A memo to Mark Latham

Back in the ’70s and ’80s, ‘Negro’ was actually a respected, dignified alternative to really racist terms like ‘n****r’…so I must have missed the memo somewhere in the ’90s or more recently as to when ‘Negro’ became unacceptable.

“I’m happy to make my weekly donation to Australia’s outrage industry by saying ‘Negro, Negro, Negro’.”

– Mark Latham, speaking on The Verdict.

 verdict 1

To: Mark Latham, former Labor Leader and member for Werriwa

Re: Non-receipt of memos

From: Behavioural Guidance, Directorate of White People Services

CC: Other white men as required

Dear Mr Latham,

Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge your recent complaint on The Verdict that you have not been receiving our memos. Although all correspondence has been available on our website since 1998, clearly our distribution systems and procedures have not been rigorous or comprehensive enough to satisfy the needs of all subscribers, and for this we apologise.

Mark (can I call you Mark?) is it possible you were a subscriber to our fax service, which ceased in 2002?

We can only imagine how difficult it has been to navigate the social complexities of today’s world without the detailed instructions contained in our memos. However, we also wish to disclaim any liability or responsibility for your actions or behaviours. While we make every effort to provide a proactive service, you are responsible for sourcing the information you need to function as a decent human being in 2015.

You suggest that “I could walk through any street in western Sydney and no one would find ‘Negro’ offensive…who are these unelected, self-appointed people who’ve decided that we all need to speak like them? Who are these people?”

Mark, our records show that you ceased being the member for Werriwa in January 2005. (Perhaps you missed that memo too?) So please forgive my forthrightness, but doesn’t that make you one of the unelected arbiters you speak of?

Let’s cut to the chase. I’m a middle aged white man like you, and I acknowledge that the world can be a confusing place. Our Digital Experience Manager often tells me we live in an “information-rich environment.” It pains me to admit it, but I don’t understand what he’s talking about at least 70% of the time. But I think he means that if you cared to know how others would like you to address them, or treat them, or simply be aware of their concerns, that information is readily accessible.

An example: last week, three young African Australians were denied access to the Apple Store at Highpoint, in Maribyrnong. That’s my local shopping centre – my constituency, if you will. The youths were told they couldn’t enter the store because they “might steal something.” This should be a sign to anyone that something is not quite right. That some people are not being fairly treated, and based on all the available evidence, it’s because of their race. It’s a memo – a pretty stark one.

This was widely reported (it went “viral” as they say), and I made the mistake of reading some of the news.com.au comments, which made it clear that quite a few people had got the memo, but didn’t want the memo. Here’s an example of the most recent comments:

“All you fools commenting take your head out of the sand, Go to Highpoint after schools just let out. You would be on high alert too if your worked there.” – John

“It’s not racist, it’s racial profiling and sometimes it’s correct.” – Don

“Nothing I have read or seen even remotely resembles racism that in my opinion its nothing more than an extortion attempt via social media or criminal defamation.” – Michael

Is it possible, Mark, that you’re one of the many people who often receive our memos, but don’t read them? Who will attribute any cause except racism?

Your significant intellect would tell you that there are three possible conclusions that can be drawn from this situation:

  1. The incident had nothing to do with race – the security guard can look into the souls of other humans and divine intentions unknowable even to the subject. (In which case his talents are wasted at Highpoint.)
  2. The incident had nothing to do with race – the security guard blocks entry whenever there is a statistical possibility, no matter how small, that the individual might steal something. (In which case the store would always be empty. I go there – it isn’t.)
  3. The incident had everything to do with race.

No points for guessing how our people responded to this. In comment after comment, white men studiously avoided conclusion 3.

Now, this requires a certain willful ignorance that (between you and me), us white men are sometimes guilty of. While not endorsing this impulse, as a white person, I can partly understand it.

Mark, forgive me for being so bold, but do you ever lie awake at 3am listening to the beating of your heart and thinking that perhaps, just perhaps, you might not fare too well in a world in which you have to compete with the claims of women and people of colour? That it’s all too hard? That you’re just not up to it? That your Dad never had to worry about this shit and goddamn it all it’s so unfair?

We’ve all had those thoughts. But on behalf of White People Services, let me caution you: here there be monsters. The occasional fleeting feeling of resentment might provide temporary relief to your race-based anxiety, but let it grow and it will swallow you whole. You’ll find yourself up at 3am logged on to Men’s Rights forums, or trolling people under assumed names on Twitter. Mark, I can’t stress this enough: as they say on daytime TV – don’t go there.

So while I sympathise with your difficulties, I regret to inform you that the Board and I have decided that this is the last of our memos you will receive. We simply no longer have the resources to keep you informed of all the changes in the world, particularly given the amount of information freely available to you. Yes, the world is a complicated place, but please don’t let that put that off. It can be liberating to admit to what you don’t know, and if you’re willing to shut up, listen and learn, it can also be pretty exciting.

To help you cope with this withdrawal of regular service, we have provided this handy decision tree, which can be used should you encounter a person of a colour or sexual orientation or gender different to you, or are confronted by a challenging or unfamiliar concept, thought or idea, which our diverse and beautiful planet has a habit of presenting us from time to time:

decision tree

Please initial below and return in acknowledgement that you have received and understood these instructions.

Good bye and good luck,

Director, Behavioural Guidance
Directorate of White People Services
The World

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