Image - erinstark.net

Image – erinstark.net

That to me is one of the weakest statements of defence far too often proffered by people with racist views and tendencies. It is the qualifying word at the end of the statement that says “but” which then is usually followed by a statement which is clearly racist. For example, the statement could be followed by “Indian people are inherently lazy!.” Another statement which is often a precursor to one that is blatantly racist is the one that goes “Some of my best friends are “<Insert Ethnic Group here>”. Again this is a statement to be followed by another that will be along the lines of a stereotype or generalisation that has no basis in fact. These are indicative of a person who may have generalised and latently racist views about a particular ethnic or religious group. It must be said that this attitude and point of view is not confined to any particular ethnic or religious group.

These stereotyped statements are considered by sociologists to be “casual racism”. The Urban Dictionary defines casual racism in a few ways. The following are two of the definitions accessible here:

  1. “The art of being slightly racist in a casual fashion. It’s when one doesn’t really hate people of another colour, but finds jokes about them ridiculously funny. The casual racist will often make jokes about his own race in addition to jokes about other races”.
  2. “CASUAL RACISM” is when somebody uses Racist words or phrases but uses it as a regular world/insult just like any other words or phrases, NOT directing it as an attack on other races/religion.
    The people who use “CASUAL RACISM” don’t use it as intentional racial terms, nor do they often have anything against other races and religions, but they use it as “normal” words or insults.
    Often people who have Rap/Hip-Hop influences in their life use this, mainly fans of Tupac, N.W.A, Eazy-E etc…”

Why am I raising this as an issue at present? It is my view that the level of casual racism in Australia appears to be rising. There are a number of incidents that have occurred in the last few days that again raise the issue of the ugly face of racism in this country. The first of these involved the posting on Facebook by the wife of a Wanneroo councillor of the message saying “pack up your s**t and F*** OFF”. This was then justified by a correspondent to our local newspaper as “certainly crude and boorish and the sentiments nationalistic, even repulsively jingoistic” but not racist. I would recommend that that correspondent goes to the Facebook page titled “F*** Off we’re full” and read the clearly racist posts by the members of that group. That statement as enunciated by the wife of the councillor has come to be the catchcry of the Neo Nazi racist element of Australian society. The page is full of racist and ethnically offensive statements culminating in the catchcry referred to above. If the Councillor to one of Australia’s most diverse local government Authority areas shares these views then I would despair for the future of those people from a culturally and linguistically diverse background living in Wanneroo. I also look forward to the councillor’s speech at the citizenship ceremonies coming up on Australia Day!

Another correspondent to the paper referred to the introduction of and then removal from sale of a T-Shirt by Aldi. The T-Shirt had the caption “Australia Est. 1788”. Your correspondent stated that it was an historical fact that Australia was established on January 26, 1788. To state this as historical fact is to diminish the 60,000 years of civilisation that the Aboriginal people had established in this country to date. The comment made by the correspondent is reminiscent of the now discredited “Terra Nullius” comments of the early white settlers to this country. The fact that Aldi withdrew the T-Shirt and apologised for it is also a clear indication that they accepted that the caption did diminish the Aboriginal history of this land mass. Clearly also the Federation of Australia was not formed in 1788. So stating that as a historical fact is incorrect anyway.

These incidents are reminders that there is an element of racism in this country as they are in a number of others. This does not justify their actions.

In September of 2013 the Australian Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane delivered the annual Peace and Understanding lecture at the University of Queensland. Among other things he had this to say ““It is troubling that in some discussions or debates, the problem of racism is dismissed as a social issue that is exaggerated,” he said in his first speech in Queensland since taking on the role. “There are times when some will dismiss racism as a marginal social concern. It is helpful to take a look at the facts. The facts tell us this: racism does exist in Australian society.”

Dr Soutphommasane cited the Challenging Racism Project that concluded about 20 per cent of Australians experienced forms of “race hate talk” such as racial slurs or verbal abuse.

Further Dr Soutphommasane said “About 11 per cent of Australians report they have been excluded from workplaces or social activities based on their racial background. And more than one in 20 Australians say they have been physically attacked because of their race.

“But facts and figures don’t tell the full story. For those who experience racial hatred and vilification it’s not a numbers game,” Dr Soutphommasane said. He said prejudice and discrimination were barriers to fair treatment and equal opportunity, hampered an individual’s freedom to participate in the community, could impair social cohesion, and affect the target’s physical health and life expectancy. We also have economic reasons for believing that racism matters. When racism occurs, it can get in the way of participation and productivity. Our economy can suffer,” he said.

“But we shouldn’t forget the very human cost of racism.” Read more here:

The Commissioners’ comment in respect of race hate talk is also borne out by other studies done on the issue. One study with which I was associated in one of my previous positions, involved an analysis by way of survey of the perception of racial vilification experienced by new and emerging community members in WA. The study involved surveys of a large group of individuals from these communities and examined their perception of being vilified. In excess of 70% of these people perceived that they had had vilification perpetrated against them often or sometimes.

In addition to the incidents listed above we have seen a number occurring on buses and public transport all around Australia. There are any number of references to these events on social media and the Internet that can be accessed. The most reported of these was the treatment meted out to the ABC newsreader, Jeremy Fernandez. It must be emphasised that this was the most high profile incident primarily because of the position held by that victim. There were a number of other incidents that involved similar events that have occurred over the last few years to less high profile victims.

As Dr Soutphommasane has also said “Today, racism doesn’t need to be violent or malicious to count as racism. In its contemporary form, racism is often more subtle than this. It is often something that people often dismiss or don’t notice,” he said.

“It may be a joke, an off-handed comment, or even who gets included in chats in the work kitchen or water cooler. And it concerns not so much a belief in the superiority of races – an idea that only an extreme fringe would these days endorse – but prejudice born of stereotypes rehearsed about someone’s skin colour or ancestral background.”

Dr Soutphommasane said there were still consequences if the acts of racism were unintentional or underpinned by ignorance. “That is what is most important in any conversation that we now have about racism: it is as much about impact as it is about intention,” he said. “In those situations of casual racism, however, I want to ask: Is there something that we can do to start a conversation with a family member, a friend, a neighbour, a teammate, or a colleague? Can we quietly pull someone aside at the right moment and ask exactly what they mean when they said something?

“Doing things of these kinds isn’t about lecturing others about their failings: it’s about getting others to see things from a different perspective. How would they like it if they were subjected to the same belittling treatment? Or how would they like it if someone were to say similar things about their son or daughter or husband or wife?”

The acceptance of casual racism in our community comes home to me often. Usually it is when I have written a letter to the editor taking someone of profile to task for comments they have made about particular ethnic or religious groups. In recent years, the most vitriolic response occurred when I criticised Greg Ritchie, the former cricketer for comments he had made in respect of people of Muslim faith. On publication of the letter in our local newspaper, I received almost one Newspaper page of letters of abuse suggesting that 1. I go back to my country of origin and 2. I don’t understand “Australian” humour and “I needed to get a life”! Of course the comments made by Ritchie in respect of Muslim faith people are no less or more unacceptable than comments made by Indian people about adherents of the Sikh faith, Irish jokes etc.

Last night, as I watched the Perth Scorchers win their T20 game against the Sydney Sixers, I reflected on the many derisive comments that I have heard in the last few years about people of Muslim faith. The generalisations about their attitudes to life, religion and others in the community have been very degrading.  And as Yasir Arafat (A man of Pakistani Muslim origin) came in to bowl the super over that allowed the Scorchers to pull off a remarkable victory, I pondered the other great statement of defence I hear in this context “Yes, but he is different”!

Fundamental to all of the above discussion is the current thinking in sociological circles that there is only one “race” of people and that is the “Human Race”. There is nothing about my “Indianness” or someone else’s “Greekness” that makes me or them a better or worse person than anyone else walking down the street. It is the life that I CHOOSE to lead and the behaviour that I exhibit that determines my attitude to others. We all have the capacity to do the same and influence others to follow our example.