Sunday, September 9, 2012

More on our friend the comedian who's not racist but tells racist jokes

If you saw the viral clip of comedian Brett Eidman getting punched in the face by an Asian guy after too many dumb racist "jokes", you might find this to be an interesting follow-up. Eidman has a clip up in which he apologises for offending people and talks about his reasoning for doing the character. It seems sincere enough I guess.

But there are some interesting issues that emerge for me here.

Firstly, one of the questions the interviewer asks him is a common one in these kinds of situations, and it seems to me to be something of a straw man. At around the 2:25 minute mark, Lisa Ann asks Eidman to address allegations that he is "a racist".

His response: "Sure... I'm not a racist, I just wanna clear that up, I'm not a racist."

Er, thanks for clearing that up, Brett.

Seriously, how does that clear up anything? Did anyone, upon hearing her ask that question, seriously think his response would be along the lines of "Well as a matter of fact, I am a racist, and I hate Asians and blacks and all the coloured peoples of this earth"? No one, aside from members of explicitly racist organisations like the Klan, is going to answer that question in any way other than the negative. So it tells us precisely nothing about anything.

What is "a racist", anyway? Let's consider these three different accusations that can be levelled at somebody:
(1) "What you said was racist."
(2) "You are racist."
(3) "You are a racist."
(1) refers explicitly to the behaviour. And as long as one can agree on what racism sounds like (which is a whole 'nother issue entirely, of course), perhaps (1) is something we can actually demonstrably prove. And honestly, most or all of us have said something racist at one time or another.

(2) implies that the person has thoughts and feelings that are racist, and that it presumably impacts on the way they behave. How many people does this apply to? Again, I would argue that just about everyone is racist; even if only just a little bit. What separates the "good" people from the "bad" people here is whether they allow that racism to affect the way they live their lives, and treat people poorly due to their prejudices.

(3) takes (2) and turns it into an essential feature of the person accused. Saying that someone is "a racist" seems to imply that racism is a key feature of how that person thinks, feels and acts.

As I mentioned, virtually no one will admit to being racist, or "a racist". That's because we tend to define people as being in one of two categories, racist and not racist, and if you are the former, you are a horrible person.

Some people who say they are not racist are simply lying. Some are not lying, but are too emotionally unreflective to admit to themselves that they actually do have racist tendencies. Then there are another group, which I myself would probably fall into, who know they have some prejudiced attitudes, but see racism as an inherently bad thing and thus try to make sure they don't mistreat people based on prejudice. But if you fall into that category, how do you give that nuanced answer when someone asks you a dumb simplistic question like "Are you a racist?" Understandably, most people would just take the safe option and say "No."

So is Brett Eidman right when he says he's not "a racist"?

Probably. I mean, I don't think he hates Asian people, particularly. Maybe he has some racist views about Asians, although I doubt he actually means them any harm, and he probably has friends who are Asian, for whatever that is worth.

Yet undeniably, his behaviour was racist. I mean, his "Dom Fok" character is one of the stupidest, most insensitive racial stereotypes I have seen in a long time. For him to think it is acceptable is frankly, amazing. So in the unlikely event that I would ever conduct such an interview with Brett Eidman, I wouldn't waste breath asking him "Are you a racist?" 
I would ask: "What does it say about you and your views on Asian people, that you can continually perform as that character, and do it right in the face of two Asian people while hip-thrusting in an Asian girl's face, but yet be surprised when you get punched in the face for it? Would you do a similar thing to an African-American couple?"

So let's focus on the behaviour, first and foremost, rather than letting someone off the hook by asking whether or not they are racist, and acting as if it's some blinding insight when they predictably announce that they are not.


I got into a debate with some people online about whether or not George (the Asian guy in the video) should indeed have punched Eidman. First of all, I don't really blame George, and I might well have acted the same way myself. In fact I'm amazed that it didn't happen sooner. But my general stance is that I don't condone violence acts at all. Most of the time, when someone throws a punch, nothing major happens other than a few bruises and wounded egos. But other times, people get seriously injured or worse, and people get arrested. As it stands, perhaps this particular instance has had positive effects; we haven't heard that George has faced any criminal charges, and Eidman seems to have learned his lesson the hard way, but without more than some minor bumps and bruises. But it potentially could have been a lot worse, for either man. A conviction for assault can devastate one's career prospects, and people have gone to jail in the past for far less. Had it gone down that route, or if Eidman had suffered severe injuries or death, it would be less likely that George's actions would have been viewed as worthwhile.

While I don't blame George, I instead wish that it didn't have to reach the stage that it did. The bigger problem here is that Eidman has been doing this character for 20 years by his own estimation, and no one in that time has made it clear to him (preferably by non-violent means) that Dom Fok is some racist shit that should never have seen the light of day. As well as being a severe failure on his part as a comedian and a human being, I also wonder about all those audience members, friends and fellow comedians who saw that act and saw nothing wrong with it. If some of them had the balls to call him out on it over the last 20 years, it wouldn’t have got to the point where someone feels the need to hit him over it.

1 comment:

  1. Nice job. Thank you very much for the article. Be well, Brett Eidman