The Game of Disclaimers

“I am not a racist, but *insert racist comment here*

“I usually don’t say such things, but *insert nasty comment here*”

In the age of globalization and cross cultural business environment, shrouding ill-intention-ed/racist/sexist comments with pinch of verbose duality has become a fashion for all. If disclaimers were not enough for medical and legal documents, they have come to occupy a prominent place in daily conversations. Even stranger is the fact that while legal and medical documents do not seek to establish the contrarian result as a certain eventuality, disclaimers in conversations are usually preludes to the contrarian effects that are subject to the disclaimer.

I had a friend from Guatemala narrate an incident to me. He had planned to ask out a Chinese girl who was his batch mate, and thought it fit to take their relationship forward. Much to his consternation, her response to him asking her out sounded like this.

“I am not being a racist, but I date only Caucasians and Chinese.”

My friend, who was flabbergasted by this response, muttered a question.

“But why…?”

“I am sorry, I just do.”

This precarious situation that he had been in had me wondering, what was the point of the disclaimer there. Was that suppose to make him feel less dejected in some way; maybe have him believe that it is not his personality that was in question? Class prejudice winning over personal prejudice does not alleviate the pain for the individual, but only exacerbates it. The personality you can change, the race you just cannot. He did date a Chinese girl though, just not this one.

I have always wondered to why people leading statements with a disclaimer somehow see it as an insurance towards somebody calling out on them. Be it political debates on news channels, or verbal slurs by drunk celebrities, disclaimers have become part of the general discourse. Many professionals see such disclaimers as buying breathing space that allows for views disjointed from what the decorum mandates, or as a tool that enables separation between them and the views presented. However, in reality it is hard not to see such statements through the prism of one’s personal baggage.

If Donald Trump were to turn up on the stage, and claim that his bigotry towards the Muslim community is not due to his lack of understanding about terrorism and unfounded racial bias, but out of a deep-rooted concern for the country, people would be skeptical. When your colleague turns upto you and says that he is not a sexist but he sure as hell believes that your female team leader got her promotion because she is an eye candy, you would have your doubts on his credibility than that of the woman’s. For that matter the standard email for job application rejections sent out by a few companies, where it states that this rejection does not reflect a negative judgment over your qualifications, is an example of implicitly conveying displeasure over your candidature (but we can let this pass since it actually is sometimes due to unsuitability or time constraints). All disclaimers here are unnecessary.

In the world of contrarian views, reconciliation can happen through thorough discourse to mend fissures, whether political or social. But that would require effort, require you to be accommodating of other people’s interests and identity, or atleast require you to being open towards the idea of recognizing that your personal interest should not come at the cost of someone else’s welfare. However, beneath all the weight of this fundamental process is the undying ego that transcends all humanity. A clever way of maintaining that ego is to pull away from engagement, alienate yourself from the other parties and when confronted, lead with a disclaimer.