Friday, 30 March 2012

It's Not So Black and White: An Outsiders Observations on Racism in Australia

In this blog I will be making observations on racism in Australia.  I have to preface this piece by clarifying that:
  • I am a New Zealander, which in the minds of a lot of Australian's automatically disqualifies me from making any observations about their country or culture (too bad!);
  • I am indigenous, which for a small group of Australian's disqualifies me from having an opinion about any subject, 
  • I've only lived here for two years (three if you include 1990);
  • I am not racist or prejudiced against Australians... some of my best friends are Australian....
  • Yes, I will be making sweeping generalised statements about Australia and Australians, but those of you are not racist will know who you are :-)
  • Mostly importantly, I live in Brisbane, which most Aussies living south of Tweed Heads don't consider part of Australia at all, but some weird, backward place stuck in the 1950s.
Putting all that aside I believe that as an 'outsider', in being both non-Australian and Indigenous, I am able to bring a unique perspective to an analysis of racism in this country.

So, here are some observations that hopefully will cause debate:

Observation 1: casual racism
Most of the courses I teach at University in Brisbane focus on Indigenous justice.  A couple of times I have been asked by students 'are there any differences between Australia and New Zealand with regards racism'.  In my experience there is a significant difference in how racism is expressed in social settings and I explain it to them in this way: in New Zealand we have 'polite racism', here in Australia you have 'casual racism'.

To clarify the difference between the two sets of behaviour - in New Zealand if someone is about to make what might potentially be considered a racist comment they will preface it by saying 'I'm not a racist, but....', and then proceed to make a completely uninformed, racist remark about people of colour.  They make this comment not because they do not think they are racist (I suspect the majority know) but so they can feign hurt, shock and surprise if they are pulled up for their racist behaviour.  Another possible explanation is that they hope that the Maori or Pacifica guy who overheard them, the one built like the All Black front row, doesn't decide to pummel their racist ass.

Here in Australia, especially where I live in Central Brisbane, racists don't appear to be concerned about being pummelled - mainly because you see very few people of colour in social contexts here (by that I mean drinking!) apart from the odd Maori of Pacifica man who work in nearby building sites.  They see no need to preface their racist comments with a qualifier like 'I'm not racist, but...'.  Instead they just say it, and say it loud and proud: 'I hate Abo's, Wog's, Nigga's, Chinks, Maoris, Muslim's, Boat People'.. and occasionally, 'New Zealanders'.  I have heard it all and I have heard it often.

In a two week period last year an English friend and I counted four different occasions when we went out that we had a white Australian standing next to us or talking directly to us make these types of comments - always unsolicited.  The worst incident was when a Torre Strait Island friend and I went to a pub where two young Australian men and two Canadians had a competition to see which country's Indigenous peoples were the worst (the most drunk, violent, poorest, laziest, etc), judged by telling the best (as in the most racist) joke.  The funniest part of this incident was when they finally realised the two guys sitting next to them were 'brown', one commented... 'only joking guys', we aren't racist'.

I have a feeling that particular idiots mother is a New Zealander.

Observation 2: it is better to be white....if you stuff up
Sports is a big thing in Australia: If you are good at sport people will like you.  If you excel in Rugby League, AFL, Rugby or Athletics and Swimming  a lot of people will adore you.  So, when a sporting star stuffs up in some way it brings a lot of media and public attention.  My observation is this: how you get treated and how your behaviour is explained by media and sports insiders depends a lot on your ethnicity.  

This issue arose recently when a high profile Aboriginal AFL player was charged with a criminal offence while on leave in the Northern Territory.  Soon after an article appeared in a newspaper quoting a AFL club scout who said that problems such as this made clubs weary of contracting Black Fellas and that they were more attractive propositions if one of the parents was white.  The implications of this attitude is obvious: if a 'Black player' behaves it is because of his 'whiteness', if he is all Black, well....

Naturally these comments and the newspaper articles caused controversy and the AFL scout resigned.  Amongst all the commentary one thing stuck out for me, how come when white players misbehave, say abuse drugs, shag their team-mates girlfriend or wife (perhaps not 'illegal' but dodgy, unethical behaviour nonetheless), sleep with and use young women after making 'school visits', get drunk, fight, fall over, urinate in public, etc - all behaviours that are common in sports populated by young, fit, well-paid and well known men -  their 'whiteness' is never raised as an issue?  In comparison to Black Fellas, the poor behaviour of white sportsmen (yes, they are almost always men) is explained by focusing on them as individuals and never on their ethnicity.  I long for the day when I read the newspaper headline: 'White Player Behaves Badly'.

Observation 3: being Australian means being white, anything else is 'UnAustralian'
My last observation relates to the propensity for some white, middle class or wealthy, middle aged men to use the term 'UnAustralian' to criticise and silence a political view or action that differs from their own.

The first time I heard that comment was when the Federal Government talked about making Mining companies pay more taxes on their not inconsiderable profits (making them pay more tax = 'UnAustralian').  Aussie friends tell me the term has been around for some time, but is being used more frequently.  Since Xmas I have heard the term used against anyone who dares criticise the rich and powerful (more often than not mining magnates) and especially against the Aboriginal tent protesters for their actions on Australia Day.

As I said at the beginning of this section, the people who use this term most often come from a small section of Australian society.  What they appear to be saying is that unless you behave and think like I do, as a white, middle class or rich, middle age male, you are not truly Australian.

So, I would like to hand my second Bullsh*t Artist of the Week award to anyone who has used this term in the past, or in the future, in order to silence views and ways of life that differ from your own.

God help this country if this self-important group were to one day dictate how to live as an Australian.

No comments:

Post a Comment