Waleed Aly, now Gold Logie Winner, has previously written about the polite racism of the educated middle class and the underlying low grade all-pervasive racism in Australia. He is of course right, not that we like to admit it.
I am a low grade racist. Some years ago I was involved in a subliminal psychological test which provided me with the result ‘Slightly Racist”. I was so amazed at this, particularly as a long-time supporter of a multi-cultural Australia and at the time engaged with people from many different countries, that I took the test again. Same result: Slightly Racist.
I didn’t mention this to anybody for many years until a learned friend from Armenia mentioned that she thought we were all racist. She said it was the way in which we dealt with our racism that mattered. It occurred to me later that maybe the best result one could have got from that subliminal test was in fact to be only slightly racist.
Basically racism tends to stem from our evolving to live in groups for protection and anyone outside our particular group is seen as a threat. We strengthen our group by belittling those members of the other groups. The more we belittle the other group the stronger we perceive ours.
I well remember the Howard Government’s strategy of attacking the unemployed, the people on disability pensions and then the refugees arriving by boat in order to strengthen its flagging popularity. I have always blamed John Howard for the Cronulla riot as a result of the then-government’s inflammatory rhetoric.
Australia regards itself as a tolerant country despite its underlying racism. We are so tolerant that we generally do little to counter the subtle racism when we come across it in general conversation in our own groups. If I challenged my friends and every time I heard a belittling comment I don’t think I would have too many friends left. You know the comments about ‘they’ do this or ‘they’ don’t do that, ‘they’ don’t speak English etc. etc.
People would have a different attitude if they were for some time in the ‘out’ group or to be a minority. Minorities know when they are being the brunt of prejudice. Being stigmatised is a real feeling and once you have felt it, it stays with you forever. It is as real as a kick in the guts and can be just as hurtful. Stan Grant has spoken about the first Australians carrying the weight of white colonialism. They also carry the weight of stigmatism.
Racism is evident in all countries and thankfully there are few of the extreme racists in Australia as there are elsewhere in the world. But we can do better. It is interesting that we now hear less of a multicultural Australia. It is up to our leaders to foster what can be gained from other cultures which have so much to offer.