How black is ‘black’?

When a lightly-tinted youth (that was me!) was called a ‘black bastard,’ in an angry (yes, angry) loud shout (how common – as my mother-in-law would have said) in the surrounds of an up-market shopping district of Melbourne (in Australia), I wondered at the tendency (not yet fully overcome) of white Australians to see every coloured person as black.

Indeed, with the superiority claimed by (coppery) white European colonisers, the whiter East Asians were described as ‘yellow’ (as in ‘the Yellow Hordes of the north’ who would invade Australia one day – a frequently expressed fear).

Digressing a little, both Europeans and Asians are likely to turn against anyone who called them bastards. As advised by my father, I ignore yobbos. Second, few Australians would have had any experience of being colonisers; yet, some of the public servants in Canberra (Australia’s capital) involved with Australia’s administration of formerly- German New Guinea had displayed (in my presence) prejudice against the ‘natives’! Third, the national tv broadcaster tended, during the White Australia era, to show Aborigines at their worst – lacking some front teeth, drunk or dishevelled, and speaking broken English. The common-garden whitey was often a superior fellow. Even the well-behaved middle class was inclined to display a strange colour and cultural sensitivity.

Could subliminal guilt at the displacement and cultural despoliation by their ancestors of indigenous Australians explain these attitudes of disparagement? Or, is it more likely that an ongoing fear of being a white enclave set in coloured seas and being surrounded by foreign faiths for a couple of centuries, aided by the White Australia policy of rejecting coloured settlers (even Christians), was deeply ingrained in the psyche of British Australians? ‘The Indonesians will attack us one day’ was commonly uttered by the older generation of Australians.

Having lived (as an adult) a highly interactive and contributory life in Australia for more than 65 years (including holding leadership positions in civil society), I do know what I am writing about. My first memoir ‘Destiny Will Out’ (1997) sets out my initial impressions and experiences of Australia from 1948. ‘The Dance of Destiny’ (2010) Part 2 covers my experiences as a settler in Australia. ‘Musings at death’s door’ (2012) is a rear-vision overview of Australian society. My writing has been accepted by senior academics as representing a sliver of Australia’s post-war history. (See amazon kindle).

One issue remains – how black is ‘black’?

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