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.’)