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Jun 16, 2014

How racist is Australia? Pretty damn racist

Fairfax writer Mark Sawyer says Australians are not particularly racist. But stand-up comic and writer Aamer Rahman begs to differ ...

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Dear Mark Sawyer,

As a comedian I very much appreciated your satirical piece “How Racist Are You?“, published in The Age last week. I think you captured the attitude and tone of Overly Defensive And Clueless White Man perfectly. It’s actually  inspired me to write my own piece called “Hey Ladies, Pipe Down About Sexism”.

Of course, I’m being silly. You didn’t write it as a parody piece. The truth is much more embarrassing. This is what you, and plenty of others, actually think: apparently racism is totes not a thing any more.

Being told by white people that racism is a figment of our imagination is nothing new. I know well enough that when looking for some quality racism, the best place to start is with the guy screaming “I’m not racist!” You did not disappoint.

Thank you for the awkward list of times you didn’t challenge people’s casual racist comments. As the kids say nowadays, cool story, bro. And maybe you’re right — there is nothing that justifies calling Australia uniquely racist. Not the specific genocide of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, cultures and languages, an unparalleled migration history that banned non-white immigration here until the early ’70s, or our one-of-a-kind anti-asylum regime. These are things that happened pretty much everywhere, right? But seriously, why let history and facts get in the way of a white guy’s Feelings About Stuff?

You’re correct, far-right parties like One Nation are a thing of the past. But only because their rampant xenophobia was quickly co-opted, re-branded and shared between Labor and Liberal, making Pauline Hanson totally redundant. In an era where our Attorney-General openly defends the art of bigotry, Hanson’s services are no longer required.

You ask how many people alive are truly racist. I don’t know the exact figures, Mark. But ask yourself if the life expectancy statistics that apply to Aboriginal people — well below the national average — would be tolerated if they applied to any other group in this country. Ask yourself if our system of militarised  border protection and detention — recognised as exceptional the world over — would be acceptable to the Australian public if it was designed to intercept, round up and indefinitely incarcerate white people.

These things cannot exist without a sizeable population of what you refer to as “true racists”. The fact that as a nation we accept and allow such things to happen is not an accident or the result of simple misunderstandings. They are the calculated outcomes of generations of programming. Maybe racism is less about white people making unfortunate comments and more about systemic inequalities that have become the permanent and invisible background noise of Australian culture. To quote you, it may pay to look at the bigger picture.

It’s 2014, champ. Racism isn’t about segregated lunch counters and people refusing to shake hands any more.  Racism is about this country’s obsession with defining boundaries of inclusion and exclusion, and the pervasive and violent ways in which those boundaries are maintained.  Racism is about two major parties collaborating for years to convince a white majority, through various codes, that they are perpetually at risk of losing out to lazy Aborigines, ghettoised migrants, dishonest asylum seekers and suspicious Muslims.  Racism is a government using free speech rhetoric to facilitate racial vilification.  Racism is, in a climate of perpetual fear and hostility, The Age choosing to publish some childish nonsense about how there’s no such thing as racism.

You’re convinced things have changed. I’m pretty confident they haven’t.

*Aamer Rahman is currently touring his solo show The Truth Hurts in the UK and does not miss Australia. 

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