’re just happy you took the time to visit our humble country. Sorry about the mess; we’re a third-world country, you see. But we welcome you here anyway. Here, have another helping of rice.” I’ve never been prouder to be Filipino than I am now after moving overseas, because for a nation that isn’t blessed with much material wealth, we’re pretty damn generous with what little we’ve got — and we generally don’t feel the need to make any distinctions between where people are from.
Don’t get me wrong; I love Australia, and people here are generally nice. For every racist asshole I meet comes a ton of other wonderful folks that make up for it. But let it be known that racism and prejudice, in any shape or form, is never a good thing. It’s perfectly fine to be protective of your country’s resources and culture, but when people stuff up (like I did), it’s not out of arrogance or disrespect — honest mistakes happen, and a few things may have just gotten lost in translation. Welcome to the world, my friend, where every culture is a composite of everything else. There are a million and one ways to say something, so choose your words wisely. And even if it is easier for our brains to understand people when framed under stereotypes, describing someone negatively by virtue of their race or nationality is pretty damn tactless.
To end this rant, I leave you with the best comeback to a racist comment I’ve ever heard, from my hero, Natalie Tran. Skip to 2.10 for the best bit.
Make sweet love, not bitter war,
One Koala entered someone’s house, looking for water and shade, and here’s what happened when the owner gave him something to drink.
That settles it, I’m just going to move into the jungle. Clearly, I belong there anyway.