Racism in Australia: A Sri Lankan Australian's Perspective

Yesterday Beyond Blue released a moving TV ad about 'casual' racism in Australia:

By this morning the backlash was in full swing: buzzfeed.com/markdistefano/anti-racism-ad-immediately-gets-racist-reaction

We've got a long way to go. Denial helps no one, yet it's one of the most common reactions to racism. A few months ago I posted some personal thoughts & experiences on the YouTube video below. I wanted to share them with you:


There are lots of tolerant Australians out there. Most of us are open-minded, friendly and colour-blind. But there's more racism in Australia than many Caucasian Aussies realise. And it's understandable why people aren't more aware of the problem- if you're not on the receiving end, how can you be expected to know how often something happens?

We've toured Australia 5 times, including plenty of rural touring. As a Brissie-born Aussie with Sri Lankan parents you'd be surprised how often I get "nigger" or "go back home" comments, even at shows. Someone walked on stage and spat in my face once. My brother gets it regularly- teenagers shouting insults from cars as they drive by. Two of my ex-girlfriends' fathers' first comments to them was about my colour. There was a string of violence against Indian international students a couple of years back (they pay for their tuition- the attacks cost our universities a lot of money).

We Aussies shouldn't forget that in 1998 the nationalist One Nation party (who's entire campaign was pretty much built on racism) won 9% of the federal vote. In other words, 1 in every 11 of us voted for a openly racist, nationalist party. In the state of Queensland where I was born that figure was 22%.

In the US slavery, the struggle for civil rights and racism is constantly discussed in the news, on the net, in politics, in movies and on TV. Post-war Germany is very aware of its past and comes down on racism hard. Their anti-discrimination laws should be an example to the rest of the world. Both of these countries have serious ongoing racial issues but at least there's discussion. To be fair, they also have larger minority populations and it's much harder to ignore the voices of several million people.

Australia has dark elements in our past but we gloss over them too quickly. When you brush over your own history, you don't learn from mistakes and lessons are quickly forgotten. The indigenous people of this country weren't just treated badly, they were treated appallingly. A whole generation of children were stolen from their parents. That wasn't the distant past- those kids are adults now. A lot of Aussies don't know that slavery existed here too (divers in the pearl industry for example). If we were more sensitive to the reality of just how bad what happened was, it would change our country's mindset for the better.

We don't have many non-Caucasian celebrities or politicians who can bring these things to the attention of the masses. We haven't had the kind of riots or protests which force countries to deal with these issues head on. So we need to be proactive.

Let's recognise the problem actually exists, improve our education and encourage our kids to travel to other countries and experience other cultures. Because at the end of the day, I've yet to meet an educated backpacker that was racist.


You can check out the replies to my comment here.


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