I’m guessing just about everyone is familiar with the recent events surrounding Sydney Swans player Adam Goodes, a young girl who insulted him with a racist slur, the subsequent involvement of Eddie McGuire, and the public debate on racism that has dominated media and social media ever since.
The following are some writings on the topic I found worth reading.
Helen Razer’s piece in Crikey, titled “I am racist and so are you” in which she alleges that anyone white in this country is racist and ought to own it.
Jeff Sparrow’s piece in Overland, an interesting rebuttal to the claim “we’re all racist.”
Blogger Dragonista’s piece “Entitlement should not disqualify me” and the follow-up. It’s important to read the comments as Dragonista engages with Luke Pearson, who explains why Indigenous people can become very weary of explaining their situation to white fellas.
Luke Pearson’s blog in response to Dragonista and others who share her position.
David Horton’s piece “Bone of Contention” in which he recalls some background relevant to the present.
There are of course hundreds of other pieces throughout both social and mainstream media.
A few days ago I wrote aboutprivilege and imagination, in which I argued that the current passion for “checking your privilege” could be more usefully replaced by using one’s imagination, and walking a few steps in the shoes of the other to see how that feels. Checking my privilege rather keeps it all about me, while using my imagination to envisage another’s experience makes it all about them.
I’m of the view that race is a social construct, yet another of the many ways in which some human beings categorize other human beings in order to dehumanise them, to the degree that they don’t have to be considered as equals and worthy of the same considerations as the dominant group. Racism has much in common with sexism. Both allow the dominant group to maintain a sense of superiority by measuring themselves against the perceived failings and allegedly inherent weaknesses of the others. Both allow the dominant group to maintain a sense of entitlement and privilege, because they feel superior to the others.
In both cases, the dominant group will be extremely reluctant to either examine or relinquish any of its entitlements and privileges.
It struck me as I ploughed through the at times strident, accusatory, smug, ignorant, enlightened, sorrowful, angry, bored, pissed off, exasperated, exhausted and exhausting commentary of the last week, that the discussion of racism itself had quickly evolved into a battlefield on which combatants fought for the high moral ground, casting opponents as “racists,” “privileged,” “entitled,” or in some instances, just plain “white,” the latter used as a racial insult, if we stick to the strict definition of that term.
It’s quite a thing, to besmirch another as a “racist.” It probably isn’t something that ought to be done lightly. I’ve wondered how hurling around that word as a contemptuous insult furthers the debate at all. It’s not likely to make anyone stop and think about their views, quite the opposite, it’s likely to cause anger, resentment and a hardening of the heart.
Again, I believe the answer is imagination:
When you visualised a man or a woman carefully…when you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of imagination. Grahame Greene
Greene echoes philosopher Emmanuel Levinas’ beliefs about the power of the face, and the ethical responsibility we all have to honour the face of the Other, no matter how different from one’s own. The responsibility we have to recognise and respect our common vulnerability as human beings, and to refrain from exploiting that vulnerability. To look fully at another’s face, to really see it, immediately places one in a more respectful relation to the other than the cursory, unseeing glance.
I ended the week feeling a great deal of admiration for the man at the centre of the storm, Adam Goodes. I’m not in the least interested in football, but as the rest of my household watched the Swans game I couldn’t help but observe Goodes rise above the slings and arrows of his week and immerse himself, fully focused, in his task.
This debate on the othering of some groups by more powerful groups is perhaps the most important debate there is. Racism, sexism, homophobia, hatred: discrimination of any kind, is a failure of imagination.
How do we teach that?