The most recent public airing of a racist attack on a Korean man and his aunt visiting from his homeland has prompted another round of self-reflection on the Australian psyche. Waleed Aly published his point of view a few days ago and whilst I agree that all nations battle issues of racism, the difference is that they acknowledge the problem exists, unlike Australia. The Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, Canadians, Kiwis and Indians … pick a nation and they’ll all admit, racism is a problem. But if you ask the average Australian, they will tell you that no, this is the most wonderful country on the planet because we accept people from so many nations, because we give so much monetary aid and we try to help other nations. I also hear the denigration, listen to the threats and weather the storm myself for supporting an Indigenous man in his fight to be acknowledged by a government not prepared to deal with the racial prejudice within its very own ranks.
The decimation of the life of the former Commissioner for ACT Revenue (“Pat”) was no run of the mill racial attack. The destruction of his career, manipulation of his personnel files and loss of his family were all the direct and deliberate result of actions by those in senior levels of the ACT public service and the two most senior serving ministers in the Territory of the time. The issues were compounded by initial inaction and later intentional intimidation by the Australian Federal Police (“AFP”), who refused to take statements from anyone connected with the former Commissioner in any incident or investigate break ins at his home or of those connected to him, as well as the poisoning of pets. These are no petty acts of racism by an single racist on a bus; these are the leaders of the Australian Capital Territory, the jurisdiction that claims the first Bill of Rights in the nation – a bill that has been shown to be little more than posturing, given the good it has done for Pat and his family – and of the law enforcement agency tasked with upholding the rights of all people who pass through Canberra.
We have the death threats directed at Bakchos here on this very blog, by those claiming to be employees of Ernst & Young and/or the AFP. Those threats have included details of Bakchos’ car registration. His tyres have been damaged and he has been subjected to a mock lynching by a group of pillow-case wearing gutless thugs in the suburbs of Sydney in an attempt to intimidate him. No police have investigated and of these issues.
Going back to the latest racist attack to hit the media, there’s the simple fact that others on the bus supported the racist git who was mouthing off at Mr. Kim and his aunt:
“One witness, Yong Wang, said he and another passenger intervened and told the man to get off the bus but they were either told to be quiet or were ignored by other passengers.”
That was not a singular racial attack by one individual. It was a racist attack by every person on that bus who stayed silent and it was worsened by those who told the people who tried to intervene to be quiet. That Waleed, was mob mentality, albeit in its mildest and least threatening form. Not unlike what happened to Jeremy Fernandez and his young daughter. Sometimes, my compatriots make me choke on their own hypocrisy. Australia is welcoming and supportive of other races?
Start as you mean to continue. Lead as you wish to be followed. Well, those in Canberra have set the precedent for the people who work and reside within their jurisdiction and the culture permeates much further than that, it seems. As the AFP are a nationwide organ of government, their susceptibility to racial intolerance has been demonstrated in their approach to dealing with issues relating to the Solomon Islands former Attorney General Mr. Julian Moti QC and the Private Secretary of the Vanuatu Prime Minister Mr. Clarence Marae. Diplomats of other nations would not have been treated in such a manner. Try doing a similar thing to an Israeli diplomat on transit through an international space and see what reaction you get then. It’s all a matter of influence … and perhaps colour.
Colour matters a lot in this country. If you appear to be of Anglo-Celtic heritage, you’re likely to be afforded more opportunities, as Waleed’s article points out. If you appear “white” but openly identify as indigenous, then you can expect racial slurs daily. If you are a dark skinned Ambulance Officer, you can expect your superior to address you with racially offensive names … and for little to be done or said to curtail the racial attacks or show simple respect to another person, let alone another government employee. The offence is intentional and designed to intimidate, to “keep a person in his place”. There’s simply no other reason for using the sorts of language described by the victim of the taunts. It is far from coincidence, to Blak and Black, that the Ambulance Officer victimized by racially offensive comments by a colleague is an ACT public servant. It seems nothing has changed in Canberra.
And there’s one last point that draws disagreement from Blak and Black in Waleed’s article:
“Our racial and religious minorities are not having their communities torched (though the occasional building has been firebombed), and our handful of far-right politicians aren’t leading political parties that attract 20 per cent of the vote.”
Australia’s indigenous have been stripped of their land for 225 years and many still live in conditions more comparable with those of in developing nations. The healthcare is sub-standard, evidenced by the high rates of childhood disease and the shortened lifespan compared with non-indigenous Australians. The Northern Territory Intervention was brought into effect through a bipartisan decision of both major political parties with the Racial Discrimination Act suspended under the guise of protecting children, but it’s done little good for the kids. The ongoing Stronger Futures legislation now set in place for the next ten years continues to marginalize the most vulnerable, the majority being Aboriginal men, women and children.
A fish rots from the head and our leaders have shown us the way they expect the people of this country to behave to anyone of non-English speaking and/or non-white heritage. There is nothing unusual about what Waleed’s article describes as occasional racist diatribes that hit the media – they are neither exceptional nor infrequent. Ask Ms. King, Angelique, Lucinda McMillan, Bakchos, Mahmud, me, Jeremy Fernandez, the French women on the Melbourne bus … All of these people have first hand experience of racial intolerance and the consequential bullying that goes hand in hand with such attitudes, all of them in the very recent past and present.
Most notably, is the research still being undertaken by Bakchos, into the abuses by police officers throughout Australia. This original research has taken Bakchos across the length and breadth of Australia to document systemic abuse of power by those within the police of all jurisdictions. If our police are able to operate outside the law, then our democracy is already dead; no-one is safe.
There’s little point in anti-racism legislation or a human rights commission if those in leadership are not taken to task. Just because there’s no vocal white supremacist groups in Australia does not mean that the problems are not institutional. The institution is the government itself and it’s law enforcement bodies and we, as a people, are prepared to go along believing that everything is fine. It’s so much easier to pretend there is no problem than to accept that perhaps you or your organization may be a part of the problem yourself.
It’s dangerous to speak up for the racially abused. Australia has a very big problem with racism and the self-examination that needs to happen must be reflected in institutional change and management. People in positions of power have the ability to forge new and better attitudes or embed the old racist modes more deeply into the psyche. But then, we have a leadership that is demonizing those seeking 457 visas, when the people on such entry permits are the ones keeping many rural populations alive by providing essential services, immigrants willing to go to locations that many native born Australians refuse to take a turn working in.
It wouldn’t really matter if Australia did not claim to offer each person equal access to law enforcement and judicial review for issues of rights abuse. But this country does, and it excludes access indirectly through financial barriers and directly through corruption or people and processes. Mr. Kim and his aunt will possibly get some justice for their experiences, but those issues that do not make the light of day rarely realize justice.
The job of any writer/artist worth his or her salt is to hold a mirror up to the society they live in, without fear or favour. This is what Blak and Black is about. All we ask is that our fellow Australian’s, our brothers and sisters take the time to the reflect on the image they see looking back at them from the mirror Blak and Black is holding up for us all to use.