Thursday, 31 July 2014

Are Australians really racist

or is there something else going on?
There have been some media reports recently about yet another survey which found that Australians are "racist". It was said that certain percentages of them believed that indigenous Australians had an unfair advantage in the social welfare system. It also said that Australians believed indigenous Australians were lazy and that nearly half of all Australians are anti-Muslim. It also found that Australians were anti-Jew and anti-Asian.
Hold it. Another survey found that about 85% of Australians support the idea that a society made of up of diverse ethnic groups is a good thing.
Which is correct?
The first survey was written up by a group with an agenda. The second survey was one of those on-line polls undertaken by the media. Neither is likely to be accurate.
There is also an advertising campaign starting which is about "subtle racism" - things like failing to meet the gaze of an indigenous Australian or not sitting next to a Muslim on a bus.
Now am I racist because I don't meet the gaze of every person I see? Am I racist because I decide I don't want to sit next to that particular person?
As a female I will usually choose to sit in the train seat that is closest to the door - for ease of exit with my tricycle - but next to another woman if possible. It doesn't matter what ethnic group she belongs to - but does it make me racist if I sit next to the obviously Greek woman rather than the Sikh in a turban?
Years ago I went to the other side of the city to meet a family whose young daughter was, due to a medical condition, unable to speak. I met them at the last stop on the railway line. They were waiting. I waved and then the little girl came running along the platform. We had never met before but we hugged and I sat her on my tricycle seat so she could have a ride. Her parents shook hands rather shyly and we went to a nearby playground so that the little girl could play while we talked about how she might be helped.
When it came time to have some lunch the father asked if I would join them. Of course I would. We needed to go on talking. We had lunch at a little bakery where the owner was happy to heat the little girl's special food in the microwave oven and provided the telephone book as a "cushion" for her to sit.
And when I finally had to leave all three of them hugged me. They were warm and, after their initial shyness, friendly. The little girl died about five years later. We all knew it was going to happen but on that first day we started a communication board that she used constantly for the rest of her short life. Being able to "talk" was a source of great happiness and pride for her. It was one of the best experiences of my life. She was a marvellous, outgoing child and her parents were lovely people. I just wish that child had been able to have a long, happy and comfortable life. She would have been a marvellous ambassador for the communication impaired.
But I have told colleagues about her and her family and they have focussed on the fact they were indigenous Australians from a northern community. Why? No, they were not negative about it in the sense that they thought I should not have helped or not associated but they expressed surprise that the parents bothered to seek help. Why? Most parents want the best for their children.
The parents of non-communicating children usually see the situation very differently. Their questions are more likely to be  "What did you do? How did she learn to use the communication board?"
I do not doubt that racism exists. I do not doubt that it hurts. I do not doubt that it does extreme harm.  But I think our reactions depend on where we are coming from. We have to come from the right place.

1 comment:

Miriam Drori said...

I choose to sit next to women in buses. Does that make me sexist? No. I've simply found that men often take up more space. It's hard to measure racism in the way you describe. I think it can only be measured by the things people say - maybe not even that.