A foreigner even after 50 years of residence

“When I arrived in Australia, I had no idea that Australia was so racist. The few Aussies I had met in Malaya were friendly people; there was nothing snooty about them. Yet, on a busy Saturday morning in 1949, within the crowded precincts of a fashionable Collins St. arcade in mid-town Melbourne, dressed rather expensively (Harris Tweed coat and the rest of it), I heard a shout. It was ‘Why don’t you go back where you came from, you black bastard?’ To my great surprise, I was the target. Black? I was a very light tan, as yet unburnt by the Australian sun.

Bastard? My elders may not have been as tolerant as I with this insult. It did not take me long to appreciate that the word could mean opposing meanings. Ironically, a European Jew migrant friend and I soon developed this greeting ‘How are you, you old bastard?’ to be used whenever we rang each other across the nation.

In 1995 or thereabouts, after a novice politician, Pauline Hanson, reflecting the values of the more conservative of the populace, had claimed that there were too many Asians in the country, I had rude gestures directed at me in public places. When I subsequently sent the Hanson electoral office my first book ‘Destiny Will Out’ (an experience-based book on migrant settlement policies), pointing out that, as an Asian, I had made some contribution to Australia, I received a nice thank-you note.

Then, in the decade of the noughties of the current century, the proprietor of a small subsidy-publisher, who had described my first book (published in London) as ‘well written and interesting,’ told me that ‘Australians would not want to read about their country from the point of view of a foreigner.’ That was when I spoke to him about my second book. This book was titled ‘The Karma of Culture’; it was endorsed by 3 senior academics in diverse disciplines (Professors Greg Melleuish, Bob Birrell and John Western).

The book dealt with these issues (as defined by a professional manuscript appraiser): the cross-cultural impacts of a culturally diverse migrant intake; the potential for Asian cultural and spiritual values to influence Western thinking about democracy, human rights, and social values; and the consequences of attempted cultural retention by immigrants.”

(Incidentally, ‘The Karma of Culture’ was subsequently recommended by the US Review of Books – as were 3 other non-fiction books of mine.

The above extracts from ‘Musings at Death’s Door’ clearly indicate that adaptation by the host people to the heavy intake of foreigners, necessitated as policy by the federal government, was not smooth, even after 30 years of a non-discriminatory immigration entry policy. The old guard, basically a ‘white bread’ society, was seemingly imbued with the attributes of a WASP – white Anglo-Saxon Protestant – but with many ‘micks’ (as they were described by the WASPs) also dancing to the same drumbeat. Chauvinistic racism did over-ride sectarian differences. But that was history.

As for an Asian footprint on Australia soil, yoga and Buddhism, as well as an understanding of Asian spirituality, have a large number of adherents. More significantly, Chinese money is buying up both residential property and businesses; I am not sure of the cultural value of that.

I am, however, grateful for the European immigrants of the 1950s who introduced proper bread to Australia.)

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The authoritarian rainbow

I was born into an authoritarian family and culture. We were an immigrant family living in a typically authoritarian cultural terrain. Authoritarian cultures are Asia-wide. That is because Asian cultures are communitarian, except for some modernised or Westernised individuals. These cultures are not individualistic, as in the modern nations of the West.

Communitarianism reflects the central role of the gene (and marriage)-linked clan in life. Even in the diaspora of the Hindu Tamils of Ceylon (now re-named Sri Lanka), the clan remains (so I have been informed) an atmospheric bond – tying relatives spread over many countries into a tradition-bound ideationally-coherent unit. The extent of traditional authoritarianism will, of course, vary over space and time.

Beyond the clan stands the tribe. Historically, as well as currently (in most parts of the world), the tribe is the structure into the lacunae of which fit the clans sharing a language, a religion, and all manner of cultural traditions. The similarities within a tribe over-ride any surface differences. This was manifest pre-World War 2 when, through chain migration, the Ceylon Tamils entered British Malaya; while geneology was traced through village origins, they were one people – even in the way some dishes were cooked.

Of course, within a predominantly multi-tribal multi-ethnic nation (as I have mentioned in an earlier post) excessive tribal cohesion can delay integration into that nation. In such a nation, in time, nationalism is likely to overtake tribalism (as has happened in Malaysia), in spite of some stakeholders in the tribes affected anchoring themselves to a vaguely-remembered glorious past or to the prevailing religion.

The recent death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew who, together with 2 intellectual colleagues, took the island of Singapore into a prosperous independent nation, raised the issue of authoritarian governments. Singapore, like China, is a planned command economy – thereby producing results beyond the scope of those Western nations led by political-party tribes with few plans for a strong future; laissez-faire prevails!

Australia, typical of such nations, is also authoritarian, but in less overt ways. For example, in spite of more than 80% of voters seeking voluntary euthanasia (in the form of physician-assisted death) in the name of true compassion for those whose severe pain is not being alleviated through both palliative care and pharmaceutically, our governments will not budge! So much for representative government; what is represented is a restrictive ideology of the political-party tribes controlling the people.

In other countries, authoritarian governments can also be based on overt greed or religion; but with the camouflage provided by a surface democracy. Authoritarianism will rule in various colours!

Would not a command economy which develops the nation, and which offers the people, progressively, increasing freedoms (to be expressed responsibly) be more attractive? Relying on ‘market forces’ while yet inflicting the political party’s religious preferences on the electorate is a poor alternative, surely?

The ethos of operational individualism, when tied to authoritarian ideological governance, is a mirage: one can walk into the sea only so far without possessing some apparatus for buoyancy when the supplier’s door is closed.

Seeking to appear superior through ‘racial’ distinctions

I thus argue that ‘race’ is a construct of colonialism, which asserted then that white people are inherently (that is, genetically) superior to all other people. There was nothing new in this sort of claim. The Chinese just know that they are a superior people. So do the Indians. My mother was not far behind in making a similar claim. Indeed, this pride in our ancestry enabled the early Asian student entrants like me to ignore those Australians who had cloaked themselves (without cause) in the garb of superior colonial Christian whites. I found it fascinating to observe common-garden Aussies behaving in this way.

The rulers of this superior species residing in Europe then fragmented the diverse non-whites into a number of races, the categorisation varying with the definer. All discriminatory policies and practices (apart from those of religion) referred to an implicitly inferior ‘race.’

Is there such a people as a white race? Where does the Hispanic of Central and South America fit in? How pompously patronising were some English writers in the not-so-distant past who referred to the descendants of some former nabobs of India as having a ‘touch of tar’; or some poor fellow-countryman’s family as having had a ‘nigger in the woodpile.’ The nabobs were English buccaneers who, having taken control of parts of India, had then adopted the lifestyles of the Indian rulers they had deposed, including the taking of ‘native’ wives. Many of the children they produced were then educated in Britain, with some subsequently entering Parliament.

Then there was Winston Churchill who reportedly described Mahatma Gandhi as ‘that nigger.’ In Australia, way back in the late 1940s, a young fellow-student of mine of Irish descent also described Gandhi as a nigger (‘He should have been shot’ he said), in a voice redolent of the catarrh-ridden accent of some English teacher in one of the grammar schools of Australia. It was a time when the ‘micks’ (as the non-Irish referred to the Irish Australians) overtly sought to enter high society, which was dominated by the Protestants, especially the Freemasons.

A slight digression would be relevant here. We Asians, especially our elders, were not impressed with white people; not only because of our colonial experience, but also because their skin colour was seen as not attractive! After all, 85% of mankind is coloured; and some mixture of colours in any one location is commonplace. The white people were thus an anomaly. Worse still, in the tropics, the ‘Europeans’ were described as ‘smelly.’ Apparently, their sweat gave out an odour, attributed to their diet of beef.

It was just as well too that we, the younger generation with little to no direct contact with the British coloniser, were taught not to be anti-British or anti-European, while remaining anti-colonial. That is, we were not racist in any sense! My extended family is not even tribal, with cross-ethnic marriage now almost the norm.”

(Psychologically, those feeling inferior in the presence of the unwanted ‘other’ – for example, well-dressed and well-spoken ‘Indians’ and ‘Chinks’ – might seek to lift their self-esteem through sneering at the ‘other.’ As well, the residues of an unwarranted ‘colonial’ attitude can be expected to remain influential in the psyches of some of the older generation of Anglo-Australians, especially if their social status (through their employment) might be seen as not worthy of respect. And, of course, there will always be that person who would qualify as a yobbo.

I am also able to say that, when my drinking pals included 2 Kennedys and 3 O’Briens, none made any sneering remarks about the few coloured people then around, or about the Protestants.

I do believe that there is too much emphasis placed by some on matters considered ‘racial.’ It is time we gave away this term. Those who need to express dislike for an individual or group can obviously say what they dislike, without being political or misusing language. Refer ‘On tribalism and racism’ in ‘Musings at Death’s Door.’)

Is racism whatever you want it to be?

“Tribalism is easy to understand. What is racism? Traditionally, race seems to have been synonymous with tribe. Yet, the term race could not have been applied rationally in the unending confrontations between the tribes (later, the nations) of Europe; these people are too much alike in appearance through significant cross-breeding. That is, over a long period of time, many of the tribes of Europe moved into the temporarily traditional terrain of others of that stock, thereby creating a blended variety of European of white appearance. Yet, there are significant pockets of Europeans displaying visibly divergent appearances in cranial structures and facial features.

A similar pattern of long-term blending, with significant pockets of physiognomically divergent peoples to be found – going from East to West – in the lands of China (excluding its occupied territories), the southern coast of Asia and islands south and east occupied primarily by the people known as Malays, the Indian sub-continent, Central Asia (including China’s occupied territories), Western Asia, Arabia and adjacent terrain, North Africa, Central and South Africa before being invaded by Europeans … .

Within each of these huge areas, there are fine gradations of skin colour, reflecting earlier incursions and intermixing. Yet, there are visible similarities in body shape, cranial structures and facial appearances associated with a near-uniformity of skin colour which can separate the bulk of the people in each major geographical category (as defined above) from the others. The categorisation set up above is obviously not a fine cut, but a broad-brush canvas with tolerable credibility.

It is not surprising that an attempt was once made to identify only 3 categories of humans – white, black and yellow. The success of European colonisation had led to the claim that white people were at the top of the totem pole of inborn abilities. A major problem was that the white people were described as Caucasian, which also includes my ancestral people. We are apparently Caucasian too! And many of my family are quite light in colour, implying that there is a North Indian or even a Central Asian strand within my genetic inheritance. For instance, the son of a nephew has green eyes. And I have been taken to be a North Indian by North Indians, while the Tamils have no trouble in identifying me as one of them. Back to the drawing board!

A more difficult problem is that skin colour, shape of cranium, and facial features aside, we humans are too alike. ‘What a bummer’ said my pink-faced Eurasian friend, whose Malay grandmother’s genes having been totally submerged by the genes of a single European ancestor.

It is my belief that the term race was converted by the colonising ‘supermen’ to apply to inferior coloured people.”

(Is there a more ridiculous issue than lumping together under the banner of racism: a persistent charge by certain Jewish Australians that any criticism of Israel is racist; anyone who is rude to, or denigrates, an accented white European immigrant in Australia is also racist; a brown-skinned man who addresses some remark in his own language against another brown-skinned man who is clearly of another tribe is accused of being racist; a white person using abusive language against a coloured person; and any person who indicates that he/she does not like another person because something about that person offends?

Those who believe that words can hurt or humiliate in the way that acts of overt discrimination do want legislation enshrining their claimed right to legal action (by whom?). In this context, have any individual Aborigines been protected by racial legislation from personal abuse?

As for immigrants, after more than 6 decades of a highly interactive life in Australia, I claim that we immigrants are not wimps; we simply ignore the ignorant who use words of denigration against us.

The chapter ‘On tribalism and racism’ in ‘Musings at Death’s Door’ covers some of the issues.)

From white supremacy to multi-coloured cosmopolitan

“When a white nation, officially openly racist, changes itself within half a century into a modern cosmopolitan multi-ethnic and culturally tolerant one, any coloured observer would be pleased. Since many, if not most, nations contain an admixture of peoples offering a diversity of beliefs, values, traditions, and ethnic origins and histories, there was little danger in Australia now joining the Family of Man.

However, the rate of change in the composition of the nation must enable even an evolving host people to adapt and, hopefully, to reach an accord of tolerance promising acceptance – both within themselves and between host and migrant. In their felt need to expand the population, as well as to further diversify the immigrant intake, have recent Australian governments introduced the seeds of tribal contention and conflict?

My experience of Australia’s racism and tribalism is indicative of how far we have come in terms of tolerance. The credit for much of this improvement must go to our school teachers, their students, and those Anglo-Aussies who reached out to us foreigners; as well as to us, the immigrants.

From the earliest times, groups or collectives of human beings would have necessarily fought one another to obtain sustenance or resources. Or, learn to work together for a common cause. Because an urge to dominate and thence to control (an inheritance from our faunal, that is, animal, ancestors) is found in some members of humanity, conflict is often unavoidable. Competition for resources (including women) would lead to inter-tribal clashes. Tribes may also split through the young bull taking on the old bull, or through an alpha-male going on the rampage.

Traditionally, an extended family (one sharing a common ancestor) would co-exist with other extended families … … A number of co-operative coherent clans would represent a tribe. A tribe would look after, fight for, its interests with vigour and cunning.

A typical example would be the Roman Catholics of Australia, mainly of Irish descent. Their church would do everything it could to keep its flock separate from the Protestants; this included a separate education system. They would practice discrimination, even as they complained about being discriminated against. This was the divided Australia I came into in the late 1940s. Yet, both sides of this divide had one significant attitude in common; they were, in the main, tribal and racist.

The shared religious prejudice may now have been dissipated or become tactically subterranean. There is some evdence of an on-going strategy for supremacy by the Roman Catholic hierarchy.”

(The modern tribes of Western democracy – the political parties – are pussy cats compared against the religion-based tribes all over the world, including the nations of the West. The asserted superiority of this or another religious sect over other sects is positively pathetic, is it not? Is there not a single destination for all of us, no matter the route taken?

Happily, the attempted separation of human beings by skin colour by European colonialism is doomed to fail. Most of the globe is coloured; the so-called whites of Europe apparently represent only about 15% of humanity, with this percentage expected to fall to 10% by about 2050. A warmer surface tint in the hitherto white nations also seems to be on the way, in the way European soccer football teams have gone (without any detriment to the sport).

The extracts above from ‘On racism and tribalism’ in ‘Musings at Death’s Door’ cover these issues.)

Another moral emperor of mankind?

“A final question! Is the USA capable of becoming truly civilised, (that is, to look after all of its people) in order to receive the respect it needs as the leader of free peoples? What it needs to do at home, and how it has to treat other people, are surely self-evident.

What could be the legacy of the US Empire? What do the Monroe Doctrine nations show? What evidence is there of governments in these nations displaying adequate respect for basic human rights, viz. freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and gender equality? How would these compare with the legacy of the British Empire in India? How about good governance, education, employment opportunities, housing, health services, clean water, toilets, and caste equality?

Or, is it the case that an empire of political and cultural influence, a hegemonic empire, has no concern about such issues; that each government within the penumbra of US influence is autonomous in relation to human rights and associated institutions; that the policies within these countries of interest to the metaphoric ‘godfather’ relate only to international relations, access by the godfather to relevant resources and markets, the purchase of compatible armaments labelled ‘Made in USA,’ and a readiness to join killing ‘coalitions of the willing’ under the nominal leadership of the UN or NATO?

Yet, this neo-colonising nation is the only major power which has shown any inclination to protect a minority here and there in the world from being butchered. As well, minority peoples within the USA seem to enjoy equal opportunity, especially if associated with personal initiative, enabling them to rise to positions of some power. Is there any evidence that such opportunity is available in the former colonising nations for those of their coloured chicken who have come ‘home’ to roost?

Thus, the USA can become a moral leader for mankind. … … “

(The above extracts from ‘On empires – gone & going’ in ‘Musings at Death’s Door’ need the following caveats. The USA is not the first hegemonic human empire. As long as they paid tribute, subject nations in history remained free to govern themselves (eg. China’s rule in the time of Admiral Cheng Ho; and Genghis Khan of Mongolia).

Emperor Ashoka of India is said to have become a moral ruler after a terrible military campaign; I believe that he became a Buddhist as well. However, the USA stands tall when compared with the colonisers of Europe in recent centuries, especially the Spaniards in Central and South America.

This terrible question has to be asked: what was the role of Christian church representatives in the damage done to cultures which were unable to protect themselves from the colonising marauders from Europe?)

Monroe Mark 2 vs. tripolar global governance

The need to be ‘top dog’ globally (an ambition never ever achieved by any human leader or people) results in contradictions in policies and in inter-country relationships. Behaviour contrary to the teachings of the founder of its religion (refer to the killings, torture, and so on – on and off the battlefields), the politically – if not morally – incompatible partnership with despots, and the attempted rearrangements of regime leaderships are juxtaposed in an admirable manner with protection of peoples here and there all over the world. The new emperor is pragmatic.

The extracts below from ‘On empires – gone & going’ in ‘Musings at Death’s Door’ are self-explanatory. The hope for the small and middle-sized dogs in the paddock is for a minimum of 3 large dogs to be present, working together as required to keep out attackers, and keeping one another in check.

“ Ethnic cleansing, like ‘rendering’-with-torture, and assassination are acceptable, but only in the interests of protecting Western democracy. Australian politicians who visit Israel without being able to notice the plight of state¬less Palestinians couldn’t possibly have any concern with this view of the Middle East of the future.

Thus, acceptable democracy in these nations of interest to the West is one with tribal leadership either adequately constrained or destroyed. The desired tribes are political parties. The good news is that there is no intended destruction of native cultures. The bad news is that, without occupying each country of interest, tribalism will continue. Perhaps we can pay the tribal leaderships to give us what we need … …!

How long will this new empire last? Since it is only about 60 years old, who can tell? Through its Monroe Doctrine, the USA assumed indirect control of South and Central America a long time ago. Would the US now install Monroe Mark 2 to keep any rising power away from its current spheres of interest? If so, how?

Realism requires us to accept that the Western world needs a strong USA to counter China, were this nation to enter into a payback mode; that is, to reprimand all those nations which sought to obtain a foothold on its home territory in an earlier century. Those incursions caused great damage to the people and their heritage.

But then the Western world needs not only the USA but also a friendly China and a united Europe (including Russia) to contain militant Islam’s growth. Were Islam to take over the world, what would happen to the liquor industry, the Christianising industry, the prostitution industry, and the usury industry? However, since the nations of Europe seem incapable of burying their sectarian or other ethno-cultural differences, one can only hope that the Sunni-Shia divide is like the Rift Valley of Africa.”