Displays of overt friendship vs. virulent prejudice

Returning to the reactions of the old Aussie to the Asian intruders, after a while, we realised that not all of them were trying to put us down. Often, both sides had genuine difficulties in understanding the other. The man in the street, for instance, had then a habit of sounding an a as an i. For example, face sounded like fice (as in ice). Basin sounded like bison.

And there was a news report of a migrant woman who thought that she had been sent home ‘to die’, when in fact the hospital told her to go home ‘today’. The ubiquity of such speech sounds is well documented. With goodwill, however, such difficulties were not long-lasting, and did not diminish the mutual warmth that gradually developed between us and those who were equally determined to be friendly.

The Australian also has an unusual sense of humour, as we found. There seemed to be nothing sacred or sensitive to him. His comments were also inclined to be personally more intrusive than we had ever experienced. In fact, our own cultural tradition was courtesy; deeply personal comments were not what we were used to. For example, I was flummoxed when a fellow student asked, without warning, whether I was getting my end in. What sort of question was this? How was I to answer?

However, when we became accustomed to the Aussie’s banter, we found him a likeable fellow. He had a clever use of words, which I think is most unusual for any relatively uneducated and unskilled or semi-skilled worker. He also had a disconcerting habit of using the word ‘bastard’ as a gesture of friendship. That took a lot of understanding, as the word was a very strong insult when used by an Asian.

Some Aussies also had a bantering way of referring to Chinese individuals they were dealing with as “Who Flung Dung” or “One Bung Lung.” I realised that this reflected a harmless joke. But when they said “Chink,” it was not banter. “Bastard” could be okay, depending on how it is spoken, but “black bastard” was clearly not meant to be even neutral.

However, there were some Aussies who made it very clear to us that we were not wanted in the country. We wondered, why not? For example, one Saturday morning, neatly dressed as usual (my mother would have been proud to see me like this), I heard someone shouting as I walked through one of the great arcades of Collins Street, Melbourne. There were many people in the arcade. Naturally, almost everyone turned to see what the shouting was about. Not far from me, a large well-dressed lady with the ubiquitous gabardine overcoat and a string-bag was shouting something to someone in my direction. Seeing no one behind me, I turned to the lady, who was still shouting. Incredibly, it became clear that she was shouting at me.

What she kept saying was, “Why don’t you go back home, you black bastard?” By this time, almost everyone seemed to have become aware of what was happening. I observed that some moved off very quickly, perhaps to avoid the outbreak of a racial war, or through embarrassment. Others stood around. I thought that some looked a little surprised, perhaps because I was then very lightly coloured. When the self-appointed guardian of the land would not stop shouting, I strolled away as nonchalantly as I could. And no one else said a word; the resulting silence was deafening.

For the first time in my life I realised that a human being could have so much prejudice about another human being who was just passing by, based purely on that person’s skin colour. I wondered how such a feeling could be generated, and why it should be generated in an ordinary person whose life was untouched by the presence of that coloured person. Was it to do with the white man’s burden, or was it fear? If the latter, fear of what? Would coloured people outbreed the whites, rape all the women, drink all the beer? What other dreadful things would we do to the ordinary Australian?

(The above extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out,’ my first memoir, raises a terrible question: how did such virulent prejudice arise in a country which was not a colonial ‘power’? Guilt at what had been done to the Aborigines?

From my point of view, to react to such barbarous behaviour would indicate felt inferiority on my part. In this context, I am surprised that middle-class white gene-infused Aborigines claim to be hurt by statements indicating prejudice; therefore free speech should be constrained by law. After more than two centuries of actual discrimination?

Worse still, some self-selected spokesmen For ethnic immigrant communities now want the legal right to be offended by words of prejudice. In more than 65 years in this country, I have not observed any hurt expressed by immigrants; we are not wimps. We ignore the idiots. Confusingly, some Jewish Australians also want the right to feel hurt by anyone criticising Israel!

Is there something in the air which encourages feelings of hurt? Is this because we are so welfare oriented?)