11 May 2008

[liff, modren_times] "Jungle Monkeys"

1540. And it was said, more than sotto voce, less that out loud.

"Jungle Monkeys".

A person in a situation, both of which must remain nameless for reasons we shall at the present time not divulge (and which we will not explain why, and ask you all to be down with that for the time being), whom I was working closely with, said it.

"Come again?"

"Oh, the way they call in and mumble and I can't understand them."

"You said jungle monkey?" I said, keeping it intimate. The rest of the room didn't hear it, and I saw no reason to make such a situation worse by alerting everyone within earshot.

"Well, yeah. But I didn't mean it racist"

And then my mind was reeling. In situations, in a city like this, which is still pretty white-homogenous but still, depending on the side of it you work on, sometimes actually awash in contacts with people whose skin isn't exactly white (and white people, strictly speaking, aren't white, really, but that another program) you learn one thing. White, black, brown, checkerboard, whatever color the skin in the game is, the one universality is teh stupid. You can't get away from that.

The phrase laid there like a turd on the carpet. Ugly. Smelly. And whether or not some evil thing was meant by it, evil anyway.

And I couldn't get away from someone saying something like "jungle monkey" and then talking themselves into believing that it wasn't, in some way, racist to use it, especially since it was manifestly so on its (you'll excuse the expression) face. I came very close to spraining my brain.

I detected a teachable moment (not that I'm any more or less wise or perfect than anyone else, but you don't need to be a saint to know that allowing sin to go by is wrong), but was unsure how to proceed.

I kept it gentle and positive, and just between us.

"Well, I know you didn't mean it as racist ... but it really kind of was. It came from a racist place."

The moment passed. I think the point was made. I would have liked to have crusaded on in and corrected some thinking, made a big show. It would have been nice to have done that. To anyone who's ever been in a socially dependent work sitch, one where you shouldn't go dressing down your affiliate number even if it would have been the perfect thing to do, know without being explained; the perfect is the enemy of the good. I tried to do the good thing here.

Maybe next time this fellow human will think that maybe you can't really say "jungle monkey" because to do so is racist and wrong. I knew they weren't actually being hateful. I believe them when they were convinced that they weren't trying for a racist comment. But if you swallow poison not meaning to poison yourself, you'll still die, and maybe if they remember my gentle objection, they will maybe have an epiphany that our enemies aren't black, or brown, or whatever, but our enemy is teh stupid.

Well, teh hate is our enemy too, but where there's not too much teh stupid, I've found there's not so much of teh hate.

Let's teach our fellows not to be teh stupid, little by little by little. Yeah, it's kind of banal. But if anyone has figured out this Rubik's cube called life, well, let me in on it, and I'll help do God's work.

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