Posted in Stigma Talks

Rant droppings of racism!

b me november 3

I’m BACK already!! These are rant droppings left over from hearing a few comments the other day and it made me think that maybe we just need to be reminded.  So here goes…

Have you ever heard jokes about cultures that may have passed as sort of funny to some folks but were not really?  Have you ever felt that uneasy feeling, you know that feeling where you feel like squirming in your seat?  Aw, you know what I mean.  That person who makes a remark thinking nothing of it when he says such and such about someone, and uses a derogatory term once too often heard and tolerated about a certain culture, race or religion.

The joke just slides because you are pretty sure that this person is just not racist. And yet, why am I shifting in my seat when I hear it?  That person might even be your boss, so what are you going to do?  It could be a good friend or relative whom you love, so what now?  It could be a colleague you work with infrequently and you wonder to yourself, “Do I really want to get into this?”

Sometimes you may say something, and sometimes you just may let it slide, but you still will not laugh;  still, you haven’t said anything and THAT is a very awkward  feeling…just to sit and not stand up for what you believe.  And why would you? The person didn’t say it in bad faith, so why make a stink about it?

That very religious person who may say, “Oh, aren’t you concerned to marry that person who is from a different culture, a different race and still not marry in a church that you were baptized?  Aren’t you concerned it may sort of bring you bad luck?”  {Yes, I kid you not on that comment!…sigh!}

That  squirmy feeling I get at the pit of my stomach reminds me of past times when I was a kid, listening to inappropriate racist, sexist or vulgar jokes my father used to dribble. My sister and I would just smile, sort of,  and pretend we thought it was cool or funny.  But what was the alternative?  To have him look at us with disgust as if we were not intelligent enough to grasp his “higher intelligent” meaning in that statement?  He could mutter with impatience that we were too stupid to understand anything.  The message here was, if you can’t find a racist, sexist or vulgar joke funny, you were just not smart enough to be part of the human race.  {That’s okay.  We somehow, knew that he was wrong but were smart enough to just shut our mouths and count our blessings without a huge negative reaction.}

It is the same feeling many of us get when someone is bullying another person, making snide remarks and as a bystander, it makes you feel pretty lousy but you may not respond to the bullying.   Do you know what I mean?

That’s how I was feeling the other day when I heard a comment about a religious group.   I knew with all my heart that there wasn’t any unkindness in the remark.  And another time when hearing a joke that seemed quite harmless but there was a young and impressionable youth present, I felt inclined to be a little more assertive and gently but firmly interject my correction in the way the culture was defined.

That was very hard for me to do because I didn’t want to offend the person; a defensive response may come into play and so I have to prepared to speak up, yet again.  Why is it difficult to do?  Because often,  I know that a person means no harm, it was just a joke! Don’t we always say that, “It was just a joke”?   So if you want things in life to change or even make a dent in that change, you have to be willing to be “part of that change”.  And so, I did and am trying to do.

For example, is it funny to make jokes about Indians?  Well, if you are an Indian, meaning that you are from India and want to make some jokes, I suppose that’s just honky dory, as long as  your audience is not offended…I guess.    But the insinuations I may hear  are directed to our First Nations people and no, they are not Indian.  Perhaps governments give them “Indian” status and in many conferences this term “Indian” is proper.  But let’s not be splitting hairs now.  When I hear jokes to that effect today,  many people are NOT even thinking of that!  They are just bad old habits not yet broken.   When they are voiced in front of younger people, children and teens for example, what are you teaching them?  Yes, racism is taught.  It is never ever inherent! It is simply learned from a person’s environment.  That silly joke that an uncle, cousin or grandparent said about that guy from Germany, Japan, Italy or New Guinea just to name a few, may not be proper anymore. It never was but today, we are trying to think and talk less bigoted.  Some communities are adamant about the fact that they are not racist…I tend to agree with some…they appear to be xenophobic, just plain intolerant of anyone or anything different from them.

I love comedy and I often tape shows for comedy relief and laugh therapy especially when I come home after a long shift late at night.  Some of the shows that I record on my PVR are The Big Bang Theory, Roseanne, All in the Family and The Jeffersons.    Comic relief does wonders to kick back and unwind.

By the way, you do know that the remarks from Archie Bunker in All in the Family about his son-in-law he calls Meathead and other derogatory names referring to his Polish homeland are not truly serious, right?   They are comments said with tongue in cheek, you know, the kind of comment to make us laugh at OURSELVES.  That’s right!  When Archie snarled at his neighbour Mr. Jefferson, he was not actually serious!  For those who thought he was well, folks, I hate to break the news to ya’all, the joke was then on YOU!  An African-American friend of mine once remarked about “Archie Bunker” saying that he thought that show was way ahead of its time.  Is it politically correct to hear jokes like that?  I guess not but Archie was not racist…he was mimicking the absurdity of it all.

You want to pick out radio talk shows that are deathly racist and obnoxious?  There are plenty but I don’t have to and do NOT listen to any Howard Stern type shows…good grief!

I can say that I find certain jokes within our own country (Canada) not so funny either, like the French and English issue is a lot more strained than one may care to admit especially during election time.  I am sure in other countries tensions rise during other specific times as well.  Am I right?

I am half French and the other half is English, Irish and Welsh;  I can laugh at myself and I am exposed to both fronts of attacks.    I love my mother’s French Quebecois ancestry;  I love my Anglophone heritage…mostly raised with our Irish Catholic traditions that seemed to go well with French Canadian Catholic values.

I don`t like the  bitterness directed at my other half (Anglophone) though and I don`t like any kind of deliberate cruelty on anyone.  If a person cannot speak French when he visits my hometown, Montreal, for instance, why would I give him the cold shoulder?  Why would a person try to pretend he does not understand?  If it is pride or vanity displaced, then just admit by saying you don’t speak English,  “Excusez, je ne comprend pas l’anglais”  just say it man!  But when you say this in perfect English to tourists visiting here, “I don’t speak English”…grrrr, I could slap you silly just like that, I could!

I am not talking about past histories of oppression.  Give it a rest, will you!   I am not talking about frayed nerves…I am talking about plain courtesy…manners!! So pull up your boot straps and tie them up and button your lip when you feel like spewing garbage and projecting old resentments to people who are just visiting…sheeesh!   I feel so ashamed, sometimes, hearing some people act so darn cruel.

And if there are people who have lived here (Quebec) for years and still do not speak French, well, you still can answer politely in the language of said customer or visitor if they are passing through your commercial lair.  Why on earth would you refuse a customer?  Get over yourself and start being a human being!  If you have a business, this is actually good business sense.

The same goes to any town in other English provinces in Canada! …if you don’t speak French when someone passes through, at least try to be polite about it and just say so in English or broken French.  Heck, if they are speaking German, Chinese, Russian or Arabic such as, use your hands, feet and try signing it takes that to help someone!!  Stand on your head if you have to!

Did you ever notice that most people who WILL see that you are willing to still communicate regardless of the language barrier are more open to listen?  They may even sign, draw, and write on paper to communicate.   Don’t block communication!  You never know, IF that next person who comes into your store or visits your town/city may just be a person who could change your life!   Each and every meeting with human beings, however small, impacts on you in some way.  That is how we grow and are enriched with the abundance of wisdom and insights in all our interpersonal relationships.

What irks me are the stereotyping and generalizations.  I remember at a former employment, a communications manager said to me, “Gee,  you sure don’t act English”  My response was, “Why?  Because I’m not rich and live on the mountain in Westmount.”  He sort of smiled sheepishly.

To conclude this little piece, I just want to suggest that you be more aware of  old fashioned insensitive jokes.  Be prepared to have someone come back at you with a response to let you know you have muffed up…a little.  To the bystander of such remarks, start interjecting and being part of the change.  After you have done it a few times, you will slowly get into the habit of making a comment to take a stand. It needn’t be a loud outburst…just a comment calmly and wisely added can make a whole lot of difference…and you will be making a huge dent in this huge discriminatory machine.  Be part of the change!

Cheryl-Lynn Roberts, August, 13, 2013