Beneath the Skin

Tuesday 4 August 2015

Australia is having a bit of a conversation about racism at the moment.  The booing that's oozed all over AFL player Adam Goodes for months may not have started out as racist, but it's certainly morphed into it now.  If you dare to boo at him in upcoming weeks in the way you may have done previously, then you can guarantee that that's the label your booing will receive.  (Which is unfortunate if you happen to be a person who is entirely unracist but who doesn't like something Adam does and wishes to voice your protest by a large boo, as is common to the football-going species.  This will feel entirely unfair and restrictive to you.  But, you know, maybe give it a few weeks until all this blows over.  Booing Adam Goodes this weekend will be like dancing in 3/3 time to a 4/4 song.  You don't really want to seem like a dick.  Just sit it out for a few songs, ya know?)

The whole Goodes saga has climaxed in Australia collectively lifting up a few large rocks to examine whether unconscious racism still scurries underneath our society.  There seems to be quite a bit of scurrying going on it seems.  Some of us feel repelled by that.  But it's not all that surprising.

It's hard for people to change their views in a climate of repulsion though.  Repulsion has the reverse-magnetic effect of moving two unlike groups away from each other, to a space of safety where they will demonise and label and caricature further, and makes everything more underground and poos and scurry-ey.  We seem to like to demonise and label and caricature these days, especially online.  It's why our quality of conversation is generally so inherently unsatisfying.  There's not a whole lot of space for nuance when we're sizing each other up ready to shove each other into rectangular dynolabelled boxes as quickly as we possibly can.  But we feel like we know what we're dealing with a little better that way.  It makes us feel safer.  And hell, there's a lot out there to make us feel unsafe.

Makes sense to push away, because repulsion is a horrid feeling.  But labelling a racist and putting them far from us is sort of interesting when you consider that that is what racists are doing in the first place.  Seems our quick-flex reactions are universal.  And they're understandable, too, on a biological level.  After all, our ancestors taught us, millennia after millennia, to fear that which isn't Our People.  It's leeched in our bones, in our synapses, in our limbic system, at contradistinction to other parts of us that given the right environment yearn to flourish higher than a reactionary state.  We can be higher when we're not being fight-or-flighted.  But that fight-or-flight nervous system response is what pings continually in many of us these days, and we feel it fire up when we see that person in front of us who isn't My People, whether racially or ideologically.  From a limbic perspective, it doesn't matter at all if that person is a minority and you happen to be a majority.  Look at the 1%.  Look at white Australians.  All our ancient limbic system knows is the quick sizzle, that fight-or-flight reaction that suited us on the Serengeti but is so fracturing in our current urban crumbly society.  All the limbic system senses is a possible impending danger clothed in the sinister garb of Not My People.  And depending on how your frizzled central nervous system lets you play it, they can be fucking everywhere.

Despite everything Descartes and your limbic system tell you, you're no more separated from your environment than your body is from your mind.  Everything affects everything else.  Your society affects you personally, and Australia has had racism etched into its own bones because that's what happens when His Majesty's ships come into port and one culture begins being slaughtered to within 10 inches of its life.  It might not feel like it to us, but 230 years is really nothing at all.  That's all the space there is between now and then.

Some of us find it abhorrent to keep talking about it.  We're sick of it, frustrated with what we are supposed to do with that information.  Why should I feel guilty?  Well, you shouldn't.  You weren't there, you didn't do anything to make that happen.  What your response requires is to go micro, to examine your own inbuilt assumptions, to see what you carry around in yourself that you've imbibed, and whether you want to continue to do so.

So we have all of these reactions at a time when our society is changing, as societies continually do ~ examining its biases, refusing to accept distinctions that seemed so obvious to those framing themselves within different stories in different ages that gave them different biases.  This is good.  We call out stuff that sucks, that demeans people, like racism and misogyny.  And like all modern people, we want change to happen last Thursday.  But just because we have decided to move on from an historical position doesn't mean that it's gonna happen even next Thursday.  If we don't allow for our bodies' reaction and our society's shadow to catch up, all we will hear reflected back to us is our own stridency.

We need to make far more space, in this quick-to-judge age, for what repels us in others.  People need space to tease out their biases and their creepiness in some kind of safety, without condemnation from those who are quick to take refuge for their own safety in self-righteousness.   If we don't create that space for each other, then the change will only happen on a superficial level in the macro.  If we desire change as much as we say we do, then we need to care a little more for the micro who make it up, encrusted though they may be.  After all, how else but encrusted could one be after swimming in neoliberal swamp water most of their lives?  And isn't that what we would wish for ourselves?

Control the Chaos (Cosmic Onion Bag)

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