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Monday, May 05, 2003

Innocents Abroad

This is rich. Laurence Fishburne, who's been to Australia twice to make The Matrix and its sequels, thinks that Sydney has a "racist vibe". Were there incidents? Did someone insult him? Nope, nope, none of that. Nothing definite, just a "vibe". Fishburne explains it thusly:

"There's a vibe. There's no malice," he said. "The only way for you to really get this is you need to go to a country where there is nothing but black people and you need to be there for a month and a half or two months and you need to be in a room one day when you are the only white person in a room and then you'll get it..."

Let us turn back the clock, to my first excursion outside the US, in 1990. I spent two weeks at a conference on Crete, and when I came back through Athens I took a couple days for sightseeing. After a little bit I came to sense there was something...odd...about Athens. Soon it struck me: the place was lily white. Once I'd noticed it, it became a bit unnerving. In my experience, cities contained black people; this was a law of nature. To find a city in which black people were conspicuous by their absence suggested some sort of horrible incident, something from a science fiction thriller in which they'd all been rounded up and gassed overnight. Once I saw a pickup carrying several teenagers in the back; for some reason they were waving randomly at people. One of them was black, and I thought, "Hey, he must be an American!" I was so glad to see him I nearly waved back.

Now, that sounds kind of stupid, I know. I'd plead youth but I wasn't that young (I was homesick). However, I will point out that I was a hell of a lot younger than Fishburne is today, and even then I realized that there was no "racism" about it, it was simply that not all countries are the United States (shocking, I know).

So I understand what Fishburne means about the "vibe"; his dumbass mistake was in labelling it "racist". I don't think that was a slip of the tongue, or a grasping for a word and finding the wrong one. I suspect that he is comfortable with labelling anything that makes him racially uncomfortable as "racist", even if there's no malice (as he admits), or intent. I am beginning to see a lot of this in quotes in the press. (I didn't save examples. It's a "vibe" I get.)

Tim Blair, cites the first paragraph of the story linked above:

Matrix star Laurence Fishburne, who has visited Australia twice to make films, said he felt racism while in the country, describing the "vibe" as similar to the US in the 1950s.

And notes that Fishburne was only born in 1961, so how the hell would he know what the '50s "vibe" was like. The full '50s reference is given toward the bottom of the story:

...[T]here was a woman who was in the accounting department, a white woman from the south of our country (the US), who said 'Is it me or does this country feel like our country in the 50s?'," he said. Fishburne said he had agreed that it did.

I wasn't there for that conversation, so I don't know if they were talking about race specifically, but several Americans told me that Australia seemed to them like the 1950s US (at least one of those people was actually around in the 1950s). Race had nothing to do with it.

And if Fishburne and the woman were talking about race, they're idiots. The 1950s meant (in some areas) segrated lunch counters, buses, schools. It meant black people couldn't get some jobs (say, studly movie action hero). It did not mean some vague unease at being surrounded by (eek!) white people who talk funny.

Perhaps if you star in three paranoid science fiction films in a few short years, it begins to affect your mind.

But I really think Fishburne's problem is not racism, but rubism. Mr. Fishburne is a rube. I was (am) also a rube, but at least I'm not so much of a rube that I don't recognize it.

Via not only Tim but Tex.