Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The thing to do with history

is learn from it, not pretend it didnt happen.

Whether it's Tintin, or Enid Blyton, or even P G Wodehouse (one of my all time favourite authors), the point is that the (now politically-incorrect) terms used in those comics/books are merely reflections of the attitude of the times. None of it was maliciously meant - at least in the three I've mentioned. I'm certain of that, because otherwise the characters would not have been likable, and any maliciously racist overtones would have been set in concrete.

Enid Blyton might have used Gollywog in a lot of her fairy tales - possibly in ALL her fairy tales, even - but in none of them is Golly bad just for being a dark-faced, red-lipped and curly-haired caricature of Africans. Golly is just as likely to be as brave or helpful or naughty as the next all-white character! Removing Golly from all the latest editions of Enid Blyton's books is just silly. Banning Tintin is a stupid thing to do. Letting Nazi-erected buildings be destroyed (like in former East Berlin) either through neglect or wilfully, is terrible! Merely erasing the physical signs of a not-exactly-edifying history doesnt change that history. Glorifying Nazism is the true crime; teaching about it in schools, so that children learn about both good and bad, is the sensible thing to do.

A slight segue now, but not completely unrelated:
A while back, one of the partners in my workplace described someone as "the nigger in the woodpile" while on the phone. I do believe that it was not nastily meant - unpleasant though he can be, he is not overtly racist, so I think he didnt even realise what he had said. But it made everybody within hearing look up in shock and disbelief, and truth to tell, I was just as taken aback. However, it never crossed my mind to take it as a slur against me personally. Yet his secretary immediately bustled over and apologised for his having said the "n" word in my presence.

On the one hand, I know why she did that - I'm the only non-Caucasian in my office. But there was a part of me which wondered: why did she single me out for the apology? Was that term only supposed to be offensive to me, and not to everybody else? Should she not have included everybody in the apology, since the "n" word is a no-no in formal company, rather like "f*ck"? And, had I not been present, would there have been an apology at all, or even a need felt for one?

She might have thought she was being politically correct, but it just made me feel awkward. The N-word - and the attitude behind that slur - should be anathema to everybody, not just those with skin colour that isnt white! I guess she didnt realise that her apology only served to emphasise that she didnt much mind the N-word herself, but she felt obliged to make sure I wasnt offended.

Am I making too much of what is essentially a little thing? Perhaps. But it still did make me think. Me, I feel that a lot of PC terms are merely that - terms, for show. Whitewashing over unpleasant attitudes. Because really, not-so-deep inside, we know that racist and chauvinist attitudes still exist. They've just gone a little bit undercover. I'll call myself cynical - yet again - because I cant help feeling that a lot of the time, being PC is a lot like being dishonest.

(Note: I do like most of my colleagues, I dont believe they are racist, and I'm sure the feeling is reciprocated. My workplace is quite pleasant, really!) :)

1 comment:

meerkat said...

when she apologised to you, you should have bravely tried to suppress tears and then failed to do so. so you run towards to the loos and sob heavily there. come back looking all upset, go home early because you cannot handle it. take a month off work with paid leave because of racially induced stress.

then when they try to fire you for you patchy attendance and general emotional fragility take them to the cleaners for racial discrimination and make a good packet.:-)

on the other hand, you can also reciprocate her apology with an apology of your own and go around to all the other staff and offer them all an apology.