Saturday, April 23, 2016

They're All a Bunch of.....

As I waited in line for a flight from Tokyo to Sapporo, Japan it dawned on me there is a very different sense of personal space between my culture and the Asian culture.  I was standing in the midst of a group of Chinese tourist who were on holiday.  There was plenty of room to wait in the boarding area but they chose to bunch together like they were being packed for shipment. I was being pressed on all sides of my body, but was not claustrophobic.  The reason? At the average American height of 5'8" I was head and shoulders above the mass.  Like a human periscope I could see the entire mass of humans I was drowning in. I felt like a giant for the moment.
Wow, I thought, Asians are small people then wondered if that was a racist thought. If so, why? And if not why?  The fact that I am not considered a tall man in America yet towered above this group was fact not stereotype, yet it felt wrong to even think that way.
This is the blurry line of Political Correctness, I am just never sure how to react anymore to what I observe. I was raised by parents who demanded respect and politeness from their kids especially toward others. In fact I was taught that everyone else's rights should be considered before my own. This passive interpretation of the Jesus ethic is a swing too far in the opposite direction of egotism.  I have learned to my own understanding that we are all equal and to think that my equality waits on the wants of others is no more correct than thinking mine are superior. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is a statement of equality not deference to another.  
Political correctness is on my mind because of a conversation I had a few days back.  A lady began to talk to me and eventually it lead to the fact that I was one of the ship entertainers. We were having a lively exchange and I invited her to come and see my show in the theatre in a couple of nights. 
"Are you a comic?" She said with enthusiasm.
"Sort of," I replied, "I am a ventriloquist."
Her demeanor changed. "Oh, I have a problem with ventriloquists," she said.
I was prepared to open the discussion of ventrilo-phobia which I encounter a lot and am well rehearsed in answering, but I was not prepared for this "problem."
"Why?" I said.
"Because ventriloquists are racist." 
She went on to explain that she had seen a video of a ventriloquist who performed with a character that was offensive to Muslims, some sort of dead terrorist. Then once on a ship she saw a ventriloquist perform with a character that was offensive to Chinese named "Wing Tip Shoe". 
She would not be coming to see my show. 
I know both of these ventriloquists and told her so, but my opinion of their acts was not important to her.  I could not sway her belief. 
She seemed to have no more interest in continuing our conversation. My final statement was, "Well, we ventriloquist are like singers. We all sing different songs. Different people like different music. I hope you will come and listen to mine."  
"I doubt that I will." She said. 
I was upset by this exchange.  To be judged by any actions other than my own is frustrating and to be labeled a racist by occupation was in my opinion short sighted.  As I had time to think about the exchange it dawned on me... SHE was being racist. By assuming that all ventriloquist are the same  is stereotyping, which is the root of racism.  
I thought back to the Tokyo airport and had my answer. It's racism to say, "All Asians are short" and "Chinese have no sense of personal space".  That is certainly not true and is stereotyping.  The fact is: at the Tokyo Airport I was surrounded by a group of people pressing to get onto the plane and most everyone was shorter than me.  And the ship is not full of rich snobs who can't get the stick out of their asses to enjoy a comedy act, there is just one lady who assumed the self-righteous role of moral compass to group of lovely individuals. 
As you were,

1 comment:

Deborah Geffner Holcomb said...

Thanks Jay. This post from halfway around the world was actually very helpful to me.

And it also started me thinking. When we are children we learn by generalizing. It's the scientific method. If I push my cheerio off the tray it will fall on the floor. If I push my bunny off the tray it will fall on the floor. Must be that things I push off the tray fall on the floor. When I hit my friend he got mad. When I hit my other friend she got mad. Must be that friends get mad when you hit them. Etc. It's how we learn. So there's a built in tendency to want to generalize in order to make sense of the world.

But when we do it about people - this rich person was close minded. This other rich person was close minded. All rich people are close minded, etc. that's when we get into racist territory.

However, it's still a useful and important skill in reading other cultures - understanding customs, for example, so that we don't offend without meaning to. Or so we don't get offended when none is meant. I can remember a summer I spent in France where a guy walking by looked into my eyes for what in the US would be an insultingly long time. But then another did it, and another. So I generalized. French people feel much more free to hold eye contact than we do, and it didn't feel invasive or weird.

This takes a lot more thinking about, but you've surely put another big piece in the puzzle for me to try to make sense of the whole thing.