Tag Archives: Racism

The problem with small town racism

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On the Easter long weekend, I took a trip with my family to a place three hours down the coast from Sydney. The water was crystal blue, the white sands were beautiful and live music filled the town street at night.

But something tainted my escape from the city: small town racism. It wasn’t from everybody, and it wasn’t necessarily vicious, but it was there.

On Saturday night, we were walking back from dinner when six teenagers walked past. The only boy in the group started waving profusely, and with wide eyes said “good morning”. I smiled at them, and my sister replied “good morning?”

It was night time.

It seemed pretty innocent until I heard one of the girls say to the boy: “oh, they speak English!” They then all walked off giggling. Sorry to shatter your small-minded stereotype of Asian people.

I don’t know whether they thought it was wrong or even racist, but it does touch on issues regarding the government’s proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act. The reality is that it can be difficult for the dominant race to identify when something is racist, which is what makes the proposed subsection (3) so problematic.

The subsection states that whether an act is reasonably likely to vilify or intimidate is “to be determined by the standards of an ordinary reasonable member of the Australian community, not by the standards of any particular group within the Australian community. In other words, not by the ethnic group being vilified.

The question is who is the ordinary Australian? If ‘ordinary’ means the norm, and the norm is white people, then we could have a problem, writes Waleed Aly. “Plenty of white people (even ordinary reasonable ones) are good at telling coloured people what they should and shouldn’t find racist, without even the slightest awareness that they might not be in prime position to make that call,” he says.

I don’t think the small town boy’s remarks warrant legal punishment under the Act. Even though I was offended, I think, to an extent, people should have the right to say stupid things. But there must be a limit. The idea that the market will automatically self-correct itself and oppose racists is flawed because it overestimates Australia’s tolerance and underestimates entrenched inequalities within the system.

To me, my coastal weekend experience indicated a deeper entrenched racism that has the potential to manifest into the humiliation, vilification and intimidation of people because of their race. This potential is especially ripe if the standard of racism is to be determined collectively by people who have not experienced it. And I’m not just talking about white Australians. An Asian may struggle to understand how racism affects Aboriginal people. Likewise, a person with a Middle Eastern background may have different experiences to a European.

Most of all, it’s the victim’s voice that matters.

As a person with Malaysian-Chinese heritage that was born and raised in Australia, this is not the first time I’ve been faced with racial slurs. But I must say it hasn’t happened in a while and I wasn’t expecting it. It wasn’t terrifying or extreme. I didn’t fear for my life. But these nuances of the small town frustrated me. It made me wonder for the Chinese kid growing up in a rural school or for the Korean tourists who are mocked behind their backs. It certainly made me realise Australia isn’t the multicultural nirvana that I sometimes think it is.

After that incident, I walked the streets hyper aware that I was one of the only Asians in that town.

This is understandable. The town has a population just over 700 people, and according to local statistics more than 80 per cent of them were born in Australia. Only 0.05 percent of its population were born in China (the only Asian country represented) meaning this small town probably doesn’t encounter Asians very often. When they do, it’s most likely to be international Korean and Indian tourists who dress differently, speak loudly in another language and seem to take up a lot of space during tourism season.

Lack of exposure is a problem in Australia, but it’s no excuse. There comes a point where you cannot blame the small town society that shaped you for the wrongs you commit.

Mostly, what they said made me wonder whether I would have been treated worse if I’d turned out to be one of the Korean tourists. If I don’t speak English well, or I don’t share the same cultural norms as the locals, does that make me more fair game to be mocked? I found myself feeling – not for the first time in my life – that I had to prove that I was a westernised Asian, that I was well-spoken in English, that I had the Aussie accent, that I dressed like an Aussie and that I was from Sydney.

Even growing up, I remember how the few Asians that did appear on TV were usually ridiculed stereotypes, like this guy:

Flynn on Australian Idol was so popular he go invited to sing in the grand finale. But, if we’re being really honest, we weren’t laughing with him. We were laughing at him. Only in hindsight have I realised how depictions like these influenced my perception of my own ethnicity. The message from both the small town teens and Australian Idol was this: Asians are people with funny accents who are oblivious to how silly they look.

The cultural implication that my ethnic roots are inferior or sillier than Western culture is, quite frankly, offensive. The implication that I need to disassociate from my heritage in order to be cool or accepted, I find offensive. When I was a kid, I was more inclined to believe them. Now I know better. Cultural diversity is to be celebrated not mocked, and no one should be made to feel like they are worth less because of their race.

Published in Hijacked, 24 April 2014.

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Racism on Public Transport: The ‘Real’ Australia?


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Ada Lee

A woman will face court after she launched a racist tirade against an Asian schoolboy on a Sydney bus.

Inside the bus

Video footage, recorded by an onlooker, went viral across mainstream and social media earlier this month. The video shows a 55-year-old woman telling an Asian schoolboy to get a passport and educate himself after he refused to sit down. “Go back on your f—ing boat and f— off, ” she said. “There’s a lot of Aussie passengers on this bus and I’m telling you, they’re totally not going to agree with you…and I’m one of them… Come to this country, you [think you] can do whatever you want. Well you know what? You can’t!”

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Racist or Just Ignorant?

Published in Vibewire, 29 May 2013.

Click here to see the original.

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A young spectator’s racist slur to indigenous AFL player, Adam Goodes, has sparked debate about racism in society.

13-year-old Collingwood fan, Julia, shouted “Way to kick the ball ape” before being escorted out of the MCG stadium in Melbourne. Goodes said at a press conference that he was “shattered” by her remarks. “It’s not the first time on a footy field I’ve been referred to as a monkey or an ape, ” he said. “It felt like I was in high school again, being bullied.”

For many people, the fact that Julia is only 13-years-old has proved to be particularly shocking. Adam Goodes said, “When I saw it was a young girl, I was just like ‘really?’. I was just like ‘how could that happen?’”

North-West indigenous footballer, Kent Jackson, told The Advocate: “The fact that the slurring came from a 13-year-old girl really hits home and shows you how deeply ingrained into our culture this sort of thinking is”.

Those who defend the young girl argue that she was unaware of her actions. Among her defenders is Adam Goodes himself. The Aboriginal AFL player said: “It’s not her fault. Unfortunately it’s what she hears, it’s the environment she’s grown up in that makes her think it’s OK to call people names.”

In defending the girl, many have pointed to the complicity of her environment in fostering her ignorance. The girl’s mother, Joanne, told Nine News, “She’s only a 13 year old young girl that lives in a country town, that doesn’t really get out that much, going to the cities”.

Collingwood president, Eddie McGuire, told ABC radio that he had spoken to the girl; she “didn’t even know that it was racist”, he said.

It is questionable, however, whether ignorance can always be used to excuse racism. As a young girl, perhaps she did not know any better. Perhaps she is merely the product of a society that never told her that calling Aboriginal people “ape” is unacceptable.

But at what point are we as people to be held responsible for our own education? After all, racism itself is often rooted in ignorance and a misunderstanding of other cultures. Would the public reaction be different if it had been an adult who called “ape” from the stands? What if this adult grew up in the same environment as the 13-year-old girl?

It is true that you will not learn anything if no one tells you. But at the same time, you will not learn anything if you do not look and listen.

Goodes points to the broader picture: “It’s not a Collingwood issue. It’s not an AFL issue. It’s a society issue”, he said.

Goodes and Jackson say parents should be held accountable. Jackson told The Advocate: “How is anyone expected to penetrate the heart and minds of children more than parents can at the family table?” He said that better schooling could help address the issue but ultimately, family values needed to change.

Collingwood president, McGuire, points to politicians, the media and our own situation in revving up racism. He particularly blames political rhetoric on issues such as asylum seekers. “Politicians set the tone for the type of country that we will get and the voters go along with it. We all have to decide whether we’re going to be a red neck, hick country, or we are going to be a country that is very much involved in tolerance, ” he said on ABC radio.

Undoubtedly, all of these groups play a role in shaping society. More important than playing the blame game, the question stands: are webuilding a society that listens to other cultures or ignores them?

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