Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Color Scam

According to the Bali Times (9/3-9/2010), "Bali Police Chief, Hadiatmoko, acted this week to stop police unfairly targeting foreigners (i.e. white people)--especially those on Motorbikes . . . following complaints of harrassment." And etc.

It's about time right.

We all have our stories to tell--which of course is something that makes the case all the more apparent. In my first four months in Bali I was stopped four times in traffic and paid some 400,000 Rupiah for the traffic infraction of 'being white.' The first time around you pay whatever the officer suggests, as you don't know the game (the scam, that is). After that you learn to argue ever more forcefully, you learn to negotiate, you learn to dicker. You learn not to carry more than 30,000 Rupiah in your wallet, hiding the larger money elsewhere. You learn to speak more Indonesian. You learn to say "Hell no!"

The last time I was stopped, my wife happened to be riding on the back of my scooter. As soon as she took her helmet off, and the officer noted she was Indonesian, he said "Oh, okay," and went on his way.

One hardly needs to strain at conclusions here.

Some time later, in a great error of political incorrectness, I joked to my half-black stepdaughter that now I knew what it is like to be 'a nigger.' This did not go over well at all, for you simply do not use that word, ever, never, for any reason whatsoever. Relationship does not matter, nor the status as parent, as friend, as protector; nor does history or trust or time or levity.

What matters is skin color.

But wait . . . that's exactly what I'm saying.

In any case, black or white or yellow or brown, being a target based on skin color is creepy. It's disheartening, maddening, frightening, and insulting. You are reduced for the personal use of the man who misuses authority, backed simply by his own majority color--most especially because no ticket is ever actually contemplated nor given, for the only point is the transfer of the money in your wallet to his.

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