Today’s news article that Dr. Charlie Teo addressed racism as part of his speech to the Australia Day Council has raised hackles within the local community. Andrew Bolt and Steve Price, having interviewed the good doctor on radio and subsequently discussed the issue with callers, focused on language with no mention of the more brutal and marginalizing aspects of racist behaviour. We all see the world through the social and communication filters we develop from our earliest of days, developing opinions of certain ethnic, demographic, educational or racial groups. Many people use what would be considered racist language without considering that they may offend someone else. If you tell a joke in which a particular ethnic or racial group is marginalized, how can you be sure that you are not in fact impugning the heritage of someone else in the group? If we are able to train our minds with neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), why do people write off the racist invective as simply “… words [that] will never hurt me”?
Racist language is a form of bullying. It exaggerates differences based upon looks, language or culture and stereotypes people according to those differences. But racist language goes beyond the terms used such as ‘boong’ ‘slap-faced’ or ‘curry-muncher’. Seemingly innocuous words take on a racist flavour when they are used to attack a person based upon his cultural heritage.
“I have investigated [the former Commissioner for ACT Revenue’s] background and established that he is a compulsive liar, unethical and unsuitable to be a Senior Manager in the ACT Public Service …
Friends within the Australian Federal Police have advised me that [the former Commissioner for ACT Revenue’s] cousin Ms Isabell Coe of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy has a criminal record as do other members of his family. This confirms my experience that Aborigines are compulsive liars and criminals and are unsuitable to hold management positions.
… I have discussed [the former Commissioner for ACT Revenue’s] background with Ms Tanya Taylor, Recruitment Consultant of Ernst & Young who has confirmed my assessment that Aborigines are compulsive liars and criminals …
I request that [the former Commissioner for ACT Revenue] be dismissed from the ACT Public Service due to … the general disposition of Aborigines to lie and the criminal records of his family.”
Them’s some pretty nasty words and you cannot tell the former Commissioner or his family that they have not hurt. If this letter had been dissected and the substantive claims investigated without the racist overtones, the ACT may well be $130 million better off today. Ah, but it seems that it’s easier to let such a small sum of money go rather than face up to racism within your workplace.
Charlie Teo observes that racism is not as bad as when he was a child. Charlie Teo is also one of the more recognizable faces in this country, with a reputation as a brilliant surgeon and that is well deserved. He is not afraid of controversy. Not all in his field agree with the risks that he takes, but he tackles them head on. You cannot deny the man’s credentials, drive or honesty, but I’m willing to suggest that Dr Teo’s very public profile protects him from some of the racial taunts that his daughters experience even today. It seems that a high public profile will protect the individual from racial slur, no matter what field you play on.
Dr Teo was also interviewed by Tony Eastley on the ABC’s AM program. He provides a considered perspective as a migrant to Australia, indicating that racism is ‘a two-way street …’:
And the point I’m trying to make in my speech is that you know it’s a two-way street. If you come to Australia, you’re a guest of Australians and you’ve got to behave like Australians. And Australians are good people who behave well, who are generous in spirit and egalitarian and affable. And if you don’t behave like that you should expect to be treated like a foreigner.
Dr Teo, I agree that the average Australian (and I include myself amongst them) is welcoming and that we just ask others to respect us. I also agree that whilst most Australians hate being told so, we are all, in some ways, prone to marginalize whole groups based on little more than their looks. That is the foundation of the sort of attack that has destroyed the lives of so many Indigenous Australians. The pity lies in the attitudes of our leaders and law enforcement in Australia, who refuse to address issues of inequality among the black people who inhabited this land long before some Dutch barque or British convict ship made its way to this Terra Nullius. The Northern Territory Intervention takes jobs away from locals and leaves them with no sense of self-esteem. Politicians buddy up with mining magnates to disenfranchise an entire cultural group, police are complicit in the harassment of Indigenous Australians and prosecutors deliberately run a biased criminal case against an Indigenous public servant. Now Dr. Teo, I ask you to consider how a Korean child adopted into an Indigenous family is meant to endure the racial taunts of those around him, let alone the threats. I’m glad you are pointing to the ugly side of the Australian psyche. It is a festering infection that if ignored, will tear the country I love apart.
Thankyou for drawing attention to racism in your speech. If publicly noted and respected figures such as you can shed light on the plight of those who suffer for little reason, perhaps the tolling bell I hear can be silenced. Perhaps.
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