"Let life enchant you again." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Thoughts
November 18, 2006

When Is A Racist Comment Not A Racist Comment?

When it is utttered in Australia perhaps? No, this is not the start of a major campaign on this blog, but this story just begs to be followed up, especially after my recent comments on Racism and Australian Cricket. Let’s consider this statement, aimed at English cricketer Monty Panesar by an Australian cricket fan, “Give […]

When it is utttered in Australia perhaps?

No, this is not the start of a major campaign on this blog, but this story just begs to be followed up, especially after my recent comments on Racism and Australian Cricket.

Let’s consider this statement, aimed at English cricketer Monty Panesar by an Australian cricket fan,

“Give us a wave Monty,” the spectator reportedly shouted. “You can’t speak English you stupid Indian, I’ll have to say it in Indian.

“What are you doing playing in the English side, you’re not English.”

Apparently, according to the head of Australian cricket, James Sutherland, this is not a racist remark, or in Sutherland’s words, “I don’t think there is too much racist about that.”

In other words – it’s ok? Maybe Sutherland was attempting the kind of doublespeak evidenced by Malcolm Conn in the Australian; we might have racists but we don’t have racism. Yeah right, history is a stern judge that such an approach doesn’t go far in dealing with these kinds of social problems.

Moreover it doesn’t address the findings of the ICC, upon investigating last year’s tour by South Africa, that racism in Australian cricket was “premeditated, coordinated and calculated to get under the players’ skins.” On top of that, the UK sports minister, Richard Caborn is taking the matter rather more seriously than Sutherland.

“I’m going to be talking to my counterpart in Australia. We’ve got a little difficulty down there.”

Clearly not every Australian cricket fan is a seething racist. Far from it. But a significant minority are and they reflect a significant minority within the society at large. The attitude may not be absolute and totallywidespread, but it is persistent. That’s enough people with hardened racist views within the society to represent a real problem. Statements like those from Sutherland and Conn are cowardly and probematic because they fail to face the problem square in the face. By trying to deflect and downplay the issue both are, in fact, complicit in it.

[tags] Racism, Australia [/tags]

spike 17 years ago

Hey Fern.

Let me start by saying that I’ve enjoyed your posts on Racism in Australia. They have really got me thinking.

In my opinion racism is always a difficult topic to discuss without racism.
For example, your comment… “It really is time for Australia to face up to its problem, admit the breadth of the issue and deal with it. A failure to do so will only breed more resentment and more confrontations, which in time will undermine a society that has an aweful lot of good going for it.”… reads as a racist comment to me. What I mean is, you seem to have lumped all of Australia together, judging all people there based upon their race only, and not on their individual beliefs or deeds.

But that is not unusual I think. Based on my experiences in Australia and in many other places around the world, I actually think that everyone is racist in some way. Everybody judges others based upon their race only. For example, when I was living in London, many of the British there made racist comments about the Pakistanis, or the Africans. When I was living in Singapore, many Singaporeans there made racist comments about the Malays (and vice versa when I went to visit Malaysia). When I was touring in Turkey, many Turks there made racist comments about the British. And there certainly is racism in Australia. I spent some years living in the Sutherland Shire (of which Cronulla is a suburb) and often heard people speaking against others based only upon their race. This was especially the case at the time when Pauline Hanson and her views were in the news.
And when I moved to the Inner West of Sydney I found just as many examples of people using racist language in their daily speech. For example, an Australian friend of mine (from Armenia) would use racist language against the Turks. Another Australian friend of mine (from Turkey) would use racist language against the Greeks. Another Australian friend of mine (who’s parents are from Greece) would use racist language against the Italians. A new friend of mine from Iraq (whom our church sponsors) just plain hates all Americans.

And I’m not removing myself from racist thoughts either. A few weeks ago my bank outsourced all of it’s phone help operations to India. This meant that when I made a call to my bank a week or so ago I was extremely frustrated to be discussing a problem with a person who I couldn’t understand or seem to make understand my problem. I was thinking something along the lines of, “Why is my bank making life more difficult for me just to save a few dollars by using Indians who will work on the cheap?” I’m ashamed to say there is racism in those thoughts.
Also, I haven’t processed all of my thoughts on the issue, but I assume if my bank outsourced its phone help operations to Melbourne I wouldn’t be so upset. I suppose this is because I would think that a person could understand me more easily from my own country. My racism then, seems to stem from a lack of understanding, or communication problems, or stereotypes, or my own laziness, all the types of things that racism grows from.

So anyway, I’ll be interested to continue to read your posts on racism if they continue. Maybe you could post some of the examples of your own racism, catching yourself with a racist thought or word, and where you think they stem from.
Just a thought…

p.s. Here are some links to educational programs used in my daughter’s school in Sydney to discuss racism in Australia.

Fernando Gros 17 years ago

Hey Spike, thanks for taking the time to comment and for the links to those materials. I’m going to take a long look at them.

I agree with you about the prevalence and universality of Racism. During the middle years of High School I was prone to boughts of racism, like most “ethnic” kids I knew. It was a process of trying to adjust with social exclusion. Moreover, when I moved to India it was real hard not to revert to negative stereotypes at times to deal with the alien-ness of the country. There was a lot that was hard to process and make sense of. Moreover, I was surprised, when I tried to describe my experiences to friends in the UK and Australia, how often they seemed comfortable to box up what I was trying to describe in cliched categories. In fact, India opened my eyes to a lot of kinds of racism I had not thought about before. In particular it opened my eyes to the ways racist statements relate to non-claims about truth. It’s probably something I should explore and write about some more.

But, I’m not sure the phrase you quoted from me really qualifies as racism because it isn’t negatively prejudicial of a race. For language to function I believe we need to maintain some sort of difference between description and deprication.

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