Treppenwitz: a German word literally meaning “stair thought” used to describe those situations when you finally think of the perfect comeback but your antagoniser is miles away. I know several sufferers of treppenwitz. Take everyday racism for a start, how many of you have kicked yourselves after the fact, when you finally think of the perfect comeback?
Recently I’ve been watching a lot of SBS’s FU2 Racism programs and been so uplifted when watching instances of people standing up for victims of racism. But it was clear that for every one person who took a stand, a large majority still fell silent. Those who are probably suffering from treppenwitz.
So in this special edition of SBS Comedy we are bringing you Racism Remixed - a collection of things you would have said to racists if you could turn back time. We have collected real life situations from our readers who are crying out for vengeance! Shout out to all the contributors who never got the chance to speak their mind. Hope this makes up for it!
Let’s start with me…
When I was in University, I would walk through this schoolyard in my area every day in the morning to get to the bus stop (it was the shortest route) and I would constantly get yells of “Konnichiwa!” from some little brat in the playground. Now some of you may be wondering “why would you walk through a schoolyard, isn’t that trespassing?” but I think the REAL question is, “why would someone so young be so racist?” And I’ll thank you not to judge my fitness level thank you very much.
The first few days, I pretended not to hear him and kept walking. By the second week, I was itching to say something, trying to think of the perfect response. Something clever and witty around how I couldn’t believe someone that young who has grown up in a time after the Racial Discrimination Act was passed and racism was widely taboo could still think his behaviour was appropriate. His racist jabs were pretty weak, but something had to be done.
The next day I walked through the school grounds, looking around but the coast was clear.
“Konnichiwa! Konnichiwa!!” the taunts started up behind me (for someone who didn’t like Japanese people this guy was like a ninja). I whipped around and my carefully rehearsed script crumbled. “Why are you saying that? I’m not even Japanese!” I exclaimed instead, “how would you like it if I came up to you and started yelling in German!”
I tested out all of my year 8 German on him yelling obscenities like “Nein! Das ist mein hamburger!” and “Du bist ze intelligent!” (Frau Glenwood would have been proud).
I then proceeded to throw my bag down like shit was going to get real while simultaneously thinking, shit why did I throw my bag down I’ve probably squashed my sandwich now. And then I saw my bus come around the corner so I just picked up my bag and ran off.
Yes. Sometimes standing up to racism isn’t as glamourous or well scripted as they make it out to be in the movies, but at least I tried.
Sarah, Indian Australian, lives in Manly - “I literally saw someone get OFF a ferry and yell at me to go back to where I came from”.
Remix - Well clearly the irony was not lost on Sarah, instead of just putting her head down and putting up with it, Sarah shouts, “well why don’t YOU go back to where YOU came from and stop taking boats over here! I suppose you want to come around here and eat OUR fish and chips too while you’re at it!”
Jeremy, Vietnamese Australian - “As a joke, someone brought in all this “weird” food they bought at an Asian Grocery store and then made a show about eating it in front of my classmates while complaining about how disgusting it was. I was also called a Wonton”
Remix - Word up Jeremy. Firstly, congratulations on scoring such a delicious epithet. I would definitely eat one tonne of those. Secondly, joke’s on them because you just wait until these kids graduate from school and start living in gentrified inner city suburbs. Then, when they start getting a craving for Thai or Vietnamese, bring a photo of them around to every local Asian diner and get them banned for life. Weird food indeed. You can’t have your dumplings and eat them too.
Rene, Lebanese Australian - “I had someone yell and accuse me of reverse racism because I put up a job advertisement in Arabic”
Remix - Rather than take this one sitting down, Rene jumps up from her stall and shouts “do you even know what the words REVERSE and RACISM mean? There’s no such thing as reverse racism, you’re either racist or you’re not. You are just normalising the event of Caucasian people being racist to others! I welcome anyone who can read or write Arabic to apply for my job, it’s part of the job criteria because I have a lot of international clients. Get over yourself!”
Emily, White Australian - “I watched in silent horror while a colleague introduced two teammates (one Sri Lankan and the other Anglo Saxon) as Salt ‘n’Pepa. When someone else said that wasn’t appropriate the person said defensively they were just a straight shooter, “raw and tough”.
Remix - In this instance Emily stands firm, repeating loudly that comments like that are inappropriate and not appreciated. “Raw and tough? What are you, the world’s worst steak?” she enquires. “Ignorant is more like it, please don’t speak unless you can improve the silence.”
The truth is, there’s probably never going to be the perfect response. There’s never going to be one thing you say that will make the penny drop and bring enlightenment. Sure, with your comeback you probably won’t win any awards, but what I’ve learnt is, you don’t have to have the Chris Rock comeback to make a difference. The fact that you voice your disapproval is the best comeback of all.
Michele Lim is performing at this years International Melbourne Comedy Festival. For show details and tickets click here!