Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Are Australians "racist"?

No, I am not going to attempt to answer that question. It is unanswerable anyway.
It is being debated again though. Yesterday was "Harmony Day" and yesterday was also the day the government announced some proposed changes to Sec 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act - that section of the Act which makes it an offence to insult, offend or humiliate anyone on the basis of their race.
I have always though that section was a mistake. That is not because I think it is right to insult, offend or humiliate anyone. I don't. The problem, as I see it, is that it sends "hate speech" underground. Yes, I have said that elsewhere. I will probably say it again somewhere in the future. 
Hate speech has no place anywhere.  Encouraging it by attempting to forbid it by law is simply going to make the problem, if there is a problem, worse. 
And there is another a problem. That section of the Act does not apply equally to all people. Oh  yes, in theory it does. It should. It doesn't. It is there to "protect" minority groups.
There are other minority groups in the community too and they are not afforded the same protections.
I had to go into the local supermarket yesterday. There is someone who works in there part time. She is grossly overweight, unattractive to look at, and not a particularly happy person. That is due in part to her multiple medical conditions.  She also happens to be very good at her job. She knows what the supermarket sells, what sizes the products come in, where to find them, the names of things, the prices of fruit and vegetables, and much more. 
We have a relationship of sorts. When there isn't anyone behind me in the queue she will sometimes chat a little to me. I hear about how she went to the football with her Dad or something else. She will ask me about something I am buying and how I cook it. It's all just casual chat - but a little more than "have a nice day". There are times when she will be almost abrupt. She's in pain and is best left to herself.
It takes courage for her to front up to work. It is difficult for her to stand there. She is fully aware that many customers avoid her. They would rather wait longer in another queue than be served by her.
Yesterday though she served someone who was, to be blunt, extremely rude to her. It wasn't the all too common rudeness of a thoughtless customer. It was directed at her as an individual. It reduced her to tears.
I was much too far back to in the queue to intervene in time. I couldn't physically reach her then but she was still fighting back the tears when I did reach her. All I could do was put my hand over hers. She gave me, ever so slightly, the faintest hint of a smile blew her nose and went on with her job. Nobody else had shown any interest or sympathy.
I know. It's hard. You don't want to get involved. It's none of your business.
But I came away thinking that it is that sort of behaviour which is the really dangerous sort. It's not the insulting or offensive behaviour. That's bad enough. What is worse is simply allowing it to happen when you see it happen, when the person on the receiving end of such vile behaviour can't defend themselves. As the shop employee she just had to take what was given to her. She couldn't be rude to a customer.
She has as much right not to be offended or insulted as someone from another minority group. 
We don't need legislation. We need thought for each other and the courage to speak up.



jeanfromcornwall said...

It is kindness that matters always.

Anonymous said...

I started out by disagreeing with you. I have always supported sec 18C. By the time I reached the end I found I had to agree that perhaps we do need to rethink what is going on. Thank you for making me think. Rena

hd said...

Excellently written and a good thought piece... Thank you.

Anonymous said...

It is also all too easy to take offence where none was intended, and 18C has been used to ruin peoples lives for what I consider harmless words.

However, the girl in the supermarket has every right to be offended ...that was more than offensive, that was hate and ignorance combined.