GOODNIGHT THUMPER

Philip May stabs his shovel into the topsoil so both his arms are free to gesture at once.

“So, explain cultural appropriation to me,” he says, glancing down at the newly-dug pit, “For instance, is this racist?”

He stoops down low into a tight crouch. Raising his arms above him, he gently rubs the back of his left hand with his right palm. This motion continues for just over a minute, before Theresa responds, “I don’t know what that is. I’ve not seen that before.”

“Neither have I. So is it possible to tell if it’s racist?”

Theresa is undoing the latch on their rabbit hutch and scraping her fingers through the straw for the familiar feel of fur. “It depends if that kind of gesture is meaningful or significant in another culture. If it has no meaning anywhere then it isn’t anything. It’s just you rubbing your hand in an unusual way.”

She comes into contact with quivering flesh. A tawny rabbit is plucked from the hutch and held aloft as Theresa approaches the pit. Philip is tamping the edges with the flat end of the spade. “Then that means racism is just a matter of bad luck? One day we could find a culture for whom that gesture is very important. Suddenly it would be off-limits and those who have performed it would be outed as monsters?”

Theresa extends her arms and drops the rabbit over the hole. Its hind legs catch the lip, sending it spinning into the dark, exposed soil. “I don’t think I agree. I think intention is important. Yes, you can be racist by accident, but there needs to be some cultural context that informs your actions. An infant reading an ethnic slur aloud from the walls of a public bathroom isn’t committing an act of race hate.”

Philip takes a long pause as he shovels clods of freshly-dug dirt into the hole, the frantically scurrying body of the animal within gradually obscured by soil and stones. “I think racism is any instance where your behaviour reflects and reproduces a system of perpetual inequality. It’s still racism if you don’t understand what you’re doing. A teenager won’t understand the totality of the history behind a swastika, but I feel like a lot of adults don’t know much more than that and we’d correctly identify them as racist if they used the symbol.”

Theresa’s eyes are fixed on the hole. Philip continues, “Otherwise you’d need to identify a seemingly arbitrary line about how much you need to understand the world before you can be considered racist and I simply don’t think you can.”

Theresa continues to stare unblinking at the hole. She can’t believe Thumper’s never coming back. The tears begin to fill up the margins of her vision and for a brief moment she thinks they’ll never stop.

@seanmorl

Sean Morley