Dealing with prejudice

“When someone spits at you, ignore him and move on. But do not turn the other cheek!” That was my father’s advice. I probably needed that counsel. Why? Because I am a descendant of an extended family of strong men known to be fiery when necessary – a father and 3 maternal uncles. Anglo-Australians would describe us as men who ‘take no shit’ from anyone.

One does not have to say anything to anyone who feels free to be orally offensive. Those who utter an antipathetic thought may need to be discouraged by that calm look which says ’Enough!’. However, on the first occasion when I was shouted at in an arcade of expensive goods, I was initially surprised that a total stranger could be so noisily and stridently common (a word I learnt from my Italian mother-in-law). When a woman in the arcade kept shouting ‘Why don’t you go back where you came from, you black bastard,’ I just walked away.

Contrarily, when a comment was made to me about my integrity relatively late in life, my challenger heard from me, in the most crude language (learnt from working in a factory), all about himself and his ancestors. I had never done that before.

The best response to those who are clearly intent upon making an insulting comment is to ignore them – if possible. In any situation, an appropriate response cannot be predicated.

This adage, often quoted by my father, is apt: ‘The dogs may bark, but the caravan moves on’! Let the ignorant yobbo be. I have also not found any Asian student of my day touched or affected by nasty remarks during the White Australia era. Having had extended contacts with European immigrants, I can also say that I have not heard of anyone complaining about feeling humiliated, hurt or offended. We are not wimps. How so?

We have pride in who we are, our ancestry, and our culture. These immigrants were mostly able-bodied men from all over Europe; and they were culturally and mentally strong, and impervious to words reflecting prejudice, and thereby ignorance. And there were lots and lots of labels (wogs, reffos, i-ties, etc.) to ignore.

In any event, words cannot hurt. They are merely sounds in the air. However, claiming to be hurt, offended and humiliated is fast becoming a national pastime. Where is the gain in that?

Then, when did the term ‘racial’ cover religion, politics, or culture?