Thursday, 18 June 2009

...Surely That's Not Racist?

There is a direct link between the 'harmless' little gag which we often let slide and the appalling racist violence which we quickly condemn, write Suvendrini Perera and Jon Stratton

It was probably a year or two ago that one of us — the one who looks Indian but isn't — heard her first call-centre joke from a fellow academic. Registering that she was somewhat taken aback, the joker protested, "Oh, come on, you know that's not racist. People just get annoyed about all the jobs going to India. Nothing personal." Right. Nothing personal.

This colleague's bad joke has come to mind as we have watched the burgeoning catalogue of acts of violence against Indian students on the news: stabbings, bashings, beatings, muggings, burnings.

It's not racist. It's just that they work late at night. It's just that they travel by train. It's just that they have iPods. It's just that they look vulnerable. It's just that they act different — not like the good Indians who are such marvellous contributors to our multicultural society. It's just that they stand out. Right.

The violent attacks on international students in Australia have apparently been happening for a number of years. Commonwealth and state politicians, as well as the media, have sprung to attention recently thanks to a series of increasingly public interventions by the Indian Government. Students from India, however, are by no means the sole targets of the violence nor have the attacks been limited to men. International students from China have been raped. Young Chinese women students in Sydney and Perth were murdered, including the awful case of Jiao Dan who was raped and murdered in Perth in 2007.

A couple of years ago one of us visited the library of another university. In the men's toilet he was astounded to find a large scrawled graffito that read: "I raped an Asian and she loved it." Even more shocking, it was still there when he returned a few days later. He complained to the librarian that, while toilet walls are frequently the site for graffiti of questionable taste, this was completely beyond the bounds of acceptability. The next time he went there, the graffito had been painted over.

How long had it been there? Why had no other man complained about it?

Part of the answer is that racist jokes and comments have become normalised as unremarkable aspects of daily life in Australia. It's "everyday racism", the kind of unthinking racism that is so accepted that we don't consider it racism. It prevents us from seeing the racialised discriminations that happen all the time in Australia. The question is, can it inure us even to the extreme forms of violence that are enacted before our eyes?

This outbreak of violence against international — read Asian — students needs to be placed in a wider landscape that takes in a whole raft of changes to immigration policy that have accompanied the increasing neoliberalisation of Australia. These changes have everything to do with race.

Read the full article here.

No comments: