A couple of weeks ago on the ABC’s Insiders programme, there was a discussion about racism and the results of a racism survey that had been conducted by the University of Western Sydney. There was some discussion about the results of the research within the media and amongst politicians on what these results say about Australian society.
I don't want to specifically deal with the survey right now - that's for another time.
My post is about the panellist's discussions around racism and how I believe their misunderstandings about racism are reflective of many people's beliefs.
The segment was introduced by Barry Cassidy:
Barry: Survey published in the Fairfax Press on racism earlier in the week. Um. You can hardly say that there are no racists in the country anymore because 12% of Australians actually declared themselves... if you take the definition that you’ve got a prejudice against a particular culture, that makes you a racist.
Panellist 1: But what’s it all about? What is this navel gazing? This, this, this constant looking at ourselves and asking ourselves who we are and what we are.. I mean there’s much more domestic violence in this country and and biffos between drunken blokes on a Saturday night in the pub than there is racism attacks on each other. I mean why don’t we just get on and live the life. I mean I can’t understand that survey’s been going since 2001 or something. I mean..
Let's start with the 'navel gazing' comment. Should we not attempt to understand how we think? Is this type of reflective practice not something a thinking society should engage in? Australia spends way too much time thinking about sporting teams and venerating sporting heroes. We spend less time valuing our artists, philosophers and scientists. I think therefore, that a little self-reflection doesn't hurt at all.
There are two assumptions here. Firstly that unless racism is manifest in actual physical violence it is not really an issue, and secondly that racism must be violent in order to be considered harmful. These assumptions fail to acknowledge that racism takes many different forms. The 'you black bastard' is only one type.
Why can't we all just get on and live our lives? That's a progressive thought isn't it? I wonder how many women who struggled to attend universities in the middle and last decades of last century were told, why don't you just live your lives, why do you have to talk about all this feminist stuff. Imagine how many people told Charlie Perkins, Faith Bandler, Gary Foley, and Bobbi Sykes, why don't you just go and live your life, stop talking about Aboriginal rights. Imagine it.
Barrie: 12.5 thousand people were surveyed over about a ten year period
P1: … a ten year period and then they come to these conclusions. Some of the questions looked fairly open ended to me. And the proof is in the pudding and the way we live and the way our communities are and um I just can’t see the sense in this nonsense.
What is interesting here is that the despite there being a large scale data gathering survey, and despite the fact that many people discuss the impact of racism regularly, this topic is still seen as nonsense and a non-issue. Just because you have not experienced it, doesn't mean it does not exist. And by you saying that it is nonsense, just highlights the privilege that you have. It doesn't happen in your world. It most certainly happens in mine.
Barrie: Do you think you seen any impact on the politicians and the way they think and the way they campaign?
P2 Yeah. I think it does. And I don’t think you can sort of dismiss it. I think obviously these kinds of sentiments do exist in the community. There’s no doubt about that.
P1. But if it does. What does it matter? What does it matter if it’s not played out in any way in the way people live their lives? If they, I mean if... I don’t understand why we continually have to ask ourselves whether we all get along.
P2 Well there are times when we don’t. I mean I think the Cronulla Riots were an example of that.
P1. Oh Yeah of course
Why can't we all just get along? Oh dear. Yes. Well if we all just got along we wouldn't need rules, and police and a justice system. But the fact is, people don't always get along, they don't always play nice with each other. And yes, it is played out in our lives. Maybe not your life, but defnitely in the lives of other Australians.
There are many types of racism. The most visible type of racism is that type played out in Cronulla Riot style - ugly, violent, alcohol-fuelled, and physical. But there are other types of racism that reflect different world views and is hidden, covert, and polite. Polite racism like,'I'm not racist but I don't understand why the Aborigines don't just get jobs', is very real and just as damaging to people, communities and to our nation as a whole.
P2. You do often get attacks on Muslims and the way Muslims are either integrating or not integrating into Australian society. So you know these things this kind of bubbles away and every now and then they surface and I don’t think you can pretend that they’re not real when they are real. And the thing is to work out ways of constructively engaging.
Barrie: And of course if you pick on Muslims you can described as a racist. Appreciate if you pick on the irish you are equally you’re a racist.
P1. Well that’s been happening for decades
Quite often, White People like to defend racism against non-Whites by saying well the Irish are picked on too, or if you're from United Kingdom talk about how 'native' British people have become a minority in their own land. Well, if you live in Australia, there are absolutely more White People than non-White People. Look at all areas of Australian society, politics, commerce, sport, religion, and education, there are very few non-White People in positions of power. By simply saying, what about the Irish, they get picked on too, is a cop out. When you arrive in Australia and you have White skin, you have a degree of privilege over people without White skin.
I had thought about calling this post, These Insiders need to get outside more. I'm not really surprised by the response of the panellists to this topic. They ranged from silence (Panellist 3), basic understanding and recognition of the issue (Panellist 2) and pretty much no-idea and a rejection that racism is a problem at all (Panellist 1). This is pretty consistent with my experience of how many people think about racism.
If anything the survey highlighted to me the need to continue to talk about racism. We shouldn't be scared to discuss it, what it means, and how each of us wins and fails each day in words and actions. Our media doesn't really help. The nature of that beast is to look for stories that will generate sales through infotainment and they naturally love good guys and bad guys.
But racism is more than good guys and bad guys. And everyone being nice and polite does not make it go away. We need to talk about it to deal with it. That's what racism is about.
*It should be noted that all the panellists were White People with White skin.