Red rags and bulls

I think anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that I’m a broad-minded character open and accepting of different cultures, races, and religions. I’m proud to be an Aussie, but I’m also welcoming of people of different race or colour. I’m broadly sympathetic to mainstream feminist ideals, and a strong supporter of the LGBTI community. I’m agnostic verging on the atheist, but I couldn’t care less if you believe in god, much less which one. Most of my opinions are based on logic and common-sense (as I see it) – it just doesn’t make sense to be discriminatory, or to profile people on random attributes. That’s just dumb.

I’m not perfect, but I am without fear – which makes a big difference – and tolerant of difference. I enjoy the variety of perspectives and backgrounds the world offers. It’s probably the thing that makes life most interesting.

All of that is by way of preamble to what I’m about to say. Call it context.

Last night scrolling through Twitter I came by a a re-tweet of something Nic Natanui had tweeted earlier in the day. For those who don’t know, Nic Nat is a high-profile, charismatic AFL footballer. He’s a huge lump of a guy, a game changer on the field and salt of the earth off of it. He also happens to be of Fijian heritage, and dark-skinned.

The tweet made no sense to me at that time. He made reference to black-face and education, and how it was only recently that he knew better. He makes reference to a woman I’ve never heard of before. Without context I didn’t know what to make of it, but it soon became clear.

A few tweets on I come across commentary, and a picture of a young boy in a West Coast Eagles guernsey, his face blacked up, and his hair in some contrivance of dreadlocks, just like Nic Nat. It seems that Nic Nat is this kids favourite footballer, and in some kind of tribute his mother did him up like Nic Nat and posted it on social media. That’s where the trouble started.

It came as absolutely no surprise to me to learn that this woman had been pilloried for her act of black-face. It was deemed as insensitive and racist. This is where Nic Nat came in. He’s a gentle soul, and tread gently. He wouldn’t judge her, instead, as his tweet retrospectively made clear, saw it as an issue of education. As he inferred, once upon a time he’d have seen it as a bit of fun, but now he knew better. Now he was educated.

I felt sad. What has the world come to when we need ‘education’, when a boy dresses up to be just like his hero? Who hasn’t done that? Who hasn’t raced around the back-yard or basketball court pretending to be James Hird or Michael Jordan or Gilly? How many people will you see today wearing jerseys with famous numbers and names on them? A kid of 8 or 9 should be immune of the controversy this has sparked. He has love in his heart. He wants just to express that, and be part of what that means – instead he is the subject of controversy, and his poor, devoted mum shouted down.

Some years ago I wrote a post about blackface at a time of great controversy. Like most Australians at that time I was ignorant of the racial background of blackface. I was ‘educated’ by American friends on the subject, and in the time since have come to realise that I was naive. I defended people who had done something without racial motivation, unaware that they would offend. They were innocent (I believed) in their hearts, but I accept that racism is in the receiving, not the giving. It’s not for me to judge what is racist if the subject of it feels it so. I have modified my perspective.

I feel now that it’s gone too far. Much of what is deemed discriminatory has virtually been codified in recent years. I think we need to reclaim some middle ground and defuse the innocuous acts that cause offence now, when they never did before. Most of all, a boy should be allowed to be a boy.

We live in an era of polarised views. In Oz, and much of the world I think, there are the ratbags who see anyone different as a threat, and demonise them. It’s one of the forces driving Donald Trump, one of the great factors behind Brexit, and a reason why in Australia we have poor refugees rotting away in detention.

Opposed to them are the ‘noble’ liberals who decry racism and discrimination in general. Ostensibly I belong to that group, except I don’t want to, and I don’t feel it. Why?

I think I belong to a smaller group of people who think for themselves. One side is riven by irrational fear and anger, but the other controlled by noble platitudes and dogma. It’s as if we are being educated to beliefs without really knowing what or why they are. It’s like religion, where you learn the catechism and know the commandments and instructed this is how you must live and this is what you must believe and to question any of it is a betrayal of faith.

This is played out every day in our social media. There is reflex outrage to anything considered remotely inappropriate. These are mostly conditioned responses however, not reasoned objections. A trigger event – such as a kid in blackface – will unleash a torrent of abuse regardless of context. Context only matters when the perspective is reasoned, but reason has no more place in this dichotomy than it has in religion. Bull sees red rag, bull charges…

I can’t support that. I’m more sympathetic to the racist who can actually explain to me intelligently his racist reasoning than I am to the person opposing him who does so only because they know no better.  As it happens I think any intelligent person understands the folly of being racist, but being a non-racist doesn’t make you intelligent if you don’t know why.

There is widespread cynicism towards so-called political correctness. I share some of that. I think we have gone nanny state in some ways, and often that there’s a lack of authenticity in what is considered appropriate behaviour. It’s no wonder there’s a reaction when so much of it is hectoring and superior. Dumb as it might be, it drives some into the other camp.

Somewhere in the middle is me. I happy to think and assess. I want my opinions to be my opinions, and not those handed to me by others. I’m passionate about critical thinking, dying art that it is.

Most that is wrong in the world today is because of unthinking conformity. It makes kids strap bombs to their bodies and in others swear unthinking fealty to the words of a prophet, or of Jesus, or a Donald Trump. It turns racism into a mob event, just because, and opposition to it into a crusade, just because.

To make it clear: racism (etc) should be opposed, but understand why it must be opposed. Because it’s wrong is not good enough a reason. Why is it wrong? What makes it so? Just knowing it is makes it a vacuous belief. This is true of anything. Believe with intelligence, reason, and discretion.

To return to the kid dressing up as Nic Nat. It’s sad that Nic Nat himself has been ‘educated’ to believe he shouldn’t approve of a little boy doing this. It’s like he’s been told what to feel and think – when the truth is to just and feel and think for yourself. Too much ‘education’ can be a bad thing.

Forget the cant and politics. In the end it’s just a boy paying tribute to his hero – and that’s how it should be viewed. That’s the context – a loving mum, a loving kid, and a tribute to the man he adores. What’s wrong with that?


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