Joke crack­down no laugh­ing mat­ter

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS - Damien Grant

How do you sink an Ital­ian bat­tle­ship? You put it in wa­ter. OK. That re­ally makes no sense; the Ital­ians have been pretty good boat builders since they nicked nau­ti­cal de­signs from the Carthagini­ans, but I still found it funny. Maybe you did, too, which might be a prob­lem be­cause the Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion has a swanky new cam­paign urg­ing us not to laugh at even the small­est racist joke. Even a nod can lend cur­rency to the racist scourge sweep­ing the coun­try.

That took me by sur­prise. I was ig­no­rant of this out­break, but then I am an old, white, cap­i­tal­ist male. I’m far more likely to be the racist than the vic­tim. But still. I have is­sues with this lat­est non­sense from Dame Su­san Devoy, head of the Race Re­la­tions Com­mis­sion.

For a start, while in­di­vid­u­als com­mit acts of racism, real race crimes – such as geno­cide, mass de­por­ta­tions and slav­ery – are al­ways com­mit­ted by the state. The idea of a gov­ern­ment hec­tor­ing its cit­i­zens not to be racist is as cred­i­ble as Todd Bar­clay lec­tur­ing on pri­vacy.

Equally, it seems im­plau­si­ble that there are any white su­prem­a­cists who are go­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence an epiphany af­ter watch­ing a Taika Waititi video. Past ef­forts to waste tax money have fo­cused on be­hav­iour; don’t speed and don’t hit your chil­dren. This mes­sage is darker; the State is telling us what jokes to laugh at, or not to laugh at. This is dif­fer­ent from point­ing out the il­le­gal­ity and in­deed eco­nomic stu­pid­ity of re­fus­ing to em­ploy, rent to or en­gage with some­one based on their race. A joke is usu­ally a pri­vate thing, of­ten be­tween in­ti­mates. It is not a place where the Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion or any gov­ern­ment agency has any busi­ness or moral au­thor­ity be­ing in­volved. The ex­plicit mes­sage in Waititi’s nar­ra­tive is that it is wrong to even think racist thoughts; the ideas in my head are wrong, even if they lead nowhere – an Or­wellian thought-crime. This is a prob­lem for me as my head is filled with the most ap­palling mis­an­thropic dark­ness.

A day doesn’t pass where I do not con­tem­plate im­pal­ing some­one with a sol­der­ing iron (I have is­sues). I can no more con­trol th­ese ideas than I can agree with James Shaw on eco­nom­ics, yet de­spite my poor taste in hu­mour and dark in­ner rages, I should be judged on my ac­tions and on those alone. Be­ing the moral ar­biter of jokes peo­ple tell in pri­vate should be out­side a demo­cratic gov­ern­ment’s re­mit.

Di­rec­tor Taika Waititi is the face of a new Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion video urg­ing peo­ple to stand up to racism.

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