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A debate on race

03 Dec

INTRODUCTION

In our school newsletter I had been running a series of articles dealing with racism, leading up to the International Day for the Elimination of Racism on March 21 2001. I received the following anonymous letter from a senior student. I would be interested in your responses. I would not normally publish an anonymous letter, but behind the anger and some serious misconceptions, I feel there is an intelligence that deserves respect. I have slightly abridged the letter, but kept true to the author’s views.

On March 2 2001 I received another very polite letter enclosing an American White Supremacist article taken from the Web, I have linked a counter-article by sociologist Caleb Rosado. Please consider.

From 23 January 2006 and for the following two Mondays, ABC in Sydney showed the PBS documentary series Race: The Power of an Illusion. That site is worth visiting.

LETTER AND RESPONSE

Enough of all the double standards on racism…. In the quiz you ask whether “Overtly or covertly demonstrating that one believes one’s own cultural or ethnic background is superior” is racist, the answer is yes. Yet about a month ago you printed an article entitled “Asian Pride”. There has never been an article on “White Pride” as whites are obviously meant to feel shame about the so-called “stolen generation” and other instances where whites have colonised a country or done something similar. I mean, obviously the only people capable of being racist are whites, or so the double standard of racism seen today would have you believe.

RESPONSE: First, the term “whites” is an interesting one. The emphasis on skin color misses the point; this is the most superficial of human differences. “Race” as defined by physical characteristics is a dead concept, unscientific and archaic. The Human Genome Project has merely underlined how spurious it is. I take it the writer refers to Anglo-Australian or European cultural heritage. These are still quite rightly celebrated in many areas of the curriculum. Indeed all Australians need to take pride in the concepts of individual freedom, representative government, the rule of law–and so on–that spring from that tradition. I know I do. I also know that many people who come to Australia come here because those traditions are better served here than in many other parts of the world. On the other hand the Christianity that still helps many shape their values derives ultimately not from Europe but from the Middle East; it is good to remember that.

To quote from Norman Davies, Europe, A History (1996): ” ‘White’, ‘Caucasian’, ‘Aryan’ and ‘Europoid’ all reflect the protracted search for an exclusive and therefore non-existent common denominator in the racial make-up of Europe’s population. They form part of a wider vocabulary of doubtful terms including ‘Black’, ‘Asian’, ‘Semitic’, and ‘Hispanic’, where physical, geographical, and cultural criteria are hopelessly confused.”

Second, pride is something we all deserve, so long as it is not at the expense of others. No-one need feel ashamed of who they are or what their heritage is. I am not ashamed of mine, and I extend the same courtesy to others. We do not need to be clones of each other to be good Australians. Just as we differ individually, so can we nurture our cultural heritage so far as it is part of who we are. At the same time we subsume all that in loyalty to the community as a whole, in all its diversity. We are free to differ; that is one of the good things about this country.

Third, racism is not something any one ethnic or cultural group has a monopoly on. Europeans have not been the only colonisers either–ask the Tibetans, or the Ainu of Japan, merely to name two. In Australia, in my view, we have developed a healthy interest in our past that corrects the silence I recall hearing when as a child I wondered–but what did happen to the Aborigines?

No, I’ll tell you what’s racist. Any white person that speaks out and tells about the pride they have in being white is instantly branded a “hick” or “KKK”. Yet any Asian or person from a minority ethnic background who feels pride in their race is some kind of hero or pioneer.

RESPONSE: Any person who exalts their race above the rest of the human race is probably a fool, whatever their background. I am all for Human Pride myself! I also enjoy finding out about other ways of looking at the world, and exploring what they have to offer. Often this makes for a much more interesting life. For many writers and artists in Australia the traditions of our neighbours have been most fruitful; the poet Robert Gray, for example, thoroughly Australian, has nonetheless found Chinese and Japanese Buddhism provide a way of looking at the world that makes sense to him and permeates and enriches his work.

However, it is obvious why the school is willing to take this kind of action. As the school is majority Asian they must try to do everything in their favour and to make them feel special. As a majority they can speak freely about how great they are, whilst anyone that thinks otherwise is obviously from the Ku Klux Klan, a neo-Nazi, or some redneck hick with an unbelievably small IQ. However, the huge influx of Asian students into the school is meant to bring multiculturalism into the school and this multiculturalism can only be achieved when the minorities of society (Asians) are a majority at the school, which is the case now.

RESPONSE: The students in this school are the students in this school; everyone who pursues excellence academically, in sport, or in other activities will feel special. Hilbert Chiu (see below) has made this point rather well. Some may be more dedicated to the pursuit of excellence than others, but all have the opportunity to excel. “Multiculturalism”, as the word suggests, simply means that we have (and have had for years) people here from many different cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds. There is no barrier for anyone entering this school, except to achieve a certain academic standard. No-one asks what your socio-economic or ethnic background is; if you get selected you get in.

But of course this letter will never make it into the High Notes, as it is obviously and blatantly “racist”. However any Asian, or any other non-white ethnic background who wants to write about the pride they feel for their race and the downfall of other races will be praised for standing up and having their letter published because they are “heroes”. I am therefore issuing you, Mr Whitfield, a challenge to print this letter in the upcoming newsletter. You say you encourage everyone who has been victimised because of ethnic differences to speak out against the “racist bullying” they are being subjected to. Well, here’s my letter. It talks about the “racist bullying” I and other white students at the school receive every day. I dare you to print it so everyone can read about what really goes on at school. To do otherwise would just be totally and blatantly RACIST.

RESPONSE: Bullying, whatever its origin, is deplorable. Students are encouraged to report instances of it to teachers, their Year Adviser, the Deputy or the Principal. Instances of racism, whoever is responsible, should be drawn to the attention of Mr Codey, the Anti-Racism Contact Officer, who will investigate them. Feeling alienated or experiencing xenophobia may, however, be neither bullying nor racism. In that case the alienation and xenophobia would need to be addressed, in the interests of the individual and the harmony of the group. Perhaps education is the key to that.

As to the comments on Asian Pride and so on, I counsel you to read the original article. If you can find anything there exalting race, or about the “downfall of other races” I will walk backwards from here to Taylor Square! What I see is the story of a fine young Australian who has worked hard, overcome a few disadvantages, and is now happy with himself and where he is.

RACIAL BULLYING?

Hilbert Chiu, Year 12 2000 (written 2001)

As with all forms of bullying, racially motivated bullying is based largely upon intimidation. The cause of this intimidation in my experience has been a lack of understanding for other cultural values and attitudes. For example a young boy of Asian background is often taught by his parents that bullies get a high out of any reaction he gives, so the best way is to ignore and to avoid a bully; a sort of passive resistance. However, a would-be bully often takes passive resistance as a sign of weakness, of helplessness and of ‘easy pickings’. This is where the trouble starts, as cultural differences turn what was only bullying into racial bullying. Of course, racial bullying is not always so ‘black and white’, and I believe that intimidation stems equally from all races.

I do not think that it is a severe problem in the school, and must be taken in perspective. If racism were rife, this form of bullying would be seen in a one-on-one basis, but in my time at school serious racial incidents only occurred when conducted by groups. It could be that individuals who would otherwise be respectful and friendly feel a need to impress their friends. Common excuses I have come across have been: “It was only a joke”, or “We didn’t know he would take it so seriously” – precisely the insensitivity which causes unwitting intimidation. Hard for a year seven student to see the joke when feeling physically threatened by older boys with that aggressive attitude. Respect for another’s feelings is no where to be seen.

As for solutions, I could only advocate greater participation of all races in all school activities. It fosters greater understanding and respect for all parties, and will eventually eliminate the barriers between the so-called social elite (who will find matters a little different at university), and those who just want to get on with their studies.

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Posted by on December 3, 2006 in Australian, diversity, equity/welfare, multiculturalism

 

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