On my bookshelf there's an old three volume atlas set. I've had it since I was born I think, certainly as long as I can remember. It smells old. It's full of fantastical places, like Rhodesia, the Belgian Congo and Ceylon. It speaks condescendingly of people in developing nations; it refers to Asians as having yellow skin and makes none-too-subtle references to the evils of communism. It's as if Enid Blyton was asked to do a Social Studies Project.
But it's funny. It's funny because, as Ricky Gervais once said, referring to the Dambusters dog, Nigger, "that was in the 50s, before racism was bad".
I'm sure Air New Zealand, explaining that they have since updated an in-flight crew manual warning flight attendants to be wary of Tongans taking advantage of the free alcohol, would like to point to a 1950s publishing date. Unfortunately the document in question was written in 2008, so could conceivably be less than a year and a half old. Hardly a massive social seachange in that time, when it comes to what is appropriate vis-a-vis racial stereotyping.
Interestingly, on the one hand the NZ Herald seems to wag its finger at Air New Zealand - quoting Labour MP (and as of last weekend, its new Waitakere candidate against Paula Bennett) Carmel Sepuloni saying ""They shouldn't be making any generalisations of any ethnic group." Then, in the very next paragraph, the article points out that if you're going to generalise about anyone, you should generalise about Samoans!:
Alcohol Advisory Council figures show Tongans are not as heavy drinkers as Samoans.
As Charlie Brown once said, Good Grief.
It's hard to see the value in putting such broad generalisations down in print. I worked in hospitality for many years, including a hotel in Wellington which saw a number of tour groups come through each week. We didn't have a manual specifying, like Air New Zealand's did, "Koreans expect good manners". I guess we were expected to show good manners to all our guests, whether from Seoul or Seattle. Radical, I know. "Samoans appreciate rugs because they are from a warm climate?" How about "give rugs to people who are cold and ask for them, regardless of their skin colour" (although if they're blue, that might be a good clue...)?
This is not to say people aren't more likely to behave or react a certain way based on their race or culture. I was having an argument with a friend just the other day, on whether we should have advertising specifically targeted at groups with lower uptake of health services, such as the advertising aimed getting more Pasifika women to have smear tests (yeah I know, random argument to be having while really, really drunk, but you get that). He said it was racist and condescending. I said that with half as many Pasifika women getting tested as pakeha women, something was going wrong and we needed to accept there were cultural issues involved - which is why the advertising in this instance encourages Pasifika women to go along as a family group.
Which is a much easier point to argue than something along the lines of: "Would you agree that Asian immigrants tend to be more, shall we say, cautious, on the roads?" Personally I would say 'yes', and lump them in with the elderly - but while you might hear me say "you drive like a little old lady", I'm never going to utter the words "you drive like a Chinaman." Although I do quite like the word "Chinaman", because it's from that time before racism was bad.
Either way I'd never put either in a manual. Bad Air New Zealand, bad.
But do you want to know one group, in my experience, who will try and blag free drinks and take advantage of them? Not Tongans, no, not Samoans, no. And I probably shouldn't say this, but I've seen it happen time and time again, over years of working at in bars in Auckland, these people come and visit on holiday, all bold as brass, and think they can somehow get a freebee? Or just as bad, sneak their own booze into bars and drink it like a 15 year old with a hip-flask at McDonalds? You know who I'm talking about? Wellingtonians. There, I said it.
Speaking of FREEBEES - don't say I never give you anything - I have two double passes to the fabulous King of Cajun Cool, Dr John the Nite Tripper, who is playing one show at the Civic in Auckland on Wednesday April 7th with his band The Lower 911. I would bags one myself, but I'll be in Wellington for Back Benches.
If you want to go, send me feedback (as opposed to discussing it on PAS) and tell me why you should go - having a clue who Dr John is in the first place will greatly increase your chances...
EDIT: Tickets have gone, thanks
(And if you're wondering, the title of this post is a saying my grandfather used to use, when someone was dressed up or otherwise looking pretty smart. It was meant as a good thing. A racist good thing, but still.)