Until recently I never worried about being a target of racism. Sure at school I was called a ‘Ching-Chong China girl’ and a FOB (i.e., Fresh off the Boat). I was asked whether I was an internet bride and if I ate dog. However I didn’t notice or care enough to be really affected by it. Now, many years later, I am witnessing levels of racist comments I would never have imagined even just a few years ago. I have heard comments such as ‘Two Wongs don’t make a white’ (apparently an old Aussie favourite) and ongoing dialogue about how the Aryan race are more attractive, which coming from professional people is more than a little concerning.
What worried me most was overhearing someone recently comment on how they truly believe that Aboriginals should “go back to where they come from”. I have a very, very high tolerance for the politically in-correct but this struck me as very out of place, because it implied that the first people of Australia, who to this day are fighting for equality and power against hate speech, don’t belong in their country of origin. I’ve not previously heard this comment made about Aboriginal Australians – more often I’ve heard it targeted at refugees. I can understand that some people may genuinely not understand the nature of the insult, but to get real about it, racism is a particularly vicious and personal attack, even when it is made “just for fun”. Have we forgotten our history lessons? Aren’t our colonial forefathers ‘boat people’? Did Captain Cook fly Qantas?
Racism seems to move from one target group to another, like cringe worthy fashion waves, but whoever the target is, good ol’ racism is ever present. Abroad also, wherever there is difference in race or culture there are people determined to be racist. For example, The ongoing racist dialogue between Hong Kong locals and ‘mainland’ China has been broadcast almost daily by the South China Morning Post, which I find somewhat ridiculous given we are all Chinese. The world over, there is distrust, social disconnect and violence between different cultures, race and religion (in Pakistan, Northern Ireland, Nigeria, western China). Many of these conflicts involve histories which we don’t fully grasp and the detail of which we cannot judge. But the racism is always there. So Racism clearly is not a uniquely Australian problem… but it still is an Australian problem.
Someone once told me that racism is just a “stereotype”, and while it does involve stereotyping, that’s just a small part of the story. Stereotypes, even though they make it easier for us to get by with all the day-to-day things we have to deal with, can still be harmful. Stereotypes are like a generalisation. They reduce the time it takes to make a decision, but at the cost of reduced accuracy in our decision making. So sure, racism does involve stereotyping, but it is more than just stereotyping. Racism is stereotyping plus the decision to be nasty toward other people. So the next time you put someone in a box (those Indian telemarketers, those Phillipino house-keepers, those [insert ethnic minority here] with the funny food or whatever) are you simply reinforcing negative stereotypes? Yes. India does have a booming industry in call centre management, but I’m pretty sure I receive calls from Australian telemarketers too. When people say “I’m not racist but…” it’s like a social disclaimer requesting permission (and protection from peers) to roll out a poorly thought through stereotype. They may as well be saying “I know it’s a poorly thought through stereotype that might be harmful to someone, but… I’m going to be racist and hurtful anyway”. When someone says this to you, it’s your choice whether to give them that permission.
Gina Huisy MAPS (2014)