Friday May 4, 2012
Australians learning to accept one another
Tales of Two Cities: Sydney by Joyce Au-Yong
IN SYDNEY, a recent furor occurred when two Chinese students were brutally beaten and mugged by four delinquents while riding on the train. Prior to committing the horrific deed, the attackers supposedly attempted to rob another passenger, who told them to “rob them (the Chinese), they are Asian and they’ve got money.”
The victims of the violence received fractured noses, broken cheekbones, and burns from a lit cigarette. But the true pain came not from the blows, but from the mouths of the assailants.
“Worst of all, I really hated their racist comments. They were calling us Asian dogs and pussies when they were beating us,” one of the victims wrote on his blog.
The incident spread like wildfire online. Other Chinese students used social media site, Weibo, as a sounding board for their disgust and anger. It became so controversial that even former foreign affairs minister, Kevin Rudd got on board, and tried to pacify them by saying that the attack wasn’t racially spurred.
While Rudd may be putting on his diplomatic, former-politician hat on — who could forget the wave of hate crimes against Indian students in 2009? Such assaults involved other Indian students, the death of a taxi driver, and another student who was stabbed while walking back home from work late one night.
Despite this being such an ugly, yet delicate issue which people like to tiptoe around, we should talk about this.
We should bring the issue to the fore, because if we don’t, we’re turning a blind eye to such a pervasive problem that occurs in all societies today — it’s an issue that should never be swept under the rug.
Whether we like it or not, racism occurs. It takes place when a society has different ethnic groups residing under one roof, who abide by the same set of rules, policies and regulations. It materialises when we have social divides between the wealthy and the poor, the educated and illiterate, the privileged and the unentitled. And with this comes a certain degree of envy, disdain, or contention for another — no matter how much we raise our hands in protest, claiming that we don’t. What’s crucial here is, in fact, the degree of intolerance that an individual may have — because with intolerance comes racism.
And while acts of violence such as the one mentioned above certainly are scary, I admit that the visual imagery of bloodied noses, broken bones, chipped teeth and bruised eyes was particularly strong as I waited on the same platform as a bunch of rowdy teens one night, we should learn to adopt a more optimistic approach, and look at how far society has evolved.
In 1901, for instance, the “Immigration Restriction Act” was employed in Australia, which, as the name connotes, prohibited individuals from immigrating to the country. Those who wanted to enter Australia, however, had to pass a dictation test, in which a hopeful applicant was to write a 50-word passage as read out by an immigration officer. But it wasn’t all that simple — the passage that was dictated contained a mix of different European languages — it wasn’t limited to just English. Needless to say, it was virtually impossible to pass these tests.
This formed the basis for the “White Australia policy” over 70 years later, which restricted non-white immigrants to the country.The white supremacist policy was soon enacted after an influx of settlers — who were willing to not only undertake hard labour, but to be paid cheaply for it — flocked to the land Down Under during the late 1800s. These immigrants worked primarily in gold mines and sugar plantations, which fuelled contention and animosity within Australia’s very first government, and soon, the racist policy was enacted.
Looking back, this may seem to be positively archaic and even morbidly humorous due to its lack of logic and absurdity. However, we must understand that this was considered a reality for many Australians a century ago. Racism was ingrained, and constituted a part of the moral fibre of its society.
But by any means, racism hasn’t disappeared just yet. The influx of immigrants during the 1800s allows us to draw parallels to what’s happening in Australia today, especially with the country being a melting pot of different cultures, in which 25% of the population is reportedly born overseas.
Yes, there was Pauline Hanson, and then there’s the tragic and ongoing struggle of the Aborigines, as well as the treatment of the asylum seekers.
Last year, UN Human Rights Commissioner, NaviPillay harshly criticised the way the country dealt with its refugees and Aborigines, saying: “There is a racial discriminatory element here which I see as rather inhumane treatment of people, judged by their differences: racial, colour or religions.”
Admittedly, Australia still has a long way to go — but we have to stop and look back to see how far we’ve come.
Last week, it was amazing to celebrate BoishakhiMela, otherwise known as the Bangladeshi New Year, right here in Sydney. It was also exhilarating to witness the Mardi Gras parade, or the Chinese New Year performances in the heart of the city earlier this year.
To be able to peacefully celebrate these cultural events is only testament to the fact that Australia has, in fact, come a long way from what it was a century ago.
Joyce Au-Yong is a Malaysian currently pursuing her Masters at the University of Sydney, and revels in the many joys (and even idiosyncrasies) that Sydney has to offer.