Thursday, 30 May 2013

Why I Don't Like Blacks and Gays

In the wake of television presenter Eddie McGuire's spectacular foot-in-mouth blunder recently when he suggested on national radio that Indigenous football player Adam Goodes could be used to promote the musical King Kong, I thought now would be a good time to get something off my chest.

Firstly though for those who don't live in Australia (or have been hiding under a rock), McGuire's comment came after an incident a couple of days earlier when a young girl called Goodes an ape during a football game and he used it to draw attention to the issue of racism in sport. What made the whole thing with McGuire so bizarre was that he had played a big role in apologising to Goodes and taking a stand against racism, so many people were left going WTF when he said something so seemingly racist and offensive. I'm no Eddie McGuire fan, but I do think he was trying to make a joke about how this incident could be cynically used by the promoters of the musical to gain publicity, he just wasn't smart enough to pull it off or extract his foot from his mouth after his attempt at humour went down like a lead balloon. Instead he just panicked and made things so much worse.

But I digress. Back to why I don't like blacks and gays. Before you get too up in arms I have to be fair and admit that I hate whites and straights too, as well as coloureds and ethnics and refugees (although asylum seekers are okay). For some reason I have no problem with Christians, Muslims, Hindus or Jews and I don't mind African-Americans or Asians. If you haven't worked out yet that I'm talking about the terms, not the people they refer to then go to the bottom of the class.

The words 'blacks' and 'whites' have such negative connotations for me. They bring to mind race riots and the darkest days of the apartheid regime. They imply that race is the single characteristic that defines a person and they make everything seem so.....well, black and white. It's the same reason I don't like gays and straights, these terms reduce people to their sexuality alone. I'm much more comfortable referring to gay people or straight people. I read a book recently about a person with a disability, and I know that many in the paraplegic community are happy to refer to themselves as 'paras' while able-bodied people are 'ables' but I have problems with these terms as well, although I really have no right to.

For some reason religious labels don't worry me nearly as much even though they reduce people to a single thing, maybe because they don't have such a history of being used in a derogatory way.....except they actually do. Jew has a long history of being used as a term of abuse and Muslim has received a real beating in the media over recent years. Nationalities don't worry me either, except when a word like 'Leb' (Lebanese) becomes a term of racial abuse as it has in Australia. I like Indigenous because to me it has a real gravity to it and is so much better than 'Abo' which makes my skin crawl.

Classifying people on the basis of gender is so naturalized that it's not even noticeable, but the very first thing we do is divide people into male and female by referring to them as a boy, girl, man or woman. The gender division is so deeply ingrained in culture that to question it seems ridiculous, but this ignores the fact that many people don't fit neatly into gender categories or roles, and find them stifling (update: This article which I came across the day after I wrote this post is so interesting). I believe that in a more enlightened society gender wouldn't be as important as it is now, but sadly the world seems to be moving backwards in this regard. Just walk into any department store and witness the sea of pink clothes, dolls and accessories available for girls to get an idea of the identities they have to choose from - princess or skanky Bratz girl (seems a lot like the old virgin/whore division)

It's interesting that apart from words like rich, poor, working-class, middle-class, pleb etc, which aren't used that much to categorise people,  there are no terms to show where a person stands in the social order. Maybe it's because people like to pretend that class doesn't exist and we're all equal or it's harder to pin down someone's social class in the same way you can tell what their gender, race and even nationality are.  One thing I am sure of is that these are very good things to think about when writing if you want your characters to be multi-faceted and complex. This is where character profiles come in handy because you can develop a whole background which will give your characters depth and make them more realistic by considering their race/ethnic background, social class, religious beliefs, gender and feelings about gender roles, sexuality and disabilities and any discrimination they may have experienced in their lives. So many conflicts can emerge from these things alone that thinking about them is bound to generate plot ideas.

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