I witnessed a peculiar little scene this week in a supermarket. I will not say which one. To be fair when it comes to not naming, every little helps. It involved a young parent dressing down a shift manager about a sign. As it transpired, they thought it was a racist practical joke. It involved those little blue chips you get, to put in any one of three boxes, each labelled with a corresponding local charity to cast your vote for it to receive a share of a monthly donation from said company. Now, if you get a chip and you do not wish to use it they direct you where to put them, it is a box on the customer services/tobacco counter. As it turns out there was a young member of staff working there. The sign, which pointed towards the box in which to put said chips, also pointed at this member of staff, who happened to be black, it said “Unwanted tokens” with a big arrow underneath. The scene was getting loud, the parent was accusing the manager of the sign being a prank, and the manager was quite clearly mortified by both the idea and the situation.
Now I am yet to find a case of such an innocent, benevolent even, considering what said tokens are used for, phrase being potentially misconstrued as the worst and most offensive racism. To start with I thought the customer was being preposterous, but then I wondered how I would have addressed it if I had noticed it. I think that had I done so, I feared that to mention it would be potentially catastrophic, betraying my own unconscious prejudice. What if the manager didn’t get it? What if the manager decided I was trying to be funny, and decided to ban me for racially abusing the staff when I was purely concerned about people’s feelings. I was stumped.
Problem is, because it was raised by someone else, it is impossible for me to truly say whether it would have registered with me or not. I am 99% sure it would never have, but obviously I cannot say as I will never have the benefit of seeing the notice without the knowledge of said misunderstanding. I had heard what the fuss was before I saw the sign. One of the other bystanders said the complainant saw two other staff members laughing and blamed them for doing it. I seriously struggle to believe that as even the most vapid millennial Saturday-worker would know that is instant dismissal and possible prosecution. Although, I have to say, I really did sympathise with the shift manager, who would have to have racist bullying under things he oversaw in future appraisals. From what I have been told by managers I have had, in modern times theft, violence, or inebriation on duty from drink or narcotics are all preferable to having bullying against your name. Even if found not to be culpable. It is apparently as meritworthy as necrophilia. So you can imagine what racial bullying is considered. This could all be from an innocent misunderstanding as well.
This stayed with me, I think it raises some vital points about our moral compasses and how I feel, they are nowhere near to being calibrated to what we vocalise as offensive in this world of easily voiced outrage for mass-consumption. I have to say, if the person making the fuss was not as offended as made out then to me they are the villain of the piece and culpable of the worst kind of shallow bullying.
I won’t waste time justifying by saying I am not a racist, in fact some of my best…….you know? Fact is, in this day and age we really shouldn’t have to explain that we are not prejudiced. It is no longer a liberal viewpoint. It is a life skill and if you don’t have it, well, you are….broken I guess. It is like not being able to recognise numbers, something is missing and you are not capable of existing in 21st century humanity.
Still, pump the brakes all you urbane journeymen, before you call me naive, I know racism is far, very very far, from over, I am talking in a national psyche sense, not referring to site talk and prison yards, inner city playgrounds, and behind boardroom doors. After all, I am from the construction industry. I worked for years for a company where the MD once looked at me incredulously, after I inquired if he hired a particular candidate, and said; “I am not going to hire a Paki” (candidate was Lebanese).
This was at the top, and it was evident everywhere else too. This is in a supermarket, and I am stating something about our perceptions of what causes offence, rather, if the truth be told, what we consider prejudiced, because I think if we handed out polygraph tests as often as we did those little blue discs, and asked the question, we would find people vocalise potentially offensive things judged internally based on what we think others find offensive rather than what truly offends us.
Look at the perfect example in the so-called “Sachsgate” Russell Brand and Johnathan Ross answer machine affair. Something like two complaints, until the story was picked up by the press, then the number multiplied by scores of thousands, and the majority of them never heard the message until directed to by the Daily Mail, so who caused the offence? Still, you give sodium pentothal to everyone who complained I bet ten per cent of truly offended people would be generous, and I bet most of the other ninety were too stupid to even know why they complained.
After all “token” only refers to a clumsily added and blatantly orchestrated placement of a person or thing of contrary origin/gender/belief/race/proclivity. South Park is where I first heard it being used to describe a black person, as the surname of the only black child in the class. Not going to get bogged down in whether that is racist or not. I never found South Park funny for the most part, but that term, most would agree is generally pretty innocuous compared to many others.
So what is it offensive to notice about people, is it only if we are referencing it pejoratively? Maybe so. Take the characters in WASP collective “Friends” calling the exhibitionist neighbour; “cute naked guy” until he puts on weight and then he is; “ugly naked guy” saying that if you are not a size 4 beach bod still able to stamp your feet in time to a visually synced Rembrandts hi-hat then you are physically repugnant, after all, the prequel scene shows us the only thing that turned him from “cute” to “ugly” in the world of the mid-nineties sit-com giant is putting on weight.
Could it be that it is only okay in self deprecation? The natural successor in the proven three guys/three girl format inheritor show, The Big Bang Theory, is chock-full of self-deprecating Indian jokes about diet, poverty, caste, and religion, as well as a non-stop barrage of antisemitism, are we to really say it is okay to jest about billions of others if one of them is doing it (whilst getting a large amount of money and endorsement)?
Then if you say that is trivial and just focusing on modern entertainment, a TV show (albeit shows watched by a significant proportion of the world’s people). I will have to look at other seemingly exempt culture-bashing.
My all-time favourite double standard being Oriental Martial Arts. Now if we made a movie where someone praying to Allah got up and started going “ALOOBY LOOBY AKKY WACKY-BACKY-AKBAR” with a goofy grin it would quite rightly be called offensive. Yet we see in endless (and massively unfunny) sketches and movies people dressed in Gi’s and making kiai (“Spirit Shout”) but with silly noises, exaggerated faces and ululating (Bowfinger, Dumb and Dumber, Naked Gun, I could add thousands more). This is something I truly DO find offensive. I have practiced martial arts since childhood. It means a lot to me. I used to hate walking home in my gi (outfit) when I was about ten, from the sports centre through town, getting non-stop banal imbeciles catcalling “Hai-Yah” at me, then laughing as if they had just outwitted Peter Sellers and Noam Chumsky, and looking around at their goofball idiot friends for validation of their bullying and intimidation of a solitary child.
This is a very profound, hugely beneficial, and spiritually bolstering activity practiced worldwide, to, amongst other things, give physical strength, peace of mind, pain relief, meditation, and many other benefits, including religious ones. It is considered sacred and precious to ancient peoples, scholars, theologians, warriors, philosophers, and countless others across the globe. The body and mind health benefits of these arts are beyond question. Yet why is is fair game for boring and unoriginal so-called comedians to mock it for cheap laughs from cheap audiences while the same audiences call offence at something that they know others are bound to and then pass it off as their own outrage rather than say the truth; “This is my flimsy, transparent attempt at being heard on social media. I am in no way offended but I feel the need to make out that I am and I cannot for the life of me give you a reason why.” Why do they not put that on Facebook?
Sorry, I have let my own outrage into this article. Although maybe that is the point. Something irks me for a reason, it is my reason and I have articulated it. Are we making a clear path towards moral tomfoolery for tomorrow’s generation? Making it so they truly will not have a clue what is going on in the realm of societal standards and may end up being afraid to say something they feel is wrong, something genuine that needs addressing. However because of repercussions that they do not agree with, and they know will come from a bourgeois source and be totally insincere but followed by masses draped in Emperor’s New Clothes carrying trouble and reprisals that make heartfelt commentary and analysis something that is not only avoided, but one day, also forgotten. I am in mind of what George Orwell said: “I wrote 1984 as a warning, no a f**king instruction manual”
Just as a little aside, a much less dramatic version of Matthew Mconaughey soliloquy in A Time to Kill, when explaining the supermarket scene, I did not specify the gender or race of anyone involved, think about what you imagined them to be, then take that and realise that it doesn’t matter a toss. I for one celebrate our identities, I do not want us all to be the same, simply because we are not. We may be equal, but we are not the same. There is a difference. People need to stop being upset at that fact and trying to sue/sack/censor others for it.