Thursday, June 04, 2009

Is Australia a racist country?

I woke up today to a Sunrise discussion on whether Australia is a racist country. The Victorian police say 1,447 people of Indian origin were robbed or assaulted in the state in 2007-2008. In the Western Suburbs of Melbourne around 30% of victims were Indian. Although Victoria with its 93,000 Indian students is getting all the attention, the attacks occur here in Sydney as well.

The Victorian police handled this in exactly the wrong way and the Indian press is understandably going ballistic. But I want to know if they are contextualizing the attacks with crime statistics from cities around the world where there are comparable Indian student populations.

I personally haven't encountered too much racism since high school, but then again 90% of my interactions are with the University crowd. They definitely aren't representative of the broader population. I've experienced only one incident of racial abuse in the workplace, but I don't think it was racially motivated. It was motivated by me being a noob at pulling beers and the bloke was a little drunk. He apologized immediately after and tipped me generously before he left.

Over the past few years we've been getting a really bad rap in the international media. The Tampa crisis, the related Children Overboard affair, the Redfern Riots, the Cronulla riots, Sol Trujillo's comments, and the treatment of refugees, have all contributed to this negative image.

I hate that we have to celebrate Australia Day on the day that the Brits invaded the country. It's offensive to the long history of this land and to the indigenous people who carry on its heritage. And as a firm republican with no British background, I find it offensive and exclusionary too.

The Rudd government has done well to reverse some of the damage done during the long Howard era by finally acknowledging our responsibility to the Stolen Generation and changing the asylum laws.

Relatively speaking, Australia isn't as racist as many other countries, including India with its prevalent caste systems. We wouldn't rate too badly against many of the European countries either, where the extreme right wing has seen more electoral success than here in Australia (One Nation was a Queensland aberration).

But we are a country of casual bluntness, our jokes are off-colour and we are easy with the insults. We are so confidant that our egalitarian ethic would be taken as given that we've adopted a laid-back attitude to possible offenses. This straight forwardness is great in most circumstances but I reckon it's doing some real damage when it comes to race issues. It is also providing shelter to the real racists out there.


Sabio Lantz said...

wow, if everyone in your country and mine (USA), this world would be so much nicer ! Good luck down there!

Rene Benthien said...

hey sabio, thanks man.

but do you mean 'if everyone was like your country and mine'? I don't think I understood you comment as you intended.