Racism and tribalism (3)

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.
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 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. 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.
(These are extracts from my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door.’)

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