When Funny Is Not Funny…
Some years ago I was with a white friend who was marrying a black African girl, it was great fun. They had an English / African wedding which was full of dancing and laughter.
Later in conversation with the young man he asked, "Would you like to see what the African Elders have given me as a wedding present?"
Of course I was interested; he showed me an ornate stick.
"What is it?" I asked. I could see it was a stick, but I didn't know what you were supposed to do with it.
He laughed and said, "It’s presented to all young men who get married. It is a stick to beat your wife with to keep her in order." Then he laughed. I did not!
He then said, "I of course would not use it, I just think it’s funny."
I replied, "Well, personally I don’t think it’s funny at all. I cannot laugh at such a gift, such an action."
The problem with such an action is that it implies that in the culture, in the thinking that, although he thought it a bit of fun, it actually represents an attitude, a way of thinking, a cultural perspective that such an action could well be right, acceptable, and permissible. I do not think that it is any of those things. I think it is wrong thinking, wrong culturally, wrong humour, and in fact just plain wrong. It should not be given space.
More recently I listened to a conversation between a young couple. They were discussing the fact that a young African child had been taken into the UK care system.
The young man, a white African asked, "Why has that happened?"
"Well," was the response, "he has been badly abused, in fact often beaten." The 2015 answer was, well that is normal, surely. He is black, that is the culture! So, in that case it is not wrong?
I like culture. I have lectured degree students on it, have conducted courses with students as part of the Continual Professional development on the subject, and I have written a book on the topic. I love different cultural expressions, different food, fashion, greetings, ways of being, but sometimes we have to identify when people use the cultural get out like, 'this is just a cultural way that is different to yours.' Sorry, but your culture needs to change, for that is morally wrong. Personally, in those situations, your country of origin, your skin colour, your language group, your answers such as ‘in my culture we beat our wives’ are unacceptable.
On the same theme, some years ago I got talking with a Pastor of a particular ethnic group and we agreed to have coffee together. In the course of conversation he said, "I am having such problems with the people in my church, the husbands beat their wives too much." (By the way, maybe I need to say that here; the skin colour of this particular ethnic group was not black.)
Anyway I said, "I don’t understand. What do you mean, 'they beat their wives too much'? Are you saying that it’s acceptable to beat them some, but not too much?"
"Oh yes," he replied, "from where they come from it’s the culture (there is that word again) for men to beat their wives, but the village makes sure it is not too much. My fear here in the UK is they might kill their wives."
I interrupted and said, "I’m sorry, but I think that beating your wife is unacceptable full stop. Any beating!"
He got very angry with me and left, not even finishing his coffee.
"How could you be so naive and narrow minded, and not pay attention to other peoples' culture?" he shouted over his shoulder as he walked out.
Frankly, I want to stay naïve and narrow minded, and I will do all in my power to make sure laws, and whatever else it takes to change such wrong-minded culture or otherwise thinking. It is not funny, it is wrong. Can I say that any louder?
Edited by Kirsty de Paor