Let’s do the time-warp again

I couldn’t believe it when the Old Isms came back this week: racism/multiculturalism. It put me right back to the Dark Ages of the Howard Years when bigotry disguised as nationalism was considered as valid a view as non discriminatory immigration. The specter was raised this time by Shadow Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s comments regarding funerals for the asylum seeker dead… and taken up further as usual by radio shock jocks looking to light up their switchboard.

In the ten years I’ve been living in Australia, I’ve become sensitive to issues around race. Given my skin colour and non-Anglo name, it almost can’t be helped. This is not to discount the loveliness of my friends and colleagues, and that of strangers encountered every day. But I do feel physically ill when I read or hear patently racist and/or prejudiced comments, not just from talkback callers and demagogues but politicians — people with enough of a constituency supporting their views to elect them to Parliament.

The comments are not personally directed at me, of course, but I feel they are about me or people like me — not white, not born here. In the period between the Tampa incident and the Cronulla riots, at varied moments, I genuinely (though perhaps irrationally) thought that I was unsafe or unwelcome or different. As if being “different” is the most defining thing about me.

Not surprisingly, I’ve been accused of generalising in the same way that racists generalise when I say that there is an underlying streak of prejudice in Australia. But I don’t know what else to make of the infinitely recurring question of whether it is a racist country. I’m no longer sure why we keep asking, because the asking seems to imply the answer. I do know who keeps asking: they tend to be white people. To be more precise, white people who want the answer to be ‘no’ but suspect it is ‘yes’.

To be completely fair, I know there are many Australians — of nonspecific colour — who already know the answer to the question at least leans toward ‘yes’ and are pulling it the other way, either explicitly through work or simply by being themselves.

Indeed, after the remarks made recently against Muslims and asylum seekers, there is a world of work to be done to de-legitimise the view, consolidated in 1998 by Pauline Hanson and One Nation, that (non white) immigrants are a security threat, a drain on national resources, and a problem for cultural homogeneity (under the guise of social cohesion under the guise of ‘values’).


Categories: Politics and Governance

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