Recommended Resources – The Stringer – Independent News, Investigative Journalism
Is Australia a Racist country?
This is a question I, along with many others, have pondered at length. Studies have been done by a variety of people and institutions that address the question. The modern equivalent of empirical research (Googling that question!!!) reveals around 18 million pages in 0.43 seconds. Having had a cursory glance at a few pages of those results, it would appear that the majority of the authors indicate that, in their view, this country has a very firm and pronounced racist streak running through it.
Many studies have been done of this subject. Most notably Professor Kevin Dunn from the University of Western Sydney has done considerable work on a longitudinal basis of the racist attitudes towards migrants to this country. In essence, his findings indicate that around 10% of us harbour extremely racist attitudes towards the most recently arrived migrants to this country. It is hard to be categoric about this figure and its implications for policy makers until you can place it in a contextual framework. In other words, does a 10% figure make us more racist than are the Americans, Chinese, English or French etc, etc? Is 10% more than it was thirty years ago? Are things improving as we become a more culturally diverse and pluralistic society?
But looking at the question on a more anecdotal basis can also be revealing. In 2003 the Ethnic Communities Council of WA released the results of its 5 year study into racism here in Western Australia. As the President of the Council at that time, I was intimately involved in releasing those findings. We had to delay the finalisation of that study on a number of occasions because of International incidents. The first of those incidents was the bombing of the World Trade Centre in September 2001. The study was predicated on a survey of people from the new and emerging communities to WA viz the Middle Eastern and African communities. It was readily apparent that the international events would skew the results and the perceptions of these communities of racism being perpetrated against them. The other international incidents that delayed the completion and the publication of the results of that study were the Bali and London bombings. Eventually, when the results were published they portrayed a very disturbing picture of the society in which we live. Well in excess of 70% of those community members perceived that they had racism and discrimination perpetrated against them in areas such as accommodation provision, service delivery areas etc.
Just as disturbing as these results are the fact that political parties predicating their manifesto on completely nationalistic and often clearly and blatantly racist policies such as those espoused by Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, Bob Katter’s Australia Party, Pastor Danny Nalliah’s Rise up Australia Party get carriage in this country. Usually the level of support received by these parties is around the level of racism identified by Professor Dunn in his studies i.e. 10%. These parties appeal to the basest survival and fear instinct present in most human beings. All sense of humanity is then lost as their primal survival fears are preyed upon. It is interesting that these same people do not recognise the same primal fears that are being felt by asylum seekers to this country fleeing persecution.
In a nation that has as its foundation the practice and attitudes of racism towards its first people, it does not take much to have those practices and attitudes resurface. In recent years we can point for example to the blatant nationalistic riots at Cronulla in 2005. Cheered on by the racist shock jocks such as Alan Jones and others of his ilk, here in Perth, these riots gained momentum and spilled out into anger, frustration and violence. The treatment of Indian students particularly in Melbourne and Sydney was seen by many, particularly in the sub continent, as blatant racism.
Talk back radio is a very effective medium by which to gauge the mood of the people of a nation. Often over the last many years the mood of callers has been decidedly racist in nature. Attitudes towards people seeking asylum can range from the indifferent to the downright violent. Very rarely is an attitude of pity and sympathy exhibited.
However, despite these incidents that often send me to the brink of despair, I don’t believe that there is anything to be gained from calling individuals racists. For the betterment of our society it would be far more productive for us to be examining what of the government’s policies and practices are systemically racist in nature. Changing these will benefit the diverse communities to access services and goods far more than identifying those in our community with prejudices and biases against those from foreign lands.
Answering the question posed in the title of this article will assist policy makers in introducing policies of integration into a harmonious society. However, as indicated above, more will be gained for us as a society by addressing the systemic issues that may exist. I don’t think we will ever be able to eliminate racism and racist, xenophobic attitudes in society. Let us just concentrate our efforts on changing systems that are put in place by governments.
But certainly, the anecdotal and empirical evidence would indicate a level of racism that exists in this country. That racism is notable towards the indigenous of this nation. It appears, interestingly that the most blatant racism after that is reserved for those recently arrived in this country. The logical conclusion that one may draw is that with the effluxion of time will come the diminution of those racist views and attitudes. That view would support the contention of those sociologists that regard racist views as the product of fear. Often that fear is the fear of the unknown e.g. the fear of the dark skin or the fear of the Hijab wearing lady! As we come to know these people and understand that they are the same as we are, that fear is broken down and eliminated and, with it, racism. We can but hope!