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Thursday, March 15

Mildly Racist

I'm attracted to the subject of racism like a moth to a flame. I know that if you play with fire you get burnt, yet I can't quite resist this subject, despite having had the occasional singe from it. I know that intellectually I'm not a racist. I also know that this country's culture gives me prejudices relating to all sorts of attributes, be they cultural, racial, social, religious, whatever. That's human nature. If I see a nun I will act differently towards her than a woman in a hijab or a girl in a shell suit, or someone in a business outfit of some sort. There. I've said it.

Thing is, I love the power of words and ideas to make people react. My mistakes with use of humour on the subject of racism is misinterpreting the effect that humour has had, or not making clear my position, or not gaining the trust of the audience to believe that position. It's hard. The more you protest, the more you may as well be branding yourself a racist.

I came up with a stand-up routine last night, which I think is very funny. I know that I can't do it. It makes a point or two, but is more based on people sensitivities about words and how words should not have a power unless they're used in the context of that power. I write that here and even I'm not sure I believe it. It's a reasonable rationale, but perhaps part of the glee from this routine comes from the ability to say the unsayable - an ability I don't think I've proved I actually have. But let's say you have the right to say the things you shouldn't say, then you'd be chuffed to use that ability.

Here's a routine I don't expect I would perform. I've put it in a box to demonstrate that this is a comic routine and not some racial tirade. It's to be taken as a humourous attempt:

I had tried to make a point about racism by, ironically, being racist, which, when taken out of context, is just "being racist", which isn't what I intended at all. I was illustrating the genuine attitude of Bernard Manning, doing an impression of him and then stopping the impression to tell him off. The word I said as Bernard, and which offended people was the word "paki". See, I can feel buttocks clenching around the room, just from saying that word. It's amazing isn't it that two syllables can have so much power. The power to clench people's arseholes. You could make it into a cure for diahorrea.

I had the squits terribly, then I got this remedy from the chemists. It's called "PakiWog". Apparently you just read the name on the box and your sphincter goes so tight that nothing can come out.

Already, I can feel people judging me as a racist for saying those words. A word is not racist. It's all about context. These words are not being directed at anyone. I'm just showing you them. In fact, perfectly innocuous words can be just as racist - "your sort", for instance, can have a much bigger subtext than "Paki". Yet, we're really sensitive about words like this.

I'm not saying that it's acceptable to use these words. I don't think people should use the word "Paki", unless they are, perhaps, describing something as "being a bit like a pack", in which case, perhaps "pack-ish" would be just as good.

But like it or not, racial words can't be brandished around wildly, and for my troubles I got a reviewer describe that performance as "Mildy Racist". What the fuck is "mildly" racist? What could possibly be mild about racism? What did she mean "mildly" racist? Is that the acceptable face of racism? "Well, it was racist, but only mildly". What's that like? "Slightly, genocidal"? It doesn't make sense.

I got a heckle one "Mildly racist!?" you weren't doing it properly. I'm not a racist!

Some of that routine is bracketed with the material I sometimes use about racism, but the middle section (virtually all of the routine, in fact) involving the power of words, is the bit I don't feel I could do. Even though there are some good poo gags in there.


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