It could be said that Senator Pauline Hanson and the other One Nation senators have ridden the coat tails of racism and bigotry to reach the lofty heights of the Red Chamber on Capital Hill in Canberra. Hanson will tell you that she sincerely holds those views and while it demonstrates her ignorance of how discrimination adversely affects the society we all live in, she and her fellow One Nation members are entitled to their opinion.
There are, however, problems when others such as the political parties that can actually achieve government in Australia adopt the dog whistling policies of fringe parties such as Hanson’s for the political expedience of winning an election over the ‘other guys’.
Like a lot of communities around Australia, the one I live in has a Facebook group that has the usual subject matter that you would expect, dining recommendations, local events, complaints about government services, who has spare moving boxes and other equally life changing issues. The group in my area has around 10,000 members and while it claims to represent a post code, there is considerable overlap to surrounding areas. The local politicians are active members and frequently comment on local issues that are discussed – suggesting that the group is seen as representing a reasonable cross section of the region it claims to support.
Recently on the local Facebook group, a mother posted a comment (in sorrow) reporting that her three year old son was playing in a local park and walked over to some other kids about the same age who were playing together. He asked if he could join the game. Apparently the response from the other kids was ‘we don’t play with Asians’.
As you would hopefully expect, most of the comments on the thread are comprised of various community members decrying the absolute racism and discrimination displayed by the group of young kids. They also rightly question where the parents were, why didn’t they step in or apologise to the mother or her child. All valid questions, and the parents of the other kids have been silent (assuming they are members of the Facebook group). However, there is a bigger issue here. Clearly the ‘jump to the right’ by the major political parties to attempt to win at all costs has made some people feel that teaching their pre-school kids to be racist is perfectly ok.
It’s not ok: and here’s why.
Every person in Australia is either an immigrant to this country or is descended from one. It doesn’t matter that your ancestors walked across a land bridge up to 65,000 years ago , floated in on a boat sometime since 1788 or arrived in more recent times in a plane – you are an immigrant.
According to Stanford University’s Tech Museum of Innovation, there are very few differences in people that are due to DNA
So what is the average amount of difference between people of different ethnic groups? Scientists have found that 85% of all human genetic variation exists within human populations while only 15% exists between all the different ethnic groups.
Therefore, while there is a good chance that there are genetic variations between you and your next door neighbour, it’s pretty certain that the variations are not due to different ethnic origin or religion.
And most of these differences aren't what you'd think they'd be. A few are the obvious traits we've talked about -- hair and eye colour, eye shape, hair texture, etc. And a few we haven't talked about like lactose intolerance.
Racism in Australia seems to be a common topic on Quora – a US domiciled blog site that seeks opinion and factual comment on questions posed by others. There is a ‘Racism in Australia’ subject on the site and frankly there is no consensus to form an opinion as there is a lot of personal opinion. However, this article by Jenna Price in The Sydney Morning Herald from June 2016 would suggest that Shannon Murdoch (apparently no relation to the proprietors of News Corp) has certainly experienced racism on a regular basis
Someone will clutch their shoulder bag more tightly. Or lock their door. Pull their kids away. Ignore her. Walk up to her as she browses in a shop and tell her as she examines something that 'you know, you have to pay for that'. Ignore her and make sure she knows she is being ignored.
Shannon Murdoch is an Australian citizen, an African American by birth and the holder of a PhD in Education.
"I don't understand how you can treat someone as if they are so different to you when it's just skin. At a systematic level, I understand it; at a historic level, I understand it. There are many levels at which I get it. It's not as if I am naïve to the stuff that is behind it. But as person-to-person, I don't know how you walk up to someone and say something so cruel, so demeaning, so dehumanising, that discounts their personhood."
But it shouldn’t be like this. While there was not universal approval, Australia generally has welcomed waves of immigration from various parts of the world for most of the 20th century. It probably isn’t a co-incidence that the majority of immigrants through various decades came from countries that Australia has fought wars against in the decade or two preceding the immigration events. As examples, in the 1950’s and 1960’s a large number of southern Europeans came to call Australia home, followed by refugees from the Vietnam War in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Interestingly, there was support for these programs from both major political parties.
It all changed with the federal election campaign in 2001. In the wake of the airliners being flown into the World Trade Centre in New York during September of that year, then Prime Minister John Howard, faced with an imminent loss, exploited the rescue of a number of refugees en route to Australia from a sinking fishing boat by a Norwegian freighter, the Tampa. Not stopping to contemplate the damage he would cause,
John Howard declared: "We simply cannot allow a situation to develop where Australia is seen around the world as a country of easy destination." Norway's Foreign Minister, Thorbjoern Jagland told the United Nations: "Australia's attitude to the refugee incident is unacceptable and inhumane and contravening international law."
The ultimate in the hypocrisy was Howard’s Liberal Party, in this ABCTV Lateline story claiming the Tampa had no influence
LYNTON CROSBY [Liberal Campaign Director]: The most important specific reason cited by voters for voting Liberal was our strength of economic and financial management.
Former Prime Ministers Rudd, Gillard and Abbott also campaigned against humane treatment of refugees by increasing the severity of Howard’s punitive measures. ‘Stopping the boats’ (AKA demonising refugees) is one of the claimed successes of the Abbott and Turnbull governments, despite the questionable tactic of not allowing refugees being able to claim asylum in a country of their choice. Ironically, NXT Senator Stirling Griff discovered during Senate Estimates Hearings this year there were approximately 65,000 visa overstayers resident in Australia. Overstaying a visa is actually illegal (unlike seeking asylum)
SARAH CLARKE [ABC Reporter]: Lies, says the Opposition and the Democrats.
NATASHA STOT DESPOJA, AUSTRALIAN DEMOCRATS LEADER (MELBOURNE): For them to argue that it was simply about economic management or indeed any other broader domestic issues is false.
TIM GARTRELL, LABOR ASSISTANT NATIONAL SECRETARY (CANBERRA): This is quite simply not in line with what happened on election day.
This is post-election rewriting to say it was actually about economic management -- it wasn't.
SARAH CLARKE: In the final days before the election, Labor says polling had Kim Beazley narrowing the gap, gaining ground selling domestic issues.
That is, until the asylum seeker debate again came to the fore.
TIM GARTRELL: We turned the corner on domestic issues.We were pretty much getting to a situation of neck-and-neck and I think the Liberal Party decided to hit the button -- hit that refugee button -- which is what they did.
And the facts speak for themselves.
"Given that almost 20,000 illegal overstayers have been in Australia for more than 15 years, it makes a mockery of the border protection focus on so called boat people and their lack of Australian placement," he said.
It seems to be a direct result of ‘winner at all cost’ politics that victimises a small group of people who have attempted to seek asylum in Australia. Boat people are not illegally seeking entry into this (or any other) country, unlike those who overstay visas. However, the ongoing jihad against those that ‘look different’ or pray to a different God as demonstrated by asylum seekers sailing to Australia in unseaworthy fishing boats by elected and wannabe politicians has repercussions to Australian society now and in the future.
"Most of these almost 65,000 would have travelled to Australia by air and the overwhelming majority have settled into Australian life, with little – if any – regard for our laws and responsibilities.
"The department stated that it was a fair estimate that 20,000 were also working illegally. That's at least 20,000 illegal overstayers taking Australian jobs."
For those that couldn’t give a toss about morals and ethics, such as those politicians using refugees for political gain, there is also an economic cost to racism
Dr Amanuel Elias from the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation (ADI) has calculated racial discrimination cost the Australian economy an estimated $44.9 billion, or 3.6 per cent of GDP, each year in the decade from 2001-11.
So much for the ‘better economic management’ of the Coalition Governments! The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported the contribution of various industries to the GDP in the 2012 Australian Year Book . The cost of racism in this country exceeded a number of services and took half of the benefit of the mining industry to Australia’s economy. Dr Elias went on to comment:
Dr Elias explained that being able to quantify the cost of racism to Australian society is a crucial step towards addressing racial discrimination.
“Racial discrimination costs society in both a microeconomic sense, such as indirect costs related to the labour market; and a macroeconomic sense, such as intangibles related to negative physical and mental health,” Dr Elias said.
“In countries like Australia, where subtle interpersonal racism exists along with some forms of institutional discrimination, anti-discrimination interventions require relatively moderate spending.”
The boy in the local playground was born in Australia, as probably were his tormentors. His genetics are similar to yours and mine (as well as those of his tormentors). It is a really strange society that obsesses over refugees who come by fishing boat, claiming they are potentially a risk to the security and well-being of the country and ignoring the elephant in the room presented by the 65,000 visa overstayers who probably received far less scrutiny than asylum seekers when they made their application to visit Australia.
According to Dr Elias, the good news is that racial discrimination is a preventable social phenomenon.
The only good news here is that the local kid’s mum posted her message on Facebook late Saturday morning. By 3pm, an open playdate had been arranged by others to include the tormented boy at a local park, a local business was supplying some ‘party food’, another one provided a decorated cake and a third business provided a gift for the boy and another for his family. Thankfully the majority of my community can see through the blatant racism promoted by the two major political parties. Unfortunately, the actions of the three year old tormentors will continue to be a drain on the morals, ethics and economy of Australia for a considerable period into the future, unless our political leaders start to lead the anti-discrimination conversation.
What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.
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