A racist Australia?

The debate is raging again about attacks on Indian Students in Australia. Are Australians racist? Obviously, the answer is yes and no. I don’t profess any expertise in this area, but there is nothing clear cut about it.

I am appalled by the level of street violence that occurs in my city – desperate, savage and seemingly random attacks are a huge concern, but what are the patterns? what are the causes? and how can we counteract them?

For a start, it’s nothing new. A level of urban violence has always occurred. As our population grows, the density of our cities increase, unemployment and poverty claim more people, more bad stuff happens – it’s sad arithmetic. But is it racism?

It is a clear fact that there are plenty of really nasty people in Australia. People who, for whatever reason, think they need to prove their superiority over others. They go out to pick a fight with someone who won’t fight back. The people they choose must be easily identifiable and vulnerable – at the moment, the people who best fit this description seem to be Indian students: they look different and they’re a long way from home and their support networks. They make easy targets. It’s my guess that the thugs who perpetrate these acts are not choosing their targets because of their particular race – they probably have no idea where India even is – they are choosing because they stand out and are vulnerable. Race is part of it, but it’s a selection criteria, not the motivator.

There are loads of East Asian students in Australia too – so why are they not [currently] being targeted? after all, they’re pretty easy to spot. I believe the answer is simple – a few years ago, the press was full of stories about ‘Asian gangs’. These thugs don’t know if an ‘Asian’ guy is part of a machete wielding gang who might come around later that night and remove bits of their anatomy – or at the very least might know enough ‘mystical eastern martial arts’ to put up serious resistance. Because of this history, East Asians are not seen as quite such soft targets as the South Asians, so for now the heat is off them. It’s the same principle as avoiding car theft. Steering locks on cars have been shown to be nothing more than an inconvenience to a determined thief, but If there are two identical cars, and one has a steering lock, it’s obvious which one will get nicked – the path of least resistance.

There are plenty of racists in Australia too. Always amazes me when I come across it because I live in a culturally diverse inner city area where races and cultures mix and merge constantly, but step outside the metro areas into regions where they only see headscarves on blurry TV footage of bombings in the Middle East and you’ll find staggering depths of ignorance and racism. But it’s racism borne of the fear of the unknown – not racism against a specific people. Give people a chance to mix and learn and that fear melts away.

This is the same for all countries, it takes time and patience to break down. I don’t think Australia is a particularly racist country – we could do a lot better, that’s the way of the world.