Incidental Racism on ASL

When Tetsuhiko Endo weighed in on the latest scandal enveloping Wade Davis, Nathan Myers and ASL, I could see his point. Many people complaining about the publication have stirred up protest against the individuals involved, and of course the mainstream fascination with it (such as a Buzzfeed article) is primarily to sell papers/ads to an audience.

Gary behaved as an excellent ally should, definitively condemning the surf industry for a wilful lack of interest in learning from its mistakes. 

What nobody seems to want to do though, is put the article in its context. By context, I mean that ASL, and the surfing community, do not operate in a self contained vacuum separate to society. We are most definitely NOT a counter culture. Our publications, and the attitudes we as consumers uphold when we buy these magazines, are a reflection of the status quo in most situations. The publication of the article shows a deeper prejudice in society than a simple sentence or a poor choice of words.

Nobody needs to comment on your appearance or your eloquence if you are the majority. That it should even need to be commented on, in Otis Carey’s case, let alone in the way that it was, is a marker of ‘difference’ which in turn shows the privilege that we, as non-indigenous Australians or non-indigenous people elsewhere, enjoy. We simply never have anyone surprised at our eloquence. Society doesn’t systematically depict us as inferior human beings.

Privilege: an “invisible knapsack” that is filled with resources, guides, maps, blank checks, and other helpful tools that make life easier for them (Source)

Maybe you want to focus on the term ape as the racist flag in the ASL article and wonder how anyone could not see that as wrong, but what is even more telling is that nobody thought to look at why Otis Carey was so deeply hurt at something other people shrug off as ‘language’.

Indigenous Australians have been the subject of discriminatory legislation and racist policies for not just decades but for over a century. Life in Australia is not so great for indigenous Australians. In fact, life in Australia is shorter- by ten to seventeen years. The situation is so dire that Oxfam is running a campaign: Close the Gap. (Please note, in case you don’t click links: They’re running this campaign to change government funding, not Indigenous Australians. It’s government policy that is the problem and the community has been fighting this battle for a long time.)

I have an interest in this because a similar situation exists in New Zealand- and I see the same indifferent mainstream attitude amongst people I know, love, and work with. We don’t see this ‘problem.’ It’s invisible. It’s ‘history’. If we do see it, it’s ‘their’ problem, their inability to adapt to society, and we as the majority heroes will adopt yet another law, or policy, to bring everybody into line with how we think life should be lived; without even realising that yet again, we have failed to listen and hijacked the narrative for our own purposes.

The ramifications of our privilege, our ignorance, have an every day impact on the people who have to face the consequences. Having a life span similar to people in undeveloped impoverished nations is a reality for Indigenous Australians. Even if, as Otis Carey, you are a talented athlete (and artist) with people paying you to surf, you are also a spokesperson for your ethnic group and will face everyday racism whether or not anyone else can see it. You have no choice but to see it.

I don’t give a fuck what you say about me unless it’s positive.

Otis Carey, Insight51.com

When you see that quote, do you think he is talking simply about surfing? To ignore the context of the society in which ASL operates, is to ignore the very real problems facing Indigenous Australians and in fact any ethnicity that is defined as ‘other’. People in mainstream society are not conditioned to recognise their privilege and even the best intentions can go awry. (That link is to an article explaining why ‘not seeing colour’ is actually part of the problem.)

If you’ve read this far you can now watch Otis shred as a testament to your perseverence:

Of all people, I know that sometimes what we write takes on a life of its own and I have my own regrets, my own sad lessons to learn. One of those lessons has been that language and how we use it often reflects that we don’t even realise what we don’t know. I know in reading this, there will be people who see what I can not yet understand.

What I wish we could all do is at least understand that this is about racism, a fact Ted Endo is well aware of. Racism is not surfing, it is not individuals, but systematic privilege and disadvantage that needs to be dismantled.

Close The Gap is on Twitter and the National Day of Action is Thursday 20th March 2014.

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