Do Australians have the right to be bigots?

140429163903-donald-sterling-nba-ban-single-image-cutWe live in the age that someone is fined 2.5 million dollars for racist comments as in the case of Donald Sterling, owner of the American NBA team Clippers. This is the same man who was about to receive a lifetime achievement award for donating consistently and generously minority charities and giving game tickets to inner city children. He also turned the Clippers, a team with mainly people of color from 15 million business to 1.9 billion business. This makes his players some of the most highly paid sports stars in the industry.

All this came on the heels of Senator George Brandis, Australian Attorney-General, who recently stated that Australians “have the right to be bigots”. This started wide debates about racial discrimination and whether people of color have become oversensitive. This got me thinking of when I first moved to Australia.  My first friends were an older Australian couple that lived next door. We would have afternoon teas on my days off and just chat about life. The man used to call me nigress, even when introducing me to his friends he would refer me as the “nigress’. The friends would then stare in embarrassment and wait for me to correct him, or resist, but it didn’t bother me and I didn’t correct him at all. After a while, his more forward thinking wife told him, it was probably not wise to call me “nigress” it was “inappropriate” and “ignorant”, and after a time he stopped, and the word was never mentioned again. My point is, I did not care that he called me nigress, or any other name, because I have never doubted that he cared about me. When I was down and out he and his wife took me in. When my boyfriend left, he came and sat with me as I cried. When I graduated with a Masters degree he came and stood in the place of my parents, who couldn’t afford the pricey flight from Africa.  The words did not matter, his actions spoke louder.

The new Racial Discrimination Act proposes that it be illegal “intimidate another person” and create a new clause making it illegal to “vilify another person” on the basis of “race, color or national or ethnic origin”. Which in my opinion does not even begin to scrape at the real issues of racism in Australia. The problem is not the public displays of racism like in the and buses. Real racism is hidden deep in the hearts of the real estate agents who don’t rent to people of color. Human resources managers that throw away resumes that have “strange surnames”. According to recent research, if you are Chinese you have to apply for 68 per cent more jobs to get the same number of interviews as an Anglo-Australian. If you’re Middle Eastern, it’s 64 per cent. If you’re indigenous, 35 per cent. This is polite racism, as Waleed Aly a political lecturer at Monash, university calls it. This new breed of racism that seems “polite” educated and cultured is just as insidious as it predecessors, and worse, because it cannot be governed. There is no law that can govern feelings and emotions.

The Racial Discrimination Act just reinforces the current culture of political correctness in Australia. It reinforces racial discrimination in that it one can act and say whatever they want in private as long as he is not heard by the wrong people or breaking the law.

In a world of political correctness, where everyone is mindful to say the right thing, or otherwise be chastised, there is no law now and in the future that can govern racist feelings.  Trying to govern speech only stifles expression and ingrains those feelings. Monsters grow in the dark and the Australian culture of political correctness is not solving the problem of race but deepening the issues.

Every immigrant who comes to Australia makes Australia home by choice. They have the right to fight for a piece of the Aussie dream even if it takes longer that their Caucasian colleagues. Australia is very diverse and there are a lot of people to whom race is a non issue and doesn’t factor it in there decision making. The research shows that the people of color do get work in Australia even if it takes longer. Hence instead of focusing on “who is saying what” lets look inward and focus on righting our values. Let the bigots speak and act on their foolishness, as the world keeps moving forward, they too shall be phased out.

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Waruguru is an MBA graduate from E.C.U Western Australia . She loves fresh food, books, movies, travel, street cafes, and walks on the beach.

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