I just don’t get it

A couple of you have written in with comments about my using terms that you clearly find sexist, racist or discriminatory. It’s true that I write and speak in a fashion that is far from what might be considered politically correct. Am I insensitive?

I’ll get to that, but first, let me tell you about my Primary School.

I suppose my readers on the other side of the Pacific Ocean might know it better as an Elementary School, but let’s go with the UNESCO designation for the moment.

I thought of my Primary School as a fairly typical example (a Public School, if that matters any). Most kids do, unless they have some sort of basis for comparison.

The most popular kid in my school was Koori. He slightly edged out another who was Chinese for the top spot. My school experience was quite the eclectic mix of races and cultures, with Arabs, Indians, Italians, Greeks, Turks, Russians, Germans, Polacks, British, Welsh, Israelites, Japanese, Dutch, Moroccans and more than I can put names to. Statistically, white Australians were in a slight minority there. Honestly, I never noticed. I don’t think any of us did. We were all Australians, regardless of our genetic heritage, or the original nationalities of our parents and that’s how we thought. I don’t think even the colour of our skins even really registered at the time. It’s only in reflection that I realise that we had a lot, and outside of a couple of them, I cannot remember distinctly who was which.

Religious Education classes (called ‘Religious Instruction’ in the system at the time) was impossibly overburdened. There were only enough instructors for eight or so of the dozen or more religious groupings, everyone else got a kind of a free period. Many kids chopped and changed Religious Instruction classes; some to get the free period, some to find out what the other religions were teaching, and some to spend more time with their friends. Few of our instructors had an issue with any of these, and welcomed children switching from instruction class to instruction class more or less at will.

Considering that we’re talking about the 1960s and 1970s, it seems odd that we never – at the time – considered either race or religion to be important factors in the social pecking-order. Of course, there was a social ladder – there always is – but neither race nor creed seemed to have any place in it. The notion of discrimination based on either was – to us – a quaint, historical notion that we read about, but did not experience. It clearly had no place in our young lives.

It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I heard a racist comment for the first time. I cannot even recall the specifics. It was from some prominent local political figure at the time. I found it profoundly shocking. Even more so that some of the people present seemed to agree with it. Who were these people, I wondered. Neanderthals? Time-travellers from the past? The notion was just so nonsensical that I simply couldn’t understand it.

It was more than a dozen years later before I heard another such comment. From a man who was otherwise educated, erudite, civilised and well-spoken. A consultant for our successful and expanding start-up, he suddenly cautioned us about hiring “black devils” and how they were all “lazy” and “thieves”. The room went into shocked silence, and there was no indication of agreement anywhere.

We ditched him pretty quickly after that.

Racism, segregation, religious discrimination, nationalist chauvinism, gender and sexual discrimination … seriously, I just don’t get it.

While it might all be trumpeted very loudly in society of late, I find the notions completely alien. I don’t understand how any person could think like that, let alone how thousands, or even millions could do so. That half of the people in a peaceful country could wake up one day and go to war on the other half because of some cultural divergence or geographical accident that took place a thousand years or so ago.

The largest problem I have in my social circles is trying to figure out what gender pronouns to use when I meet someone new, and whether they might be offended if I just ask them what gender they identify as. (“You people and your quaint little categories.” – Captain Jack Harkness)

So, am I insensitive? I suppose I probably am. I’ve hardly ever seen anyone mistreated because of their race, nationality or religion. Only once, actually, and the person committing the misconduct was clearly a fool in many ways. That it doesn’t happen around me could be because I hang with the wrong crowd – or the right one. Maybe that’s being insensitive. Maybe that’s just being plain broken, I don’t know.

If you ask me, though, the notion that any individual might automatically somehow be accurately described by the traits of some broad demographic category or classification … well, that’s just plain bigotry. I do know that when I see it, even if I don’t understand it or have any idea at all how it feels.

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Categories: Culture, Opinion.

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