Racism: are we a racist country?

I cannot help but wonder what drives prejudice. Yes, for sure, we all have had negative interactions with some people from some cultures, like other cultures have had negative interactions with ours, but is that enough to take a position that everyone from that culture is the same? Or is it possible to look at someone from a certain ethnic or cultural background and make assumptions about them?

I always ask my students to reflect on their own outward appearance: their skin colour, hair colour, eye shape, eye colour and so on, and ask them what stereotypes exist about them? I then ask them to think about how many of these stereotypes are true?

Of course few are, and to make broad generalizations about someone based on their skin colour is as pointless as making generations based on the shape of their ears.

It is for this reason that politicians frustrate me and are incredibly irresponsible when they do this. It simply builds prejudice and fear into the rest of the population – and allows those with predetermined opinions to justify these.

It is for this reason that I wrote the piece for The Punch reflecting on the question ‘Are we are racist country?” which is available here – have a read and let me know what you think.

It is also great to see so many anti-racist projects happening: from the launch of a new group call All Together Now to the ongoing work of established organisations like Amnesty International and their confrontation of myths about refugees.

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5 Responses to Racism: are we a racist country?

  1. Tim McGowan says:

    Great piece James!

    I think it eloquently sums up the nature of percieved racism in Australia. The “fear of the unknown” is such a strong driver in racist behaviour and commentry. Having studied at UWS campuses at Kingswood and Bankstown I have witness incredibly diverse cohorts of students interacting and intermingling in respect, harmony and friendship. Family members of mine from western NSW, who live in almost exclusively Anglo-Celt communities, express great fear about our growingly diverse population.

    Isn’t it ironic that those who have never experienced the diversity you and I live within every day are the ones who speak out against it, while those who live amongst it think little of it.

    There is one group within our community, however, who deserve racism to be directed towards them (and I heard you express a similar sentiment in a Contempory Society lecture in early 2008)- dickheads! If we all stop describing people we don’t like using racial descriptors, and instead use the much more accurate term- dickheads- then many perceived racism in our society will disolve, whilst others will realise that it wasn’t wogs/black/Muslims/skips that they didn’t like- it was dickheads.

    I like to use a simple legend / dickhead checklist to illustrate this point:
    Muslim? Mohammed Ali- legend, Osama bin Laden- dickhead
    Politician? Bob Brown- legend, Tony Abbott- dickhead
    White commentators? George Negus- legend, Alan Jones- dickhead

    I could go on all day, but the point is that in any category you might feel prejudiced towards, if you are able to name a legend then it turns out you weren’t racist at all- you just don’t like dickheads.

    This is my personal crusade- we should all be racist, but only against dickheads!

    Tim

  2. Paolo Scimone says:

    Hi James,

    Yeah it’s all going round in circles, eh?

    I had a bit of an argument with Bessy on fb last night. She was reiterating her stance with regards to assylum seekers. I feel that she’s just trying to justify her right-wing leanings and trying to put a bit of icing on it. She feels that we should concentrate on our own problems first and the plight of others later. But how absurd is that. I told her that we actually do give priority to our own problems and all she was doing was inciting the ignorant to be even more ignorant.

    This issue falls in the same boat. I actually believe that racism in Australia may be predominantly influenced by something else, as well though. The English have always had a superiority complex to everybody else. All countries have this to some degree but the English version was reinforced just that little bit more when they recently “ruled the world”. In language, they still do to a point.

    This attitude may have wavered off of late, but the colonies have a tendency to maintain outdated status quos of the original “mother” country. When you add all that to communities which isolate themselves (as in the Shire), well, we can see the results.

    I am a strong believer in metaphysics, and the spiritual understanding which it allures to. I feel that such problems in prejudice are not going to go away or be solved any time soon even with increased awareness etc.. I believe that as humans achieve a certain ontological understanding about themselves and in fact all of life, this will most likely only be the only thing that will allow people to see beyond such menial differences. I would like it if a secular approach could allow everyone to accept everyone openly and of course love everyone unconditionally, but that is not the way it seems to be going. We must continue with the “hope” though (the hope you prescribe), for indeed, it is “a” set goal which can only be acheived.

    Based on certain belief structures though, I feel that such prejudices will only be recognised for the small things that they really are. One day, I am sure you will understand what I mean, and if you don’t get it from somewhere else, from the wealth of info out there (which can only confuse the matter more at times hehehe), then I will explain it to you… you’ll be able to read my eventual thesis, whether it’ll come to that officially or not, but there will be a thesis, anyway.

    Take care J, Paolo

  3. Richard says:

    In my opinion overly simplistic and generalized questions like ‘Is Australia a racist country?’ are far too broad and ambiguous. Better, though less sensational, questions might be ‘What, if any, aspects of racism exist within Australian culture?’ or ‘Do racist elements exist as part of the Australian national identity and if so how do we deal with them?’ It is my belief that such entrenched social issues are more effectively tackled when clearer definitions are applied to the subject matter in question, as well as to the particular problems and objectives being discussed in relation to the core issue.
    I’ve found that while such indistinct rhetoric is ok for gaining attention and spreading an awareness of an issue, it also runs the risk of alienating many who might otherwise give serious consideration to the topic, due to the all-encompassing, tacitly accusatory nature of such questions and statements. Of course this is just my opinion.

    • Sam says:

      Hi, I think the first question should be, did Australia start with racist idealologys, then ask ourselfs where did we as a nation start to deal with it, and then ask have we made progress, my opinion is as a nation we havent dealt with anything, seems waiting until it goes away is the action of choice, alot of people will refer to the apology, but the government destroyed any good footing we had to start the reconciliation process by passing laws overnight to remove Aborignial peoples human rights, seems we are going backwards, to Aborignal people (my many many friends and family) its been a long long parade of failed policys, cant name one policy thats helped Aborignals or helped the general public become more educated about the issues, but our leaders know what they are doing, why else would you opt out of teaching Australian history and teaching politics, then the media tell people what to think, then they force us (we are not free to make that basic decision) vote for one of two options, Im beginning to hate my nation that I love so much, our leaders and their sheep are wreaking this nation

  4. Sam says:

    I must say it, the NTER was based on protecting children, we watched as the army moved into Aborignial communitys and strip them of their rights all based on the children, we now know in victoria alone their was 630 cases of child abuse by catholic priests, yet we dont hear about it, we dont have the army going in to “protect” these children, we dont have the media focus intensly on the church or priests, wheres the consistency? it looks really bad for Australia, where are all the people who supported the NTER? Australia/Australians is becoming more and more confusing, we look like a nation of willful racists with our type on consistency

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