On the weekend I was at a house party in the northern suburbs. There were hipsters there, of course. No better, worse or different from any other house party. There was music in an upstairs living room cum-dance floor and in the poorly lit mini arena we all jumped and danced about. I realised, mid-bounce, I was sartorially off key, for the party seemed to have a theme. People were wearing basketball shirts, baseball caps and gold chains. When a girl walked in with neon blue tights stuffed with wads of cotton wool to make her arse more prominent, the theme became clear to me.
I yelled into my friend’s ear, above the music: ‘Is this some sort of hip-hop dress up party?’
She noted Ms Cotton Bottom and gave me a ‘who the fuck knows’ shrug.
As if on key, a hip-hop song came on and everyone proceeded to lose their shit. This song featured the N-word – and every single person in that living room (other than my friend and me) screamed the lyrics at the top of their lungs, yelling the N-word left, right and centre with impunity.
The alcohol left my veins. There was something sobering about a room full of young, white, middle-class men and women using that word en masse as if it didn’t matter: somewhere between a gross ignorance and an entitlement that was too much to stomach. These people seemed grotesque, in the way that only over-privileged people can be: grotesquely lazy in their lack of consideration, in their complete bypassing of what this word meant, for not one person looked anywhere near uncomfortable.
I saw the girl in the neon pants, the N-word spewing from her mouth, bouncing her bulging cotton arse (clearly an homage to black women’s bodies) and I wondered what the difference was between this and blackface.
Worse I knew for a fact that when Eddie McGuire made that awful comment about Adam Goodes a few weeks ago, these hipster theatre makers, full of piss and vinegar, declared ‘there is an issue with race in Australia’. I know for a fact that Neon Pants said that at least once in the past month. And yet here she was, making comedy of non-white bodies, and using racist terms when it suited her. I say when it suited her because, like Eddie Mcguire making his statements in the comfortable company of his white colleagues, she was in a room full of white people. I wonder how willing she would be to dress that way or use that language if a black person were to enter the room.
The question is, obviously, is this a big deal? I say that it is. It represents, above all else, the inability for white middle class people to recognise that not everything is for them. You receive all the wonderful benefits of being privileged, the advantages both implicit and explicit, and maybe, just maybe, you can’t have one thing, and that thing is this one word. It is not yours. I don’t care how into hip hop you are or how you think your hipsterdom sets you apart from normal racism but you aren’t allowed this term.
How hard is that to deal with?
The fact that it is hard demonstrates a belief that all culture, in all its forms, is simply made for your enjoyment and consumption, that if you enjoy the music then you are immediately entitled to every aspect of it, that if someone else has said this word then of course you can say it, too. Because why not? You’re entitled to every other thing in your life – why would this be any different?
It upsets me that this comes from a crowd of people who are the most militant about issues of inequality, who make art and contribute to culture, because it demonstrates one of the insidious parts of political correctness, the way that ugly attitudes and behaviours are only revealed when people are among their ‘own’. It highlights the mental laziness of the young middle class in this country: their vacuous lack of forethought, their lack of consideration of what their behaviour means.
Neon Pants was having a wonderful time. Some stranger pointed to her faux arse and they both laughed. I saw her thinking that black women’s bodies are freakish and noteworthy; I imagined her in another time dragging her friends along to see the ‘Hottentot Venus’ and gasping at how indecent it was. I saw dumb people with good hair cuts who were no better than Eddie Maguire, no matter how many theatre spaces they inhabit or how allergic to dairy they were.
Race is an issue in this country, and racism comes in many guises. Just because you are entertained by something does not mean you should not think about how to interpret it.