13 June 2009

Are Australians racist?

Recently, departing Telstra CEO Sol Trujillo claimed that Australians were racist, and the media went spare. Then along came the attacks on Indian, and it later turned out also Chinese, students. There are hints that this is due to Lebanese gangs. What is going on here? Is Australia racist?

Yes. Yes, we are. Not just against Asians, but against any non-majority group. The very structure of Australian institutions were founded on anti-Irish and anti-Aboriginal racism, and the basis of our modern society today is fundamentally to advantage some ethnic groups and disadvantage others. And this is a rolling event. When I was a kid, in the early 60s, it was Italians. Then it was Greeks. Then Chinese, Vitenamese, Serbs, Croats, Indians, and so on. Whoever is new in our society is a target, and aborigines are always targets as the natives.

I say this as an antidote to the myth (and it is a myth) of Australian mateship. Aborigines who fought in the second world war were excluded from pubs and clubs unlike their white mates. Chinese, some of whom have lived in Australia since the 1851 Gold Rush, are still treated as foreigners. In the 1980s I dated a Malaysian Chinese girl, and we were assualted in the street by hateful people, me for dating a "Chink" and she for just being Chinese. We are racist through and through. Deal with it.

That said, my Malaysian girlfriend was in Australia because she was not Bumiputra, and was therefore excluded from tertiary education in Malaysia. Hindus have one of the most racist social structures in history, which, ironically, was established in reaction to Islamic encroachment rather than going back to the final immigration of the Indo-Iranians. And even socially enlightened states like the Scandanavians have a major component of racism and neo-fascism, especially against the Muslims. And Islam, well don't get me started.

The fact is, humans are fundamentally racist, and no amount of nice rhetoric from governments, or legislation, will change that. Racism is something that takes constant effort to resist. It's not like there is some egalitarian instinct that horrid social institutions force into racism. It's more like the fact that humans natively will identify in-group from out-group, and that if you want to promote cosmopolitanism, you have to work at it.

Australians are racist, and we can take steps to overcome the social institutions that reinforce it. We can legislate against it (and we most certainly should), but to ignore the innate racism of both Australians and Australian sociopolitical institutions is to make a very bad mistake.

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