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General Affairs Mental Health

Australia-ism

I have lived in Australia for 15 years. Prior to that, in the United Kingdom for a little over half a decade.

When I first moved to Melbourne, I felt welcomed here in contrast to my life in the UK. Initially, when asked about the infamous red-neck behaviour in Australia and I would laugh it off saying that I have many Australian friends of all colours and heritage. Racism was possibly a disease that had died off in the 90s. As I mature and my experience with the society grew a little more, I started feel the acceptance was skin deep.

Aussies like to think of themselves as welcoming and accepting. It is a good start, no doubt, certainly better than an outright rejection of any foreign culture. Imagine your typical middle class white family in the burbs. When asked how they feel about Afghan refugees, the patriarch would animatedly declare how the Afghans are great people and perhaps he’d have his Syrian neighbours over for a backyard barbie every Australia day. Until one day, his daughter starts to date a brown skin man and that fella boldly asks her father for her hand in marriage. Then things would go downhill from there. Kinda like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” – a rude culture shock for both families only with a big fat unhappy ending.

Gradually as I reach middle age, I learnt to keep my composure, my mouth shut and my opinions about the lack of acceptance to myself. I would look upon at other foreigners trying hard to merge into mainstream Anglo Australia, muttering “No worries, mate” with their strong accent and patiently explaining that being fifth generation Malaysian Chinese meant that no one had been ‘born in China’ for a while, silently applauding them for their efforts and secretly hoping they would fare better than I had.

A few days ago I shouted a neighbour coffee. We hailed from the same country and by chance we also share the same surname. He was well known in this side of town for his efforts in social media to promote personal stories of local residents. That was our first meeting and from my impressions in social media he struck me as an optimistic, cheerful man who had successfully amalgamated into our suburb. He even won an award for his work with the people. I was glad to see someone else doing a better job of being accepted by mainstream Australia. Yet when we broached on the subject of racism, I was surprised at how quick he unleash his dissatisfaction to me, a stranger he’s only met several minutes before. He believed it is necessary to continue the fight to combat this inequality right down to eliminating the casual racism we deal with on a day-to-day basis. Our stakes in this fight are different – he has a family with young offspring whom he’d hope would see a better future. I, on the other hand, no longer have much faith, wish or hope for the future to be any different from today.

Nonetheless, it is difficult not to contemplate this unique blend of Australian Racism, or Australia-ism in 2020, when an underlying resentment of all things Chinese blew up in our face, followed closely by the protests about aboriginal deaths in custody set off by the death of George Floyd on the opposite side of the Pacific. Confronted by a sharp increase of hate speech on social media, it became harder to maintain my silence. Every now and then I would engage and get sucked into a spiral of angry words, then waste precious energy disengaging and walk away. Eventually I would throw in the towel again, resigning to the reality that it remains impossible to have a conversation with the nation about their racist tendencies when the denial is one big, thick steel wall.

I have no proposed solution, not even a conclusion in this blog post.

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