26 January 2010

Happy Australia Day 2010

Hi folks. Yeah I haven't been blogging for while, but it's the new year and I hope that this means that things will change.

It's Australia Day 2010, and I thought I'd jot down a few things of what Australia Day means to me. Really, I do love this place. And I'm sure that everyone thinks the same about the place that they live in. But there is things that we could do to improve the place.

Some of you might be aware that it is also Republic Day in India at the moment. Happy Republic Day to you, if you're Indian and reading this.

Relations between here and India are not what they could be. And this is a real shame, because Australia and India have a lot in common and I'm not just talking about a celebrated rivalry on the cricket pitch.

For starters, we were both colonies of the British Empire. And while we're still technically a constitutional monarchy, India is a republic and has been for some time. This is pretty irrelevant - for starters, our Governor-General pretty much enjoys all the trappings of our head of state, even though she's technically only a representative of the Queen of the United Kingdom in Australia. And funnily enough, since our constitution describes the GG as our head of state, I suppose that we're pretty much a republic, for all intents and purposes anyway.

But I've digressed. India and Australia have a lot in common. But our relationship has been strained in recent years with quite a few violent incidents involving Indian students in Australia.

We have a lot of Indian students studying in Australia.

One of the things that Australia has in common with India is an independent and free media. But where the (admittedly not 'out of proportion') attacks on Indian students might have been swept under the rug here as being 'normal' - and I've seen no stats to indicate that they're anything but - the Indian media has been going berzerk.

We were quick to write this off as media hysteria. I actually wondered myself for a little while why, if there was a racial problem, why is the evidence not being provided to the police?

I still wonder about this, but I can tell you right now - we have a problem, and we need to fix it.

I saw this first hand last week on the train. I had hopped on the train at Parliament station, where I normally get on for my ride home. Settling into my seat, I was a little curious at the trio of young kids with plastic bags chroming away in broad daylight up the far end of the train. One of the three, a girl who couldn't have been much older than 14, looked at me and yelled, in a fairly aggressive tone, "Stop looking ya cunt!"

Without meaning to sound too snobby, these three were pretty much gutter trash, and from the loud conversation they were having, it was clear that they were so wasted that they'd hopped on a train on the Hurstbridge line by mistake. I didn't catch where they were headed, but they hopped out at Clifton Hill and seemed a little bit disoriented, and I don't think that it was just the inhalants.

She then proceeded to list why she disliked or liked certain non-anglo racial groups: Asians and "Lebos" (general Australian vernacular for Arabs/Middle Easterners in this context, I think) were considered OK. She even described Asians as "excellent" at one point - for anyone reading this from the UK, the term "Asian" in Australia does not include subcontinentals. But Indians and Africans (we have a lot of people of Sudanese and Somalian backgrounds on Melbourne) were considered bastards, or "...cunts the lot of them".

I haven't seen this in the past at all. I should point out that I move in fairly ordinary middle class circles where I work with all sorts of ethnicities, including Indians, and have never seen anything quite like this.

So the spectre of racism has raised its ugly head in Australia, and we don't really know what to do about it. Some would say that it's always been here: I've never seen it. I've hired people in the past to jobs based on merit and those that I've hired have come from a range of different ethnicities.

And if you think that I've been living under a rock - you could be right. The problem is, just like this instance on the train, I need to see it for myself before I'll acknowledge it. How many Australians are like me I wonder?

On thinking about it, maybe I have seen it, although I might have seen the other side of racism. "Racism" as we know it these days requires an underprivileged ethnic group to be discriminated against. Yes I know that is not what the term means, but really, this is how it is these days.

The other side of racism isn't quite so ugly, however it's not really rosy. I've chatted with many taxi owners who have told me the reasons why they prefer Indian students as taxi drivers: They're reliable.

I've also chatted with the odd convenience store owner who admits to hiring Indian students because they're more honest and hard-working than their other applicants, who are usually of Eastern European or Middle Eastern backgrounds. Anglos? Well apart from not being as honest and hard-working, apparently, Anglos don't apply for these jobs.

Anglos are too stuck-up to apply for jobs in convenience stores or as taxi drivers, which says a great deal more about Anglos in this country. This is an interesting little thing in its own right. I've seen this and it's pretty poor. I have close friends (all Anglos) who preferred to be unemployed for long periods waiting for the right job to come along rather than take a job stacking boxes or serving in convenience stores.

(I do know one Anglo ex-Taxi Driver, but he was at the upper end of Generation X and appeared to know the value of having an income flow even if it was a small one, while he awaited his dream job. And he awaited that dream job for years.)

And I've heard friends tell racist jokes. They don't mean anything by it, but it shits me beyond all measure that these friends don't understand how disrespectful this can sound. My question would be, would you say that in front of an Indian? Or a Somalian?

We are a pretty great country, I think. But we could be excellent. We just have to get off our arses and start making an effort in this regard. Here's a few things that we could could do to make Australia truly great:

1. When someone tells a racist joke, or even makes a racist slur about different ethnicities, why not ask them if they'd say that in front of someone of that ethnicity?

2. When someone refers to themselves in an "empowering" way (fuck I hate you, post-modernists) on the basis of their own race or ethnicity, ask them if they'd mind if someone from a different ethnicity did the same thing about them? A good example is African-Australians who seem to have started referring to themselves as "niggaz" - would they like it if an Anglo did it?

3. It's quite OK to have a job as a convenience store clerk. Gen Y - go out there and get a job and stop bludging off your parents.

4. Indian students have been complaining of racist treatment for some time. Why can't the police ask Indian student groups or the Indian media for evidence? Wouldn't this confirm their claims?

5. If the police have evidence, why can't they do something about it, rather than sweeping it under the carpet?

6. I don't care who you are - anyone who believes in "celebrating diversity" is usually a racist buffoon. We have manners and etiquette for a reason - it helps us to understand each other's intentions. Special pleading on the grounds of race is usually an excuse to shoehorn some kind of racist generalisation in somewhere.

7. Whilst I publicly consider generalisations of young Anglos as lazy and dishonest to be offensive, privately I sorta agree. I don't mean to be ageist, but it would help if young Anglo-Australians made more of an effort.

8. There's a reason why I haven't mentioned Aboriginal Australia in this post. Try to figure out why that might be.

9. Indian students (and Chinese, for that matter) bring a lot of money into Australia. It might not be as much as our earnings from iron ore exports to China, but think of this when you're helping one out.

10. Next time you hear anyone who was born here describe themselves as "Asian" or "a wog", politely point out to them that they were born here.

Cheers, and have a great 2010.


taj said...

It's a good post Dikkii, but there are things that I disagree with that I considered responding to at length but decided that this is not the right forum. I'll point out generally that it's a bit of a stretch to compare a colony that arguably managed to kick out the British Empire after a couple of hundred years, and another from which it never left. Whatever your personal leanings on the matter, you can't wave away the idea that whether or not racism exists in Australia (it does, in various forms), slights both perceived and real are going to be looked at through glasses coloured by colonial history whether or not it would be rational to do so.

Dikkii said...

Which is why I used the words "a lot" and not "clones of each other". :-)

taj said...

Diametrically opposed experiences of colonization by the same empire qualifies for a "not at all."

The point being made is that Indians of boomer and later generations have a chip on their shoulders about the whole White Man's Burden thing, so even the slightest hint of explicit or averse discrimination is going to be seen through that filter. In some cases the perception is accurate (averse discrimination is unfortunately quite common in Australia), it will be assumed to be the result of racism even when it isn't.

Dikkii said...

In the context of the examples that I chose, do you really think that "not at all" is good enough?

I agree that in the context of the examples that you chose, maybe this is correct, but we're not exactly commenting at a post on your blog now are we?

In any event, I agree with you, as it happens. And you're quite right: Even if it turns out that racism wasn't involved, it will be assumed that it is.

I must disagree on one point - but it's more a clarification rather than an outright disagreement: Averse discrimination is unfortunately not common enough to make it into my slice of meatspace. I've seen it, but it's not common.

I've also seen the opposite (again not common but an equivalent amount) where racism allegations are used as a 'Mugabe defence'.

Maybe I live under a middle class rock? I'm certainly open to this suggestion.

Playing Devil's Advocate for just a moment, is the generalisation of an entire multi-culti like Australia within a white context really acceptable? And if the racism epithet was directed at the Indian media, how would they react? I'm not guessing favourably.

taj said...

Not at all remains accurate, regardless of source blog. India accepts the various cultural and administrative remnants of the Empire grudgingly to varying degrees, while the majority of Australia remains - culturally, racially, administratively - a part of the British diaspora. As an example, I've heard young Aussies refer to England as the "mother country" but you'll never ever hear that in India.

Regarding the averse discrimination - you and I each make a data point of one, so I suppose we cancel each other out.

Is the generalisation acceptable? I think it still is, yes. I found that white Australia held on to its own cultural identity even more strongly as more immigrants came in, and why not? It happens everywhere else in the world.

You're right about the Indian media reacting badly to being called racist. But keep in mind that India is a deeply and casually racist country (the caste system, for example is distilled racism). It's so completely entrenched that most folks are oblivious to the idea that it's racism. I wouldn't want to be a black or tibetan-looking person in India.

Dikkii said...

I disagree that "not at all" is even remotely accurate. Nevertheless, although I've only ever heard "the mother country" line delivered through a smirk (irony, anyone?) you may possibly have a point.

It's interesting that you mention the caste system - although I wasn't as direct as you were, I was having this conversation the other day where I referenced the caste system in a similar light. I was castigated (by an Indian no less) for the "poverty of [my] comparison." He's a bit of a traditionalist, nevertheless, he doesn't support it.