Friday, 31 July 2009

Us and Them

Back to racism ... dammit.

I just read a blog that got me all hot and bothered and what better way to vent than to blog. It's easier than running into the kitchen and breaking a whole lot of crockery which would just have to be replaced anyhow.

Anyhow, the trouble with this blog is that the people on it think they are very liberal and very clever and compassionate but unfortunately they aren't very good at thinking of some of the obvious difficulties in societies, which is the problem with many social reformers. Everything is a straight line to them because naturally everything would be so easy - if everyone was like them. Oh darn, yeah I was reading John Fowles' The Collector recently.

Here, some bloggers mentioned that these darn people, certain people in society, caused trouble, one gave this example:

Two Australian born men she knows, whenever they are asked where they are from, they say "Italy" when, as the blogger argued, the answer should be "Australia" [they can always clarify that they have an Italian heritage, she argues]. She says such attitudes foster mistrust and a divide between cultures.

SHE always says she's Australian, she never explains she's part Norwegian and Scottish and she doesn't see why it's necessary to explain your origin at all (I can see a little superior smirk here).

Now, that is certainly one way to see it. These men are fostering a divide in Australia, she is being peaceable.

On the other hand, let's look at some other ways of seeing this:

a) Why is anyone concerned about where they come from at all - by asking you are implying that you want to categorise someone, and by being huffy about a wrong answer even more so that there are right and wrong answers, not that you are going to just make conversation about kangaroos or pizza, and therefore is the asking of the question and the reaction fostering the divide, not the answer?

b) It seems to me that it may be easy enough for Ms Norwegian-Scottish to say I'm Aussie-nothing-further-thanks. But one way to consider this is that people who come from backgrounds where they are in the minority and what's more their heritage gives them physical differences that are easily recognisable, have probably encountered this phenomenon. the lose-lose situation.

You say you are from "Italy" or "China" or "India" and people say look-at-that-idiot-doesn't-want-to-be-Aussie-his-kind-never-does-one-more-reason-why-we-should-not-allow-fucking-immigrants-into-this-country-they-never-fit-in. I bet you've seen this sentiment sprayed all over blogs or letters to the editor or opinion columns.

On the other hand, you say "I'm Australian" and you don't bother to explain your ethnic origin. That may be ok if you are Anglo or you look Anglo. But if you aren't in that privileged group, there are plenty of times many will have got barraged with:

"No really ... where were you BORN ... oh, born here, so what about your parents ... born here too?! ... oh wow, that's something, you mean both parents? ... so do they speak English? ... you speak English at home ... you speak any other languages ... so which country are you from ... which region ... I mean originally ... you go back there often ... got family out there ...."

A person may be forgiven for thinking it's easier to just say from the start "I'm from Japan" or "Taiwan". After all that barrage, it implies that that's what the questioner wanted to hear in the first place. And by pushing you with all these questions, it also implies that the questioner doesn't want to see you as an Australian same as an Anglo who rarely goes through the same treatment.

And if they won't accept you as one of them, then who is pushing the 'us and them' culture, really?

The answer "you can just say "I'm an Australian-born Chinese or Japanese or Italian"" or whatever may see comfortable to many Anglos but in reality why should we have to say it when if you're Australian-born Norwegian-Scottish you just poshly say you don't feel the need and never even incur the hassling.

Social conditioning occurs at both ends; they might give answers which cause us to despise and isolate and mistrust them, but they may give such answers because they feel our hate and the isolation and expectations and mistrust caused by it. So how does the cycle end?

It is unrealistic to put all the burden on just one group or one end, but so easy to do it. 'Specially when it's not you who has to take that burden or blame.


Anonymous said...

Well said! I feel the need to vent!!

I used to get this treatment in New Zealand all the time (part of the reason I moved to Oz - which I love!) . Believe me being of Anglo Saxon origin is not always so glowing as proposed - I received comments and assumptions on a daily basis that would not have been said if my skin was not such a whiter shade of pale, believe me! However, I digress - I am an immigrant from England and part of the reason I moved to Australia was the definition I used to get in NZ. I wasn't just J*****, I was that English girl, J*****. Every opinion or taste I had was closely followed by "Oh you just think that because oyu are English, you will learn in time.." Or words to that nature. I felt that my identity was solely based on my accent and birthplace and I was not allowed to step out of a pre-written stereotype and the unwritten fact that I must hate my country of birth as I had moved to NZ, so we can freely slag off your birth place because NZ is the best country in the world..."oh really where else have you been to reach this sweeping statement?" ..."what was that? London to work in a pub, to Germany to go to the beer fest and Rome to take pictures all within the really authentic setting of a Tikki Tour bus??". Hands down we have a winner here!!!!!

Maria said...

I don't think that there is any skin colour that you're errh 'safe' in, basically :)

Certainly in some parts of the world in terms of social conditioning you'll get less of the pain-in-the-neck naming than others. That's about it!

I really hate - yeah hate! - what it is about how people, and so many so-called intelligent people - will make all sorts of racist comments and then just say 'oh but it's ok because it's true'.

There was a whole article I remember once in the paper about how it was ok to get rid of blacks and Asians because Africans were factually inferior to whites and Asians were factually taking whites' jobs. so they 'had' to be got rid of. The strange thing is that even if certain things in it are true (say that there are more Asians in certain jobs now) the conclusion drawn is not necessarily true, that you 'have to get rid of certain people'. What it does is just draw a line and say "them and us" again. If another white person had gained a position that you had coveted, would you feel the need to exterminate him or her? Then why feel the same about an Asian who does the same thing?

That's the dumb thing about those conclusions.

And then there was this teacher of mine who used to go on about how she was such a leftie and liberal and she didn't like conservatives because she thought they couldn't 'think' but I rememebr in class how she seemed to hink it was ok to mock the South African accent because it was 'objectively' bad. Then of course along with that would roll out white South African Jew jokes.


I think it is fun to have bits of ethnic culture that you love: Yes I love those bits. But I like to think of me as a human being first!

I think one of the reasons it is easy to hang with people who are from your own ethnic background, say Aussie-Asian like meself is that you know they aren't going to go on about your ethnicity because that's too goddam mundane. They want to know about you, the human being. And maybe that's why certain people do stay in ghettos. Possibly people don't want to venture into groups where other people are going to spend their time going on about their cool accent, and can you tell me about the food in your country and can you do that party trick, and can you teach me some phrases? They want to be themselves, not a clown or a tour guide.