Human rights

Hey PC Police! Context important when judging what's racist

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Anglo-Indian comedian Russell Peters (image via http://says.com/)

What's wrong with light-hearted jibes between mates of different skin tones and racial backgrounds? Indian-born Sameer Murthy puts the case for context when judging what's racist. 

IN A moment with my friend, he called me a “Curry Muncher!”. How was I supposed to react? Was I supposed to yell at him and say how offended I was at being called a derogatory term or “name and shame” him on a social media network to teach him a lesson? Instead, I just laughed along with him because in the context of our banter, he meant no harm and was just having a bit of fun.

After all, I am a second generation Australian of Indian descent who has lived a privileged middle class life in this country. I wasn’t specifically being told that my race is inferior to another, although some more ultra-sensitive souls may see it that way.

This is where I feel context is extremely important, because if this were an Aboriginal in my position being called a derogatory term, it is simply plain wrong and clear because we are reminding them of the horrors of their land and culture being violently stripped away along with the inequalities they face in life.

In the case of an African-American, it relates to their ancestors being forcibly taken away in chains. Anti-Semitic remarks surely need no explanation of the hurt they cause. Donald Trump’s statements about many Mexican illegal immigrants “bringing crime” and being “rapists”, deserve the utmost condemnation because that could not be categorised as mere playful banter; such words have the ability to incite hatred and racial violence.

There is generally a relative lack of sympathy most people feel for Caucasian victims of racism when compared to the attention given to an African or Asian. This clear case of double standards is rarely challenged in the media and is largely accepted. However sometimes this can badly exposed as we saw on ABC’s Q&A where the media applauded the Lebanese-born individual, Khaled Elomar, who confronted Pauline Hanson about her Islamophobic feelings.

Yet with the exception of The Australian, there was not much media coverage about the same individual’s sexist, anti-Semitic and anti-western tweets, which are arguably worse than anything Hanson has said. The media must be more balanced when reporting cases of racism. It would have been better to have had someone as respected as Waleed Aly to point this out.

Sometimes I wonder what the reaction would be if anyone part of the PC machine heard a conversation between me and my Asian friend, where we often take light-hearted stereotypical jibes at each other in good nature. It is a part of our longstanding mateship, but an outsider could perceive this as a heated conversation full of supposedly racial terms when it really is nothing like that. Of course, it would be wrong to have this kind of conversation with a stranger or someone who genuinely does take offence at any racial stereotype so a line must clearly be drawn there.

Popular Canadian Russell Peters, an Anglo-Indian comedian, during his 2013 Australian tour.

I believe the emergence of the PC machine is why a comedian like Russell Peters is so popular, because he will gladly mock and openly talk about certain stereotypes which other people tend to observe and know about a culture. It would be hard to find a character like the Simpson’s Apu today, because people would find it too confrontational. I’m not the biggest fan of a non-Indian like Hank Azaria voicing the character and perhaps it is a bit “racist”. However I can see why people find the character funny, and while not speaking for every individual of Indian origin, I certainly don't find it offensive. It’s purely to do with the comic effect it has and all about the context.

Sometimes I wished we considered issues more carefully before labelling someone as "racist".

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