AFTER EACH TERROR ATTACK I go through a period of uneasy, irrational racism. Repeated news stories flashing up faces of the accused. Front pages dedicated to remembering the dead. Talk back filled with calls of hatred, directed at entire religions and cultural backgrounds. Racial profiling of the worst kind. It could happen to you, is the message screamed at all of us. Be alert.
It is at these times I find myself behaving in a way which is against everything I believe and stand for. Train rides become unbearable. I cross the street when faced with someone I deem “a threat”. My instincts are forced into overdrive and in their normal, rational, caring, culturally aware and all accepting place is racism. It shames me and I work hard to understand and dissemble it.
Today, for a moment, it was reawakened. Vision of ASIO and Federal Police swooping on houses in Sydney in counter terrorism raids filled our TV screens. Reports of plans to commit random acts of violence against Australians including beheadings and shootings. Suddenly, I am on edge again.
In the days to come discussions will once again centre on extremists, yet with each word spoken entire communities will be impacted. My initial reaction to fear everyone who “looks” different will be replaced with my real feelings – embrace difference. I am ashamed to admit that my go to place in times of terror is to buy into the fear mongering. It is something I’ve recognised and have been working hard to change. Fear does strange things to a person. Fear is an evil, easily triggered tool used by people with divisive agendas. I will not let them change me.
Fear legitimises racism. You can hear them all now – the race haters. It’s like they long for these events. They know even rational, open, inquisitive people can be pulled into depths of stupidity. They take the fear and use it to twist their words of hate into statements of fact. They rally their troops and fuel the hatred. This terrifies me more then the threat of terror. They can do damage which is insidious, long lasting and cross generational. They can divide our nation.
I fear Australia is being run by people who are going to use these threats to pursue war. Approval ratings have been down, the budget lambasted and the political landscape is withering – war and terror are good for boosting approval ratings and distracting the public from ineptitude.
It is right to fear terror. The world is an scary place. Bali, the London Bombings, 911 – these are real. It’s OK to feel strongly about the threat of indiscriminate violence, but it is not right to fall into the trap of irrational racism-based on fear.
Racial profiling is damaging. It happens all the time. You can not look at someone and make an assumption based on what they look like. You can not have someone tell you their nationality and immediately assume you know them. It’s the same racial stereotypes over and over. Your Asian so you must be a bad driver. You’re Italian so you must love pasta. You’re a Kiwi, fuck any sheep lately? And this one, which I heard today of a newspaper requesting people to “wear a kilt or drink Whisky” when being photographed for a newspaper article on the Scottish independence vote. Is it not enough to say they’re Scottish?
Kids on a recent school trip to a cultural centre to learn more about the Kaurna people were having a discussion about how all Aboriginal people don’t have dark skin. The woman, with fair skin, addressing the group of 8-year-olds asked them if they thought she was Aboriginal. Half the class replied yes. Half the class replied no. When she explained her heritage, she then asked: “Why did you not think think I was Aboriginal?” Because of the colour of your skin was an often repeated reply. One child said: “Because you are wearing normal clothes and you are not dead”.
We live in a world where people are still defined by racial stereotypes, when in fact our backgrounds are so entwined now, that simply by looking at someone or hearing their accent means little.
Me sitting on a bus and seeing someone who the media has deemed a “terrorist looking suspect” and moving my seat, shifting my gaze or getting off because of fear is not being alert, it’s being racist. I refuse to let my life be characterised by ignorance or fuelled by damaging, hurtful stereotypes. Be ready for the onslaught of terror-based racism. Be alert. Be a good person and do not let yourself buy into the fear mongering. Think about all the people who will now be scared to walk down their own street, carry out their jobs and do the school run because of their race. The people who make Australia such a wonderfully diverse, rich, vibrant place who now have people approach them with caution. This is what I fear most, our society becoming even more divided. Please don’t let that happen.