By Erin Chew
It seems different cultural and religious groups of Americans are posting, recording and reporting pretty terrible incidences of racism and hate, and the trend is not ending. There are instances of regular Americans being egged, pushed, verbally abused, and told to go back to where they came from by certain sections of white Americans who pledge support for Donald Trump. The worst thing is, these ignorant white Americans then claim they are somehow doing Trump’s work by using terms such as “Trump’s World” and “Trump’s America”. One of the most extreme responses I have seen is from Phillip Lu’s Facebook post. Phillip was also a victim of a racial verbal attack, when a white American woman yelled this out to him from her car, “that’s why I voted for Trump to get rid of you guys” . But the thing is, we can’t blame Trump for the racism, nor can we say racism is on the rise since his election on November 8th. We also need to remember, not all of Trump’s supporters are racist or hold racist views. Many who voted for Trump (including people of colour) did so believing a new administration will improve economic and class issues. Racism in America has been around and been happening way before Trump’s election, it is just that his rhetoric during the campaign trail has paved the way for racism to somehow become normalised and acceptable.
But what about closer to home? Is Australia immune to all of this, or is it predisposed to this “Trumpnisation”? I think the answer is pretty obvious, because Australia and its current and successive Governments have been complicit in pushing a society fuelled by racism and hate. We as a country can’t just sit there and laugh at the election decision Americans made, because clearly we are experiencing the same issues. If we just look at our own backyard we already have our “alt-right” crazies who yield a lot of political and people power. Just take Pauline Hanson and her cohort of One Nation senators. Their racist and hate-fuelled agenda is no different from certain aspects of Trump and the Trump supporters agenda of banning Muslim migration and oppress all other minority groups. The One Nation senators were also publicly celebrating the win of Trump as the POTUS in front of Parliament House on US election night. Absolutely distasteful, but a hint of what our world is coming to. And if we just take a look at the dribble which has come out of the mouth of their all-important leader Pauline Hanson, we can see similarities in what Trump says. As mentioned earlier, white America is not solely to blame for the rise of Trump, nor are they to blame for racism, because this has existed way before Trump came on the scene. But Trump and his supporters are to blame for the rhetoric of hate and this can be applied to Australia. One Nation and the resurgence of “alt-right” white supremacist groups have capitalised on the rhetoric of hate and this unfortunately has resonated with many ordinary Australians (including many Australians from minority communities) and therefore has normalised racism, making it seem somewhat acceptable to be racist.
In addition to this rhetoric of hate in Australia, there is also blatant human rights violations in Australian offshore detention centres and the methods of processing asylum seekers. There are many questions which have been asked by asylum seeker advocacy and support groups, progressive politicians and ordinary Australians as to how we as a Western country which preaches freedom and opportunity can deny treatment to asylum seekers, subject them to putrid and unethical living conditions and essentially keeping them imprisoned when all they desire is to start a new life in a country which they feel provides them hope and peace. They are subjected to the court of public opinion and presumed to be doom and gloom and even before they have any opportunity to step foot on Australian land, are deemed to be riddled with social and cultural problems. The racist and hateful rhetoric which has been mentioned earlier is one of the causes of this situation festering and potentially blowing up. Doctors and other health care practitioners forced into a code of silence by the Australian Government and not allowed to talk about what is happening at those centres is just absolutely absurd. When we talk about hate and racism, we need to go right at the top and just see how our current Government is behaving, and what they are relaying to the Australian public.
Another recent example of looking at how the rhetoric of hate and racism is real and overt, are the comments made by Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. During an immigration debate in Parliament last week, Peter Dutton made comments suggesting that it was a mistake to re-settle Lebanese Muslim refugees in Australia, because many people charged with terror-related offences came from that background. He placed the blame on former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser stating that he “made mistakes in bringing some people in”, as part of Australia’s immigration policies during the 1970s. If we just look at these comments on face value, it reeks with racism and hate. The fact that these comments were made on the public record demonstrates the issues Australia has with regards to promoting a harmonious and culturally diverse country. The idea of fairness and equality was not even considered when these comments were made, and both Dutton and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull have not apologised for making these obscene assertions, with Dutton coming out and defending what he said. It seems that pride and ego comes before integrity and righteousness, and by vindicating an entire community of people shows how out of touch and how culturally and religiously insensitive Australia is becoming. Interestingly enough, some of the impacts of these comments have been seen with the threatening and racist emails, newly elected Labor MP Anne Aly has received stating thing such as, “Peter Dutton was right. Pack your bags and piss off back to where you came from and take all of your terrorist faith with you”, as well as threatening and willing death to her and to Muslim Australians. Disgusting as this sounds, it happened, and it won’t stop until this rhetoric of racism and hatred stops. Comments such as those made by Peter Dutton, does nothing more than cause more division and provides an excuse for racists to be hateful and proud.
So what can be done to heal this wound? Well I guess it will be a combination of ridding these hateful leaders as well as education and outreach. As we all know some people who hold racist or stereotyped views may never change their views, but there are many who are not racist or who are on the fence. These are the people whose views can change for the better, but it won’t be easy, but it is possible. Hopefully politicians such as Pauline Hanson, Peter Dutton and others will be masked in the future by elected MPs and Senators who preach fairness, equality and acceptance – really an aspect Australia has lost significantly. Like America, we are not much different. “Trumpmania” exists in America and it has existed in Australia for quite a long time. The thing is, it will only get worse before it gets better, and in my 34 years of life, I feel more threatened and more in danger for my own cultural background in this point in time than I have ever felt before. Let’s hope we will see glimpses of changes before things escalate to the next level.
Erin Chew is Convener of the Asian Australian Alliance, and Asian Australian Alliance Women’s Forum.