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ASIA
26 March 2014
JEREMY FERNANDEZ

Racism and intolerance in Australia

Racism towards Asian and other ethnic groups is alive and well in Australia, despite the country's attempted embrace of the Asian Century.

Racism towards Asian and other ethnic groups is alive and well in Australia, despite the country's attempted embrace of the Asian Century.

A Malaysian-born television presenter in Australia, Jeremy Fernandez, has long experienced racism since moving to Australia as a teenager. But a recent 15-minute racist tirade he experienced in front of his young daughter left him particularly shaken.

In the presence of her two school-aged kids, a woman called him a "black c***". She told him to go back to his "own country", and threatened to drag him off a bus as she raised her fist to his face.

"You never know when you'll be hit next, and having your mug on TV doesn't offer much of a shield", said Fernandez.

This incident does not represent the total reality of Australia's multi-ethnic society, with strong laws against racism and discrimination, with very high rates of inter-marriage between different ethnic groups, and with a recognition of the great benefits of migration.

But acts of racism, such as the attacks on Indian students a few years back, are common enough in Australian society for leading Australian neurosurgeon Charlie Teo to highlight racism in his Australia Day (26 January) last year.

Teo's message was a call for an Australia that is both culturally and socially sensitive and tolerant, an Australia that acknowledges a responsibility to our own people as well as our near and distant neighbors who are less fortunate than us and an Australia that identifies, nurtures and rewards scientific, economic, technological and environmental curiosity and innovation.

When Teo, a son of Chinese migrants, was a boy in the 1950s and 1960s, racism was rife in Australia. He would be jeered or mocked by groups of kids anytime he ventured into a public space. While racism has certainly diminished over the last 50 years, he believes that it is incorrect and naive to say that there is no anti-Arab or no anti-Indian sentiment in Australia.

At the same time, Teo admits that his Chinese mother would speak of “white devils”.

Teo believes that Australia has a moral and social obligation to demonstrate a higher level of kindness to and acceptance of refugees. The country would benefit from immigration of peoples from countries of conflict, or those subjected to political persecution, who are simply seeking refuge from violence and a better life for their children. According to Teo, both sides of Australia's political fence are regrettably floundering on this issue.

Many people would counter to Fernandez and Teo that racism and discrimination are alive and well in most countries and societies in the world. That may be true, but that is still no justification to accept and excuse it.

Discrimination can also take many forms, not only race, and can be based religious beliefs, gender, sexual preferences, physical disability and other factors. And the struggle against discrimination may never be fully won. Human nature is a very imperfect thing.

But political and community leaders must work vigorously and continuously against racism and discrimination -- especially in migrant countries like Australia, Canada and the US, where we are all ultimately migrants from somewhere.

Living together in harmony and in a spirit of tolerance and respect is perhaps one of the greatest challenges in the Asian Century. The renaissance of Asia after centuries of global domination by the West requires great changes in mindsets which are based on notions of Western cultural superiority.

Author

John West
Executive Director
Asian Century Institute
www.asiancenturyinstitute.com
Tags: asia, racism, Australia, Asian Century, Jeremy Fernandez

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