Sunday, May 10, 2015

Manifestations of hate

My May 10, 2015 column.

Racism, bigotry, and the other behavioral manifestations of hate and immaturity had most of us bothered, confused, and confounded in the last few days. 

I am sure many parents who are serious about helping their kids grow up to become better people had a difficult time trying to explain the uproar over the seeming bigoted or racist comments spewed by a Thai national on a social media account, and then by the prejudiced attacks by many Filipinos, including celebrities, directed at Floyd Mayweather in the aftermath of that heartbreaking and infuriating result of the supposed Fight of the Century. To make matters worse, when Philippine authorities did try to do what they thought was right or necessary by deporting the Thai national and showing pictures of the guy in handcuffs at the airport, there was also a corresponding uproar, with many Filipinos calling to task the Philippine government for what they thought was a disproportionate reaction. 
Let’s first talk about the case of Kosin Prasertsri, more popularly known as Koko Narak. The Thai national posted comments on a social media account deemed insulting, derogatory, and racist by many Filipinos. Calling Filipinos “Pigsnoys,” Narak went berserk spewing what he tried to justify later as frankness and attempts at humor on his part.  When we really come to think about it, the things he said did have some basis; they represented some of our frailties as a people. However, Narak went beyond socially acceptable norms. First, he is a guest in the country and guests don’t typically diss their hosts. Second, whatever good or non-malicious intent was overshadowed by the seeming recklessness in how he expressed himself. His observations were coached in ways that seemed to taunt and belittle rather than simply criticize. And finally, anyone who wants to express an opinion publicly, particularly if the opinion aims to assert a certain degree of superiority, must establish a certain degree of credibility. Like I always tell my students, if you must criticize, do it well —argue fairly, express yourself clearly and logically, and please check your grammar and spelling. It’s not exactly the best rebuttal, but it’s difficult to argue with someone who pontificates about how “an author who could not even be bothered to get his spelling and grammar right cannot be taken seriously.” Narak, quite frankly, expressed himself in ways that would give English teachers anywhere a massive coronary attack.
But in the same week that our blood boiled over Narak’s tortured verbal diarrhea, many Filipinos went into a similar frenzy, this time alternately mocking or bashing Mayweather for supposedly being a lesser person, or at least, a lesser fighter.  Many of the comments were shamelessly racist such as those that mocked the color of his skin, or his thick lips, or the way he spoke. And then there were the many comments that clearly reeked of prejudice. For example, relating Mayweather’s supposed predilection for evading punches by “dancing around” and  his strategy of “hugging” Pacquiao as characteristics of gay people was a gross generalization that demeaned and derogated gay people. Why should presumed cowardice, deviousness, and lack of aggressiveness be equated with gay people?  
So while Narak’s comments were infuriating and deserved condemnation (I am not sure though if it was criminal, or if the swift punishment meted out by the Philippine government was fair), it is important that we also examine our own tendencies to indulge in the same behavior.
Quite frankly, I know so many people – many of them people who flaunt their supposed impeccable credentials as professionals or their advanced education – who routinely make reckless, tactless, and often plainly prejudiced or bigoted comments directed at our leaders, certain sectors of Philippine society particularly the socially or economically disadvantaged, and yes, marginalized communities. Someone I know, for example, who ironically claims to champion the welfare of the poor, thinks nothing of belittling poor people for the supposed inconvenience they cause to working people such as overloading public transportation, clogging roads, or flooding the Internet with supposedly inane commentary, as if projecting one’s prejudice and negativity is a better alternative to someone’s jologs commentary.
I agree, this thing called political correctness is something we are still trying to get better at.  
However, while I do think that a large part of the issue has to do with political correctness, I maintain that the more effective and proactive response is not just to teach people the nuances of political correctness but to help them become more sensitive to and appreciative of diversity issues. Merely telling people to tone down their bigotry does not eradicate the problem but helping them get over their prejudices may be a more helpful approach. 
We need to constantly remind people of three things. Before spewing hateful or critical comments particularly when one is emotionally agitated, think first: What good will your comments do to yourself and to others? Second, contrary to what you think, the Internet or your social networking site is not really private – while not all people you hurt or offend will take steps to let you know of their feelings, ugly feelings don’t die. They fester and resurface in far more uglier ways. The universe does know how to return a favor and karma does get around fast.  And finally, prejudice and racism, among others, come from the same source and are manifestations of the same virus – it’s called hate.

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