More on “Racism? Yes and no”

10 Jun

Rarely does a post of mine excite much discussion, though I have to say that is partly because I don’t really foster massive comment threads. After a couple of weeks I usually close comment. So I have been fascinated by the turn taken in my post Racism? Yes and no….

Comments have been sidetracked a little by Antony Shen, but it’s not a bad sidetrack: after all, what constitutes humour in “making fun” of second language speakers and what constitutes superciliousness or even racism is a good topic, even if it arguably has little to do with the current issue between India and Australia about their students here.

Meanwhile the stories of attack and counter-attack on the subject of Indian students in Australia goes on. There are very serious implications, as Ramana, a delightful gentleman in India and a regular reader, notes in that comment thread.

The focus just lately has been on the western Sydney suburb of Harris Park.

Indian students have protested for a second night in Sydney’s west, calling for greater police protection.

Around 70 young men blocked off an intersection at Harris Park just after 8:00pm, demonstrating against what some claim is racially-motivated attacks against Indian students perpetrated by members of the Lebanese community.

Two men were arrested and taken to Parramatta Police Station. One was released without charge and the other was served a notice to appear in court later this month.

Rippon Singh, a student at the protest, believes they are being targeted.

"We are contributing to the real community, we are paying the taxes, we are doing everything that is possible and we are getting bashed up," he said…

In a speech to India’s Parliament, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh slammed the attacks as senseless violence, saying some of them are racist in nature.

Australian High Commissioner to India John McCarthy says there are not any systemic racist attacks going on.

"Some of the crimes committed against them have had a racial element in them and I think there has been increased concern among the Indian student community as a whole in Australia," he said. "That’s understandable."

India’s Foreign minister, SM Krishna, has urged Indian students to stay calm in the wake of the attacks on them.

"I would like all Indian students to be patient," he said. "They should be restrained. They have gone there to pursue higher studies and they should concentrate on that, rather than retaliate."…

Jim Belshaw makes a useful contribution on the demographics of Harris Park.

I am still “yes and no” on this, and that is not to sit on the fence but to recognise that “racism” is too broad a brush, too much of a catch-all here. While as strongly anti-racist as ever, I also recognise the ease with which this emotive term can blur lines, can indeed be one of those concepts that make us “white folk” (though I am not myself entirely white) feel righteous: see the wonderful satirical blog Stuff White People Like, a great prophylactic.

One of the nastiest racist incidents I have ever seen here in Surry Hills (some years ago) was an Aboriginal man spitting on some passing Chinese. Racism isn’t exclusively a white preoccupation.

Today in The Sydney Morning Herald Paul Sheehan (whose Waiting for the Barbarians in the late 1990s was a singularly inflammatory and unhelpful analysis of our being “swamped by Asians” leading to my regarding him ever since as a thinking person’s Pauline Hanson) does have a point. See Brutal truth about attacks.

…the distorted story of white racism has been helped along by the prevailing sensibilities of reporting of crime in Australia, with skittishness about detailing the gritty reality that most violent street crime in Sydney and Melbourne is not committed by whites. The prison populations confirm this.

The attacks on Indians have followed this pattern, with the crimes committed by a polyglot mix reflecting the streets – white, Asian, Middle Eastern, Aboriginal, Pacific Islander.

The most recent attacks, in Harris Park this week, allegedly involved assailants of the proverbial "Middle Eastern appearance". The assault on Monday night was followed by a retaliatory attack by a big group of Indians. Police said three men "of Middle Eastern appearance" were set upon in Harris Park after about 200 Indian men converged on the street after hearing of the latest attack. In Melbourne, an assault on an Indian student on a train was recorded on video and footage depicting the attack was posted on YouTube. The video shows a swarm of young men robbing and repeatedly attacking the student. Most of them do not appear to be white.

A recent assault on an Indian student in Glebe was committed by a young offender described as Aboriginal…

What Sheehan forgets is that everyone having Australian citizenship, whatever their culture or ethnicity, is Australian. The implication of such thinking as his is that there are “Aussies” and there are “non-Aussies” – Lebs for example. Unfortunately too many fall for this error, including many in the “non-Anglo” Australian camp as well as many self-styled “Aussies” rather over-given to wrapping themselves in Australian flags, a very recent practice that once would have scandalised most Australians. But he is right to point out that “white racism” is at best just one element in this puzzle.

Similarly Miranda Devine a little while back, though she parades her hobby-horses as usual. Even so, Adrian Phoon (an Australian born and bred) remarked at the time on Twitter: “Miranda Devine speaks and I find myself not disagreeing with her, even almost agreeing with her. Is this the apocalypse or just revelation?”

Unfortunately, as Ramana says, the current difficulties have coincided with several other matters to make this a real issue in India. We Australians do need to be careful how we address it.



5 responses to “More on “Racism? Yes and no”

  1. Antony

    June 11, 2009 at 11:07 am

    What Sheehan forgets is that everyone having Australian citizenship, whatever their culture or ethnicity, is Australian. The implication of such thinking as his is that there are “Aussies” and there are “non-Aussies” – Lebs for example. Unfortunately too many fall for this error

    That’s the reality, not the citizenship on paper. If a person does not appear white and with European background, hardly anyone would have assumed that person be an ‘Aussie’.

    You might not agree with this answer when asking about the benefit of becoming an American citizen, but it points out the reality unreservedly.

    Well, unfortunately for you Is, if you are of Latino descent, even if your ancestors were here before this was America, probably none…

    People here who say that you’ll get respect, look at someone who ‘looks’ Hispanic and assumes they are illegal anyway, so if you’re Latina, why bother?

  2. Neil

    June 11, 2009 at 11:17 am

    This is a reality we all have to work on changing. The fact is M is just as much an Australian as I am. When asked how many Australians were at Sydney High I always said “It’s 100% Australian”. If people then said, “You know what I mean…” I would say, “Oh, you mean their ethnic or cultural backgrounds then?”

    “Australian” is not a race — except maybe Aboriginal at one time. It’s a nationality, and that comes from the nation of which one is a citizen.

  3. Neil

    June 11, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Quick addition: on the last quote: I do understand what they are saying, but then many minds in the USA have shifted a bit since Obama was elected President.

  4. Antony

    June 11, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    The first thing people see is someone’s race or ethnic background, not the nationality stated on paper.

    If a person doesn’t look ‘white’, hardly anyone would consider that person is an Aussie to start with. If the person wasn’t being considered as an Aussie to start with, he or she wouldn’t be treated like one. That’s unfortunate but the reality. Changing this would mean the white majority would no longer enjoy their superiority or need to give up their many unearned privileges. I fail to see that happen soon.

  5. Neil

    June 11, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    I think it is happening. In so many fields people with power are not predictably “white” and this will continue. It may seem slow, but it will happen.

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