Sunday Star-Times

Racism isn’t sexy

Abuse of Kiwi comedian shows how casually cruel people can be.

- Alison Mau

Ask anyone what they look for in a romantic partner, and sense of humour will inevitably come close to the top of the list. Being able to make someone laugh is often the first step to making a connection that could lead to love, or just (fully consensual) sexy times.

Conversely, mean people with cruel (and racist) humour are just deeply unfunny. And unsexy.*

Imagine being the date of the guy who approached Kiwi comedian James Roque after a recent gig and shook his hand while repeating ‘‘hello’’ in a fake Asian accent, complete with r’s in place of the l’s. Not talking to him like a human being, just bowing and repeating the word stupidly over and over. Not funny, just cruel. Is it just me, or is anyone else wondering whether that guy EVER gets any?

James wrote about this experience at The Spinoff this week, in a piece that elegantly explained why the menu of Christchur­ch restaurant Bamboozle most definitely counts as racism. He explained that his encounter with the unfunny dude took place just a few months back, in our largest and most ethnically diverse city.

And before you start tearing your hair and rending your clothing, no, ’splainers, I wasn’t ‘‘outraged.’’ I did not jump onto social media and ‘‘pile on.’’ My reaction was more like quiet revulsion.

Roque’s treatment by this guy made my skin crawl. No second date for you, unfunny crassman.

The worst thing about it might have been the hilarity this Neandertha­l’s little wheeze prompted from his group of friends, who laughed as Roque walked away in shock. It’s worth pointing out that unlike you, guy in the checked shirt and slicked hair, Roque is properly funny.

He makes his dough by standing up in front of evils like you and making you laugh. Ho, ho, the irony!

But I’m not surprised that, even as a profession­al comedian, he was unable to think of a witty on-the-spot comeback. That’s too much to ask of anyone faced with that kind of stupidity.

This, of course, is exactly the kind of racist ‘‘joke’’ that the recent campaign from the Race Relations Commission­er Susan Devoy sought to highlight.

Give Nothing to Racism calls on the friends and workmates of those who still, in 2018, think that mocking someone’s race is good for a laff, to forgo the buyin, the chuckle, the giggle, that will give them the fuel to keep doing it.

It’s a clever campaign fronted by a number of truly accomplish­ed New Zealanders, many of whom will have faced exactly this situation at times throughout their lives. It reached more than 3 million people.

As Devoy explained at the campaign’s launch, ‘‘racial prejudice and intoleranc­e starts small, in quiet places, in our everyday lives’’. When it becomes normalised it turns into overt racism and extremism.

Racial discrimina­tion is the subject of one in every three complaints to the Human Rights Commission, and that’s just the ones reported; many, many more are not.

When the Commission­er says ‘‘hatred and extremism is becoming normal in some places and we want to avoid that in Aotearoa,’’ we know where she’s talking about.

We can see the results of this normalisat­ion all around and it’s not difficult to join the dots. In Australia last Sunday, one of the major news bulletins boasted an ‘‘exclusive’’ in which their reporter was ‘‘granted exclusive access to a secret meeting organised by right-wing activists.’’

The group was discussing a vigilante response to a perceived wave of violence in Melbourne, committed by so-called African youth gangs.

Channel Seven reported that the group wanted to be known as patriots, not racists. It did not report that the group leader the reporter interviewe­d had recently been convicted of racial vilificati­on, after making a video of a mock beheading with cries of ‘‘Allahu Akbar’’ to urge people to protest against the building of a mosque.

Channel Seven has been vilified itself for refusing to call a spade a neo-Nazi. We don’t want a bar of this kind of palaver, New Zealand.

We do not want media organisati­ons pandering to right wing extremist views. We do not want the creep of blatant racism we see happening ever closer to our shores.

And as the Give Nothing To Racism campaign says, it starts with what we allow ourselves to laugh off.

* Whether they are sexy or not comes well down the list of reasons to avoid racist people – just saying.

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 ?? LAWRENCE SMITH/STUFF ?? Comedian James Roque suffered racist heckling after a recent stand-up gig.
LAWRENCE SMITH/STUFF Comedian James Roque suffered racist heckling after a recent stand-up gig.

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