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Sunday, January 23, 2005

Why Bother?

"The Maori aren't really even a real race of people," the old man said. "They all came from a couple of canoes that were blown off course from Polynesia, and then bred with Spanish and Portugese explorers. They're also all inbreds. There were only two sheilas on the boat, and genetically--this has been researched and proven by scientists in England--all Maori people come from one of two women. What kind of sick people do that anyway?"

Such is the absurd rhetoric of a racist who attempts to rationalize his fear with pseudo-science.1

When the man first came in to the bar, I wasn't serving him, and so I didn't speak to him. A few minutes after he'd been there, and I overheard some of his conversation with my sister, she came to me and said, "That guy's interested in politics, do you want to talk to him?" "No, thank you," I said. As it happens with life-long drunks, they tend to strike up conversations with bar staff on their own, about whatever inane thing that they can come up with. In this situation it began with asking me what differences I found between Texas and New Zealand. I told him there were more mountains here. Somehow from there, he got into geography, and then to the Maori land entitlements, and moved directly to conjecturing about how the Maori don't really deserve anything, especially because they aren't even a real race of people to begin with.

As the conversation moved from the uncomfortable to the absurd, I began to realize the kind of person I was speaking with, and decided that I'd have a little fun. Intermittently during his monologue, he would pause and say, "I'm boring you, aren't I?" "No," I said, egging him on. "I'm very interested in learning about the whole situation." When he did pause and give me a chance to speak later, I said, "They're really all animals, aren't they? Eating each other and whatnot. It's sick." Much to my delight, he agreed, but continued down the "scientific" argument that he heard discussed on AM talk radio.

"I don't understand why everyone wants to blame the white man for everything," he said. "The white man didn't do anything.2 That's why I like George Bush3--he's not going to sit there and apologize for things the white man didn't do, and he's not going to give money to people with a permanent suntan4 just because they feel like something's been done to them that hasn't."

Once it was all over with, I re-told the conversation to RA and my sister. RA was clearly disturbed, mainly by my taste for irony in an otherwise disgusting situation. I told him I couldn't help myself.

"What am I supposed to do, argue with the guy? He's so far gone that there wouldn't be any point. I suppose I could've just walked away, but it was much funner this way--plus, now I have something to write about."

In RA's view, he wasn't able to make a joke5 out of it, because this man was indicative of a larger problem; he symbolizes thousands of other people who are just as racist, but aren't stupid enough to go talking about it publicly with people he doesn't know.

There was probably a time between the ages of eighteen and twenty where I would have been quite upset with this man. I might have gotten into an argument with him, he might have left angrily, and I might have felt self-righteous about saying what I believed to be true, and setting him on the right course towards racial harmony. I simply can't do that nowadays. It was too ridiculous to take seriously, and therefore became nothing but a huge joke to me. Maybe it's insensitive of me to take hatred and turn it into a joke, but somehow I felt like if I took it seriously it would validate the utter garbage that was coming out of his mouth, and he just didn't deserve it.6

1 In order to fulfill my "comparing every social situation to Hitler" quota, I later told RA after the conversation that "I love it when people use science to rationalize their racism--it's like Hitler using science to declare that Jews were a genetically inferior race."

2 Holy shit.

3 Incidentally, I should mention that every person in New Zealand that I've met that has supported George Bush has been insane, or very nearly insane. These people include: The hillbilly farmer in Springs Junction whose wife came on to me, the crazy googly-eyed old man in Palmerston North who offered my sister and I some herbs to go with our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and the rich but otherwise personally dissatisfied lawyer who was traveling by helicopter to go shooting wild pigs in the woods and made a subconscious frown at the thought of his wife. Of course, this doesn't mean that George Bush himself is insane. To clarify, it doesn't mean that Dick Cheney is insane either.

4 Can you believe he said that?

5 After seeing RA's discomfort, I told him that I thought that there was nothing too serious to make a joke about. He seemed to disagree, but being a polite Englishman, he conveyed that in the most understated way possible. "Of course," I said, "there are obviously situations in which you should probably not tell the joke. For example, you probably shouldn't tell the joke about the tsunami that destroyed Asia7 to any of your Thai friends for another few weeks.

6 It's like trying to rationalize with a drunk person, or trying to explain to someone from Alabama that we don't live in a geocentric universe, or telling the remaining 35% of Americans who still believe that Iraq caused 9/11 that no, that isn't actually true.

7 Question: Did you hear about the big tsunami that destroyed parts of Asia? Response: How big was it? Punchline: So big that it killed over 150,000 people and caused billions of dollars worth of damage.