Text by Liz Alderslade
I was sitting at the Glenferrie station with my exchange roommate and her friends. It was a mix of American, Canadian, Indian students and me. We were joking and laughing, discussing where we should go to drink in the city.
Our fun was brutally interrupted when my first encounter with open racism happened. It was a comment made by a drunken man, as he precariously stumbled around the yellow line on the platform.
“Where are you guys from?”
They told him.
“Go back to your fucking country, you bastards,” he said.
There was an awkward silence as the air suddenly became colder than it was before. I was in shock, being the only Australian there, I didn’t know what to say. It couldn’t even describe the sudden fear I had when the man started stumbling towards us, as some of the offended guys in the group started to tell him to back off. He left us with a sour taste in our mouths and a dampener on what we all thought was going to be good night.
Was it just a random drunken rant from an angry ‘bogan’ or was it representative of a growing problem in Australia?
The Mapping Social Cohesion survey by the Scanlon Foundation reported an increase of people being discriminated against, from 12 percent in 2012 to 19 percent in 2013. You would think that in the 21st century racism would be something in the past, but that is clearly not the case.
I find it a little sad when, according to the All Together Now Erasing Racism initiative, 1 in 5 Australian’s have experienced racism in one way, shape or form. This statistic has increased from 1 in 8 Australians being a target of racial discrimination last year.
In the supposed cultural hub that is Australia, who would think human beings still attack other human beings based on the colour of their skin or their origin. Surely basic common decency isn’t dead. To this day, I still am flattered when someone opens the door for me. Can’t people surely stretch that reach to being, at least, civil to another. But talking to these people is usually similar to talking to a brick wall, unmovable and not having a lot to say.
Swinburne University has a large number of exchange students, here to learn just like the rest of us. Kelsey Ito, American exchange student from 2013, experienced racism in Australia a few times. One night, Kelsey was getting a kebab with friends and the people in the shop wouldn’t believe that she was from America.
“I think, race wise, I think Australians are ignorant. I don’t think they’re intentionally trying to be racist but just unaware. While I was in Australia people couldn’t understand that I was American but looked Asian.”
Kelsey believes that some people in Australia unconsciously believe in the false stereotypes that are circulated in today’s society, especially when someone tries to make a joke at another’s expense. She says the talk around indigenous Australians made it seem “that people didn’t really want to associate with them.”
Most conversations like these usually start with the dreaded, ‘I don’t mean to be racist BUT…’ You instantly groan and slowly recede into your seat and prepare yourself for the obviously offensive conversation which is about to begin.
Karthik Ganesan, currently doing his masters in Network Systems at Swinburne, has been attacked a couple times while on public transport, which these days seems to happen all too often.
Public transport is now the go to place for people to attack others by using racial slurs. The most recent cases include an ABC News journalist who was verbally attacked on a bus when he was with his two year old daughter, a French tourist who verbally abused by a mob on a Melbourne bus for singing in her mother tongue and a young Asian student who was verbally abused on a bus by an incredibly intoxicated woman. Luckily for victims, people often feel the need to tape these encounters and spread them online to shame those doing it. It is just a little sad that no one feels the need to intervene.
(caution, the second clip contains, a lot of swearing including the C’bomb)
Karthik also had to put up with verbal abuse at his job where he was discriminated against by a co-worker. He said, “she never gave me any proper shifts and when I was at work, she would be very rude and call me names and openly say, ‘I hate Indians, you people are useless and only fit to do IT or 7/11 jobs, you have no sense of fashion.’”
It’s sad that a lot of people working in Australia don’t realise that they are not allowed to be treated in the workplace like that. Not at all. The Fair Work Act 2009, makes it unlawful to discriminate against someone in the workplace based on: race, colour, religion or national extraction.
What’s worse is that there is still a lot of controversy over the beatings of Indian students in Australia. There was one such attack in 2013, which left an Indian student in a coma after being beaten by eight men and one woman.
These attacks have been occurring around Australia for quite a while now and have received a significant amount of press coverage. There were mass protests in India about the mistreatment of their people which led to India threatening to stop trading with Australia. All because there are some unsavoury characters in our country who give us a bad reputation.
If being beaten into a coma wasn’t bad enough, another Indian man was burnt alive in 2010 when four men poured fluid over him and set him alight. Have some people really lost their humanity to the extent that they could burn another human being alive?
If this report has anything to say, then apparently so. The’ Racism, It Stops With Me’ campaign states that more than 1 in 20 Australians say they have been physically attacked based on their race. It’s terrifying to think that one person in your university class room may have been attacked simply due to their ethnicity.
The federal Racial Discrimination Act, the current and only law created to protect people who have been racially discriminated against, is soon to be amended by the Abbott Government. Who are looking at removing section 18c of the act. Which states that it is unlawful for a person to act in a way which offends, insults, humiliates or intimidates another person or group based on their race or ethnic origin.
The Attorney-General George Brandis said to the ABC that he was “very open to other suggestions” when it came to changing the current law. I would be open to maybe more laws to protect those from racial hatred. But amending them completely or changing them to the extent that there would be no repercussions for humiliation and intimidation is concerning. When Andrew Bolt was found guilty of breaking the Racial Discrimination Act over two of his articles he was quoted as saying that it was “a terrible day for free speech in this country.” Bolt is already extremely well known for his controversial articles that he writes for the Herald Sun. He has forever stapled himself as one of Australia’s biggest conservatives and a front runner for the bigot of the year award.
Brandis said, “In a free country people do have rights to say things that other people find offensive or insulting or bigoted.”
I understand the need for free speech, but what I don’t understand is the need for someone to attack another on the base of ones looks, culture or ethnicity. If you think everyone is going to get on your side for telling everyone it’s okay to be a bigot, then you are wrong.
If anything, it sounds like Brandis is trying to gain the support of bigoted Australians. He seems to give the impression that the real victims are the bigoted who have been struggling against the chains of the Discrimination Act. Thank you Brandis for giving notice to the people of Australia that yes, they are allowed to preach racial hate. Is there a way to stop racism at its core? Probably not, especially when the federal government planning to amend the Racial Discrimination Act.
The main thing everyone needs to take away from this is that prevention by teaching others to be more tolerant is a definite must in today’s society, considering Australia will only continue to become a more multicultural country as all races spread across the world. In the end change comes from the people. If everyone strives to become a more tolerant person then hopefully Australia will become a little less racist than it was the day before.
But at the moment, racism in Australia seems to be on a slow and horrible slope downwards to a place that we never want to live in, and once we are there, it’s going to be difficult to climb our way up again.