Racism in Australia?

Peter Brent, writing below, is truly pathetic. He seems to think that a series of anecdotes expose Australians as racist.  But anecdotes cannot do that.  I can just as easily recount twice as many anecdotes showing Australians as non-racist.  Anecdotes are useful but should not be persuasive except as an illustration of something that has already been established statistically.

So here is some counter anecdotage: Where I go shopping, in an average sort of Brisbane suburb, there are a lot of East Asians, mostly Han Chinese.  Yet I have never once seen the slightest manifestation of racism towards them.  They treat others politely and others treat them politely.  I even see friend-groups of young people that include both Chinese and Anglos.   And the number of tall Anglo men with a small Asian girlfriend on their arm is quite a wonder.

According to the classic Bogardus index of prejudice, partner formation should be the area where racism is most manifest, so those frequent interracial couples alone junk Brent's miserable claims.

So in one day, I see more instances of non-racism than all of the idiot's examples put together.  As far as I can see, Australia is a prime example of racial harmony.  No doubt there are grumblers here and there but deeds speak louder than words.

And Brent's examples of "racist" deeds are absurd. He tells of a female official treating a brown-skinned man in a peremptory way.  How do we know the official was influenced by the man's skin colour?  We do not.  She could have been pre-menstrual or he could have had bad breath or something.  There are many possibilities and we have no way of knowing which was at work.  Brent has simply paraded his own opinion as fact.

And Brent criticizes John Howard for leaving it to the army to deal with silly behaviour among its ranks.  As a former army psychologist myself, I think Howard got it exactly right.  Army men are not sensitive souls.  They can see as funny things that others would not.  If they were sensitive souls they would not be in the army.  Training to kill people is not a milksop's job and nothing will make it so.

And his claim that feminist Julia Gillard saw arch-conservative John Howard as a role model will surely surprise everyone who knows anything about Australian politics, including John Howard and Julia Gillard.  Brent sees things that are not there --  psychiatric delusions?

The one statistic the sad soul refers to is the poor state of Aborigines.  And there is no doubt that the state of Aborigines is appalling by white standards.  But why are they so different?  If Asians and Anglos both do well in Australia, why do Aborigines do so badly?  Most urban Aborigines even have English as their native language, an advantage many Asians lack.

And is white society responsible for the state of Aborigines?  Mainly under Leftist influence, all Australian governments, State and Federal, seem to think so.  The number of projects and programs that have been initiated to help Aborigines are legion -- with just about nil results.  Paternalism has been tried.  Permissiveness has been tried.  Nothing works.  The problem is in Aborigines themselves, nobody else.  The state of Aborigines does not prove Australian racism.  If anything, it shows the racism of people who cannot accept that Aborigines might simply be different.

Brent's nickname is "Mumbles".  He should stick to mumbling.  I can't imagine what he got his Ph.D. in.  Modern dance?

"Do you want to lose that?!", the Immigration Department employee screeched at the young South Asian man in Perth Airport's customs line this week.

She was forty-ish and blonde and was pointing to the mobile phone he held to his ear. She had earlier signalled that he should put it away but he hadn't understood. So now she scolded him like a five year old.

Looking surprised and a little shaken by this little Hitler in a uniform, he quickly hung up.

I've emailed the department asking about this rule banning the use of mobile phones in customs queues. Is it a new thing? Or did she just make it up so she could bully the dark guy? Either way, it's difficult to imagine she would have spoken to a white person like that.

Well, I don't know the woman, maybe she would have.

But it was a very Pauline Hanson welcome to Australia.

Visitors to this country sometimes report a jarring preponderance of casual, everyday racism. British-American comedian John Oliver found Australia "a sensational place, albeit one of the most comfortably racist places I've ever been in. They've really settled into their intolerance like an old resentful slipper."

We can protest all we like that they don't understand us and our situation. That's what Apartheid South African whites insisted. Did they have a point? Possibly a small point, overwhelmed by the larger one.

The question is not: "is Australia racist?" Racism seems to pollute the human condition everywhere and seems woven into societies' fabrics around the world. Children aren't born resenting and distrusting people not like them, but usually learn to.

Racism often forms part of the collection of preconceptions people have about others. Humans can recognise these inclinations and attempt to transcend them.

The situation with indigenous Australians is a particular one, because they were here long before the rest of us. Many countries, including some Asian neighbours, have similar dynamics at play with indigenous minorities. A mixture of guilt, impatience at an apparent unwillingness to assimilate, and prejudice. But we occupy the extreme end in Australia: all those gaping statistical discrepancies in health outcomes, life expectancy, suicide, incarceration rates, general indicators of misery - and corresponding mainstream attitudes.

It's more complex, a lot more complex, than simply believing that if mainstream Australia would stop being racist everything would be fine. But there is a lot of racism embedded in the Australian psyche.

Racism lurks in communities around the planet, but it's true what the visitors say: Australians are relatively comfortable expressing it.

I largely blame John Howard. I'm serious, I do. Two decades ago Australia did not particularly stand out in the pack. (Again, I exclude the position of Aboriginal Australians.)

It was quickly forgotten that Howard's 1996 "comfortable and relaxed" line was predominately aimed at all that Keatingesque hand-wringing about past injustices to Aboriginals. And in government his, and his advisers', model for re-election included picking at seething resentment towards minorities.

Howard was wont, particularly when an election was on the horizon, to reflect that one of his proudest achievements was that Australians now felt freer to express themselves than under Labor.

He meant, of course, on matters of race.

Every so often Howard would deliberately utter something inflammatory, upsetting the usual suspects, just to keep his hand in. If someone was publicly under fire for a racially tinged misdeed, Howard would usually rush to their corner - or at least equivocate.

(One typical incident, a 2007 Youtube video of drunken soldiers in Ku Klux Klan garb, was met with these prime ministerial words:

"I have some understanding of the disposition of people in these situations to let off a bit of steam. Let the military deal with those things in their own way. People get into a lather of sweat and so on ... Let's be sensible about this.")

Eventually this tendency of Howard's was celebrated in the political class as crucial part of his political genius, a method by which he had (supposedly) eaten into the ALP's working-class base.

And it's true what they say: when you change the government, you change the country - perhaps not what's in people's hearts, how they feel able to express themselves, because people in power set norms of behaviour.

It is all entwined in the hot issue of "border protection", which most believe decided the 2001 election.

After winning government in 2007, Labor remained captured by the myth of Howard. Julia Gillard in particular seemed to see him as a role model; her language about migrants upon becoming prime minister in 2010 had a decidedly Howard-like tinge.

Ask Sol Trujillo, born in America to Mexican immigrants, who was Telstra boss from 2005 to 2009, if we're racist. He told the BBC that racism in Australia "was evident in a lot of ways with me personally but more importantly with others."

References to "amigos", "tortillas" and "enchiladas" abounded in mainstream media and among politicians during his tenure. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, when asked to comment on Trujillo's departure, simply said "adios".

And recall the 2009 Hey Hey It's Saturday's 2009 black faces furore. (Gillard as acting prime minister gushingly defended the program.)

Oh, that's just us, you say, having harmless fun. Only self-loathing elites have a problem with this sort of kind of behaviour.

Don't go changing Australia.


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