jewin' the fat


The Amazing Race
January 8, 2010, 8:34 AM
Filed under: Comment, Identity, media | Tags: , , , , , ,

There is nothing more palatable or popular around a hipster wine bar, WASPish dinner party, Labor luncheon, Liberal cocktail party or Green Left Weekly freegan dumpster than the topic of race in Australia. Race Riots, Race Relations or racial profiling or vilification – it seems in a country built on immigration, we are obsessed with what Edward Said termed “the other” – the notion that we define ourselves, not by who we are actively, but reactively as what we are not – not them, not her, not that.

So imagine my surprise to find, while on a tour with a group of Asians from the Asia-Pacific, that I was, in fact with … a group … of people … from … Asia (!) who were more like me than most white, Jewish, Australian women from Sydney – my supposed racial group. We were interested in the same hobbies, argued about the same political topics, enjoyed the same music, ate the same food, watched the same movies, studied the same topics, worked in the same industry, for the same purpose. Same. Same. Same.

It probably would have been very easy to find differences between us – geography, ethnicity, religion, hair, eye and skin colour – but none of those things mattered – because when it comes to positive human interaction, it is our commonalities that bind us together. Each of us empowered by the same things, each of us made vulnerable by the same fears and threats. United we stand, divided we fall.

Several days ago, a young student was walking to work on night in Melbourne. He was attacked, stabbed several times by a gang of young people, and managed to stumble into his workplace, where he died. Does it matter that he happened to be Indian?

Well, apparently in Australia it does.

I’m not pretending that Australians are the perfect picture of tolerance and respect when it comes to the rainbow spectrum of nationalities represented in Australian society. In fact, Australians, through years of controlled immigration, refusal of refugee absorption and the horrors of the Stolen Generation – well, let’s just say we have our fair share of skeletons in the closet.

The attacks on Indian students, which have dominated the front pages of national and most regional/metropolitan papers, ranged from subtle to overtly violent assault, and largely have included some form of racial taunt or slur. But if the name-calling (curry-muncher, kike, fag, bitch) is just a spur of the moment verbal assault, based on visual or audio clues (an accent, skin colour, dress) – does that necessarily mean the motivation to harm is racial?

Don’t be fooled.  Australia is not an island of anti-Indian sentiment, festering away in the Asia-Pacific, waiting to set themselves upon innocent students. As well as this, Australia may not have the best track record when it comes to personal safety on our streets, and indeed there are neighbourhoods and areas when it is blatantly unsafe and stupid to walk around at night. Wearing jewellery, iPods, walking alone on unlit streets, even on main roads alone – all these things draw attention to the individual, and heighten the risk of attack.

But when it comes to this kind of randomised violence, every person who puts themselves in a dangerous situation is fair game.  To assume that every person who is a minority, or of a lower class, who gets killed/attacked is being hurt because of their ethnic background or upbringing or social status is a little simplistic, and inversely bigoted: “They are Indian, therefore it must have been about their race.”

The sad reality of life is that random, ugly violence is ugly and random, but it does not need a motive, nor a media beat-up to create one.

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