PARDON MY cocksureness in saying so, but in both spoken and written realms, context is king. When someone says that Irish have got their brains up their behinds, Chinese have got eyes so small as to look like they squint all the time, and that Indians are such skinflints as to damage shop items themselves to get discounts off the same goods, these statements are immediately perceived as outrageously racist.
(1) when the utterers of these words are, respectively, Irish, Chinese or Indian themselves, or married to the same; the statements are made in a comedy skit; or the statements are so obviously made in jest, then any opprobrium arising out of such race-insensitive remarks is probably misplaced.
(2) when the statement is made in a dead serious fashion, when a joke or levity was neither expected nor given, and what’s more, no collateral remarks (to dilute the impact) were given as well, then it is a context that indeed, smacks of intolerance, insensitivity, and, sorry for using such a loaded term, racism.
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To be sure, we more or less get along as best as could be expected with the person concerned, who we’ll call, to make sure there’s no ambiguity, Rasputin the Racist (we’ve blogged about him before). He’s basically a decent chap (frankly the term is a bit generous in describing him), given to arrogant outbursts sometimes, and can’t help but boss us around (we’ve been shift partners the last few months) but as long as we do our work and we recognize each other’s territories, we’re cool.
Which is why we were a bit surprised at what SuperBisor (our former shift partner) overheard from him just earlier today, a few hours before the weekend started. When asked why, on a nippy windy day, the lunch room windows were wide open, he matter-of-factly answered, coz of all that effing Asian shit you’re eating, (the smell) makes my eyes water. I don’t know if it was unfortunate or lucky, but SuperBisor, whose girlfriend is Pinay, also ate rice and an unspecified dish that day, besides myself.
Actually, not so surprised.
Effing of course refers to another word, emphasis on the (sound of the) first letter of that phonetically sensitive word (“f”), and, adding insult to injury, he had to use “shit” to describe the food he disliked smelling. (His manners and upbringing probably assigned minimum profanity to the said word, but that certainly is no excuse.) Although he was referring to the various foods of (what he thought was) Asian origin that day, I was quite aware that, being my shift partner, he was exposed to my (usually) spicy fare almost everyday, so it was no great leap to presume he had been feeling the same way about my work lunches and work dinners.
[ If it helps any btw, the last time I looked, I was the only Asian (Polynesians don’t count) in the workplace. ]
Having said that, it has not so much bearing on today, but he had made similar remarks about my repasts, just that this was the first time (1) he had made such a patent declaration of what he felt, and (2) he felt so strongly about the matter that he said it to other Kiwis, only belatedly realizing that those same Kiwis were regular consumers of the food he found deplorable.
Lastly, he previously made a remark about Filipinos that he might have made in jest, but done in such poor taste that he almost got in trouble if not for the fact that he was at the time, given the benefit of the doubt. Not so now.
The central issue to me after SuperBisor told me about it was : do I just, in the name of pakisama (“getting along”) and harmony with my shift partner, just let it slide, as did so many slighted migrants thousands of times all over the world every day? Or would I actually file a grievance against not just this one instance but against so many other instances of “unacceptable acts” (a term coined by the company that, if proven, would warrant anything from a warning to outright dismissal)? Damn the torpedoes, bite the bullet and hit a home run for all aggrieved migrants here and elsewhere?
Damned if I wasn’t going to end the work week differently this week.
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Boss, is there a way grievances can be settled internally first before anything formal is sent to head office or Australia? was the compromise question I posed to Site Boss. No screaming protest, but at the same time, by gosh, I was gonna show Rasputin that I wasn’t gonna let this pass.
What, have you got a grievance against ME? said Boss, who knew it wasn’t him.
No boss, it’s someone here I’m not prepared to identify. Yet. But the twinkle in my Asian eye told him it was just one person I was referring to, and someone he knew fully well was capable of grievance-eliciting acts.
Well, what did he say? he squawked. I told him.
Well, why didn’t you just tell him to eff off? Although he knew that given the situation, my temperament and the fact that Rasputin is my direct superior, I would never do such thing.
I was hoping it could be more formal boss, because as others here will tell you, it’s not the first time. Actually, I work well with him (an exaggeration) and he’s OK most of the time, I just want him to stop (his racially insensitive remarks).
Well, don’t worry, I’ll just give him a GOOD ONE (making a punching motion in the air), but seriously, I’ll give him a good talking to, hold on to that grievance first OK Noel?
Which is what I was hoping for in the first place. OK, Boss (smiling).
Meantime, just stay out of sight, because sparks are gonna fly out of this room.
Which I thought was unnecessary, because Rasputin’s instinct was gonna be that SuperBisor ratted on him, and there were other people in the room too.
Actually at that point I didn’t care anymore, because I knew (1) Rasputin’s bottom was gonna get a good kicking, and (2) by then the weekend had almost begun.
*** ** ** ** ***
Just out of curiosity, did you think I or SuperBisor (practically an honorary Pinoy by now) overreacted? How would you have responded?
Thanks for reading, and happy weekend!
- why beer isn’t a sure thing even in a bar & resto district (ylbnoel.wordpress.com)
- Invisibility, “Racist” Responses, and the Mirror (arithmachic.com)
- The Utility of Race Jokes (thecrimson.com)
- Gaycism And The New Normal: The ‘Hot’ Trend In TV Is Bigotry (thoughtcatalog.com)
- Race Files: Why “Racist” Is Such a Powerful Word (migranttales.net)
- missing mangga, snubbing progessive lenses and saying hi to an honored NZ guest (ylbnoel.wordpress.com)
- Asians are 14% of the city’s students but win 60% of the seats to elite high schools in a competitive exam. Do other ethnic groups A) Study harder, B) Learn from Asian culture, or C) File a lawsuit? [Obvious] (fark.com)
- How to know if you’re a racist (halfsigma.com)
- to be asian is to embrace 3/5 of all people, and 2 of 4 hemispheres (ylbnoel.wordpress.com)
- Group calls attention to ‘racially insensitive’ costumes (foxnews.com)