The myth of racial discrimination (2)

Instead of the confusing use of the semantically misleading terms race and racial, as argued in my previous post, statements of prejudice, as well as acts of discrimination, can sensibly refer to skin colour – a major trigger of hate (or stupidity). There could, however, also be an inherited cultural sensitivity associated with ignorance.

I do admit to being sensitive about colour in one instance. I will not eat beetroot because I do not like its purple colour.

Returning to reality, being a foreigner (or outsider) can be accepted as another trigger for prejudice and discrimination. This would include entering not only ‘white space’ but also British white space (although the latter is now seemingly superseded).

Another trigger is tribal superiority and prejudice. This would cover religion (a major source of claimed superiority); cultural values and practices (eg. the taboo in Australia against killing a goat in one’s backyard for a festival); and social mores (eg. spitting in public) – quite a catchall! Using ethnicity as a marker for abuse can have no future when there is so much cross-ethnic marriage (including partnership and cohabitation).

Countering prejudice and discrimination through the law is available only to the wealthy; or to those with access to pro bono lawyers. Education? The ignorant will probably ignore any media campaign (if they are aware of it); while the opportunists will do what it takes to achieve their ends. Morality (like Grace) needs to be bestowed; although it may of course be learned.

In the sphere of international relations, where there is no place for morality, there is a strange assertion about racial discrimination. Anyone criticising Israel for one of its policies (while clearly not anti-Israel) can be accused of being ‘anti-Semitic’. Yet Western Asia has speakers of a range of Semitic languages who subscribe to a variety of religions; they are all equally Semitic!

There is clearly a need to get rid of the concept of ‘race.’ Which government will dare take necessary action? A recent attempt to go part of the way foundered on a confusion of semantics, politics, human rights, free (but responsible) speech, egoism and exceptionalism. There were hidden ‘sacred cows’ behind some of the waffle.

Is modern Australia lacking the necessary intellectual depth to deal with human rights and free public expression? When voluntary euthanasia is described during a recent debate as ‘killing’ (reflecting only a particular theology), I wonder whether there is a place for not only compassion but also for honesty in public policy.

 

The myth of racial discrimination (1)

Since the concept of ‘race’ is meaningless (common usage being no intellectual defence), then the term ‘racial’ is equally meaningless. What is race? A construct of European colonialism; the ‘white race’ was contrasted against all other races, which were allegedly genetically inferior.

So much for the intellectual competence of those scholars in earlier centuries who sought to prove this. It was no more than the new boy on the patch flexing his muscle. (Mine is bigger than yours!) It may also be that the ‘white’ supremacist had not yet met the peoples of East Asia and those living along the terrain between the Tropic of Cancer and the 40th parallel around the globe; these people are clearly more white than the coppery-white European (except the Mediterraneans).

Funnily enough, when an Asian Caucasian like me marries a European Caucasian, the progeny tend to be whitish in colour; except that the resulting very lightly-tinted ones display an attractive skin colour (like the suntan assiduously sought by white Anglo-Australians).

Since arriving in Australia at the age of 19, I have experienced statements of petty prejudice and acts of discrimination (some very unjust and thereby hurtful). The expressions of prejudice reflected, I realised, my intrusion into ‘white space.’ That this space had been white for only about 250 years, against the reality that it had been ‘black space’ for at least 45,000 years, would not have penetrated the thick skulls of those white supremacists. So, skin colour was the trigger.

Like my fellow-Asian students, I experienced some petty discrimination in service initially, based on my being a coloured foreigner. Disdain was also directed to any white girls in our company. Indeed, in the 1990s, a young Aboriginal youth in my district was beaten up because he was seen walking with a white girl. That was during the ‘Hanson era’ when a new politician complained that there were too many Asians in the country. I too was shouted at in public then. Again, it was skin colour that was the trigger.

Why not refer to this as colour prejudice? It was simply white (repeat, white) supremacy being manifest. There were no ‘races’ implicated.

What of the prejudice displayed initially against the white, Christian, European immigrants who were imported by the government? They were foreign; that is, not British! Racial discrimination? Hogwash! There must be a term for people ‘not like us’! Outsiders? Foreigners? Nothing racially inferior here, is there?

Then, in a competitive work environment, I experienced (between age 55 to 60) overt (and painful) discrimination based on my religion; I did not belong to ‘the faith.’ This was purely tribal discrimination (not one of us). Nothing to do with race!

Ignorant people displaying prejudice through looks and words can be thick on the ground. But they can be, need to be, ignored. Why not? Unjust and hurtful discrimination denying rights or entitlements reflects much more than idiotic prejudice.

Is substantive protection available from legislation in Australia?

Racial discrimination law presents confusing concepts

Australia’s racial discrimination legislation successfully confuses acts of discrimination and words indicating prejudice, a feeling. Discrimination involves treating an individual or group differently from others, generally less favourably. Examples would be: a denial of equal opportunity, or paying wages below a legal entitlement. There may be no antipathetic feeling associated with the act of discrimination.

Whereas prejudice can be displayed in looks of disdain, or in spoken words, such as those used by bullies (or idiots) in a playground or in a work situation.
Denial of a right or entitlement will hurt – emotionally and materially. The effects can be very long term. Do read my 2 posts titled ‘The myth of racial discrimination’ to fully appreciate what actual discrimination is all about.

The discrimination I had to endure in not only the White Australia era but also in the 1980s was substantial, not imagined or coined. Initially, the discrimination I experienced reflected responses to my skin colour and to my being foreign. Latterly, the trigger was tribo-religious (‘not one of us’); and I had to ‘go with the flow’ to be allowed to work in peace. I thought it wise to retire prematurely.

Words uttered by rude people – mainly through ignorance or stupidity – can hurt, but only if one allows that! Why would one want to do that? Would one feel hurt and humiliated were the heavens to open suddenly, and deposit cold water on one’s head? Of course, one would feel chastened and a little hurt were a parent or a teacher or one’s boss to be rude in correcting one’s attitude, behaviour, or quality of work.

The Australian Aborigine has had to put up with more than 2 centuries of oral abuse! Has racial legislation provided significant protection? Yet, some recent coloured immigrants have allegedly spoken about being hurt and humiliated by nasty people addressing rude words at them. Is it time to adopt this adage: “The dogs may bark but the caravan moves on”?

Legislation should legitimately focus – and be restricted to – acts of discrimination (ie. to a denial of rights), and be couched in semantically and legally clear terminology. However, the current legislation in Australia offers the opportunity for harmless words of disapproval to be posited as harmful and humiliating.

Immigrants are traditionally ‘adventurers,’ displaying resilience and fortitude in travelling to another nation, and integrating with those already in the country they chose to enter. Some of them can, of course, be opportunistic.

 

Did colonialism make Aborigines nomadic?

Was the Australian Aborigine made nomadic? A most illuminative book by Bruce Pascoe ‘Dark Emu Black Seeds: agriculture or accident?’ suggests to me that British invaders of Australia, in their respective roles as explorers and settlers, forced the indigenes into a nomadic life. When the British drove away the Aboriginal people from their land by shooting or poisoning them (so it has been written), destroying their life chances, as well as their culture and lifestyle, where could the indigene go? How could they survive?

The imagined terra nullius of Australia and North America led to the despoliation of the First Nation peoples of these lands. They could not have been settled, could they? They had to be nomadic, owning no land!

The back cover of Pascoe’s book says: “Pascoe puts forward a compelling argument for a reconsideration of the hunter-gatherer label for pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians. The evidence insists that Aboriginal people right across the continent were using domesticated plants, sowing, harvesting, irrigating and storing – behaviours inconsistent with the hunter-gatherer tag.”

Pascoe is quoted on the back cover thus: “If we look at the evidence presented to us by the explorers and explain to our children that Aboriginal people did build houses, did build dams, did sow, irrigate and till the land, did alter the course of rivers, did sew their clothes, and did construct a system of pan-continental government that generated peace and prosperity, then it is likely that we will admire and love our land all the more.”

A reviewer (Lisa Hill) wrote “In 156 pages, Pascoe has inverted almost everything I thought I knew about pre-colonial Australia. Importantly, he is not relying on oral history, which runs the risk of being too easily debunked; his sources are the journals of notable explorers and surveyors, of pastoralists and protectors. He quotes them verbatim, describing all the signs of a complete civilisation but viewed through the blinkered lens of appropriation and White superiority.

As a matter of interest, during a brief but bitter historiography war in Australia in recent times, a strident effort was made to play down oral history. Why? Without being tested through the adversarial processes of an Australian court, oral statements about the past could have no credibility. So, there go the Old Testament and any other artefacts of culture.

Pascoe’s work was preceded by the renowned Dr. Coombs. The following is an extract from my book ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ Chapter 3 ‘To have a dream.’

“ A few years after the initial ‘discovery’ by Captain Cook, it was apparently known that the indigenes not only occupied the land and used it with economic purpose, but also (according to the highly respected Dr.Coombs) “… lived in clan or tribal groups, that each group had a homeland with known boundaries, and that they took their name from their district, and rarely moved outside it.” It was also known that they had, and applied, firm rules about trespass, kinship ties, marriage, child rearing and other matters, the hallmarks of an organised society; that they had a “habit of obedience” to their rulers and leaders, a hallmark of a political society; and that they had an ordered ceremonial life, reflecting the sharing of a spiritual vision, a hallmark of a civilisation. Apparently, they also had their own zodiac, which guided their activities. Their artistic records are also well known and respected.”

Sadly, government after government talked about ‘Bridging the gap,’ with no discernible improvement in the plight of their First Nation people (except for a handful of urban Aborigines, who seemed to have made good progress through personal effort). Quo vadis?

The cradle of civilisation?

“In Search of the Cradle of Civilization: New Light on Ancient India” is a 1995 book by Georg Feuerstein, Subhash Kak, and David Frawley in which they argue against the theories that Indo-European peoples arrived in India in the middle of the second millennium BC (Indo-Aryan migration) and support the concept of “Indigenous Aryans” and the “Out of India theory”.

Contradicting earlier views of colonial historians, the authors argue that Vedic civilization grew out of the “Indus-Sarasvati civilization”, or “Indus Valley civilization”. The authors enumerate fifteen arguments for their revisionist views. Several of these arguments emphasize linguistic, architectural, cultural, agricultural, and technological continuity between Harappan culture, the Vedas, and post-Vedic Hinduism. They also argue that it is improbable that the Vedas were the product of a nomadic or semi-nomadic group.

Early opinion considered the Rigveda as containing memories of an earlier nomadic period, whilst the later Vedas were the product of a society native to India. The authors argue that this early viewpoint of the Rigveda is based on mistaken and speculative interpretations, and that in actuality the Rigveda also describes society native to India.
The authors leave open the view that India is the Urheimat (original homeland) of the Indo-Europeans (the “out of India model”), saying that “the Aryans could just as well have been native to India for several millennia, deriving their Sanskritic language from earlier Indo-European dialects.”

The authors find continuity in Indian spiritual and religious artifacts from Mehrgarh, one of the first cities in the world, to the present. Historical linguistics does not rule out elements of cultural continuity in spite of language change, so that such claims, likewise, are not in conflict with mainstream opinion. In the view of the authors, however, this alleged continuity rules out the later influx of another ethnic group.”

(From Wikipedia)

“For someone brought up on the western view of history, this book is a real eye opener. It also makes you realise how inadequate the term ‘bronze age’ is for categorising this period. The tools used at the time does not go anywhere near recognising the intellectual greatness of a people who through deep internal and external observation gain an understanding of astronomy, science, geometry, the ways of the mind & spirit, and to leave us with the legacy of such rich literature that I feel we are only just beginning to understand and has a wealth of knowledge that can benefit us today. I’m sure I will read this book many times and get something new out of it each time.” (Reviewer Kismet 964)

“ … The authors have described why and how the history of India was twisted by European historians. They explain the myth of the Aryan Invasion Theory created by them. Those historians could not accept the idea that a beautiful language like Sanskrit could be of Indian origin.

Authors also discuss in detail the antiquity of the Indus Valley Civilization. The civilization that was perhaps oldest in the world. Indus Valley had planned cities, underground gutter system, uniform measurements, navigation systems, trade with many countries in the known world and much more. …” (Extract of review by Jayesh Shah)

(Both reviews are from amazon.com. Both 5-star)

( Comment: Colonial writers would seem to have distorted any history which preceded those of their cultural and religious antecedents – Athens and Judaism. 

As well, colonial writers tended to describe the indigenous people their buccaneers over-ran (eg. the First Nation Peoples of North America and Australia) as nomadic.  That was after they had driven the indigenes from their settlements.

There is a great need to revise history factually.)

 

The earliest civilisations

According to John Major Jenkins, a leading independent researcher of ancient cosmology:
“Our understanding of the true age of the ancient Vedic civilization has undergone a well-documented revolution. Feuerstein, Frawley, and Kak have shown conclusively (In Search of the Cradle of Civilization) that the long-accepted age of the Vedic culture—erroneously dated by scholars parading a series of assumptions and unscientific arguments to roughly 1500 BC—is much too recent.

Evidence comes from geological, archaeological, and literary sources as well as the astronomical references within Vedic literature. The corrected dating to eras far prior to 1500 BC was made possible by recognizing that precessional eras are encoded in Vedic mythology, and were recorded by ancient Vedic astronomers. As a result, the Indus Valley civilization appears to be a possible cradle of civilization, dated conservatively to 7000 BC.

Western India may thus be a true source of the civilizing impulse that fed Anatolia in Turkey, with its complex Goddess-worshipping city-states of Çatal Hüyük and Hacilar. However, there are layers upon layers of even older astronomical references, and legends persist that the true “cradle” might be found further to the north, in Tibet or nearby Central Asia.

The work of these three writers shows that biases and assumptions within scholarly discourse can prevent an accurate modeling of history and an underestimation of the accomplishments of ancient cultures. The analogous situation in modern Egyptology and Mesoamerican studies also requires that well-documented new theories — often exhaustively argued, interdisciplinary, and oriented toward a progressive synthesis of new data — should be appraised fairly and without bias.

Next to the Australian aborigines, the Vedic civilization is perhaps the oldest continuous living tradition in the world. Its extremely ancient doctrines and insights into human spirituality are unsurpassed. We might expect that its cosmology and science of time has been as misunderstood as its true antiquity. In looking closely at Vedic doctrines of time, spiritual growth, calendars, and astronomy, we will see that a central core idea is that of our periodic alignment to the Galactic Center.

And, according to these ancient Vedic beliefs, the galactic alignment we are currently experiencing heralds our shift from a millennia-long descent of deepening spiritual darkness to a new era of light and ascending consciousness. ”

(From the site ‘Hindu Wisdom’: ‘Surya’s Tapestry’)

Comment:  Regrettably,  some European scholars of the colonial kind, with their belief in the superiority of the so-called white race (excluding the East Asians who are more white) had difficulty in accepting any ‘inferior’ culture as older than that of the Athenian philosophers and that of the founders of Judaism. In the light of modern neo-colonialism flourishing within the aura of the defunct League of Nations, a revised historiography may need to await its day. 

 

Cross-cultural issues (2)

For a few centuries, many of the nations of Europe had enjoyed controlling vast areas of the globe occupied by coloured peoples. Their newly-acquired superiority in armaments had enabled this result. A sad consequence was that there evolved a view, supported allegedly by certain academics in the eighteenth century, that white people are genetically superior to all others. The lessons of history were thus ignored.

In Australia, an admirable ambition was to create a nation of white people where no man would deny any kind of work – such was the egalitarian principle which underlay this hope (the indigene excepted, as elsewhere). At the beginning of the twentieth century, the White Australia policy was legislated. Although Australia had little to do with colonialism (except briefly in New Guinea), the people had come to hold views which were patently racist.

However, by mid-century, the independence of adjacent nations had led to a gradual lessening of the colour bar, initially by permitting the arrival of (mainly) British-educated Asian students. Although we spoke good English (my matriculation was from London University) and behaved properly, our very presence and our comportment discomfited many of the locals.

The explanation was quite simple. We were intruding into ‘white space’ (as enunciated by academics). We were also violating the prevailing ethos of the superior white man, through our clothing, assumed wealth, educated speech, visible indifference to public rudeness, and our non-combative response to discrimination. For instance, my father had taught me thus: If someone spits at you, do not retaliate. Move on, but do not turn the other cheek.

We were also of foreign faiths; the effort by so many to convert us to Christianity was testament. Our foods were frequently described as ‘foreign muck,’ with some querying our preference for spices. We used to add chili sauce to guest-house food and to take-away fish and chips, and pies.

My university’s student council even conducted a survey asking how the respondent would react were his sister to marry an Asian (or words to that effect). Even some of our Australian friends might say something like ‘I don’t want many more like you in my country, although you are OK.’ They had clearly forgotten how Australia had been acquired.

The underlying ‘them’ vs. ‘us’ viewpoint was also manifest against the sudden arrival of large numbers of war-displaced refugees and immigrant Europeans. Yet, the main differences brought into the country by the Europeans were their accents and their preference for more tasty foods, with better bread. Australian cuisine then was very British (thereby dreadful from an Asian perspective.)

It was obviously difficult for so many of the locals to have their life changed so much, so abruptly. Yet, their governments had to go down that path. Initially, it was to obtain able-bodied workers to develop the necessary infrastructure. Later it was to avoid unwanted tensions with the emerging nations of Asia.

The reverse culture shock to the young Asians was confusion and a lack of understanding of the antagonistic attitudes and behaviour directed at them. ‘What’s it all about?’ was my thought when I was targeted in a fashionable public arcade on a Saturday morning. It took us a while to understand the reasons for this unacceptable behaviour.

Strangely, few Malayans studying in Britain experienced comparable behaviour. (Snooty chaps are, however, unavoidable everywhere.) The British people are far more tolerant of coloured people and the cultures they represented.

The isolation of Australia was clearly a cause. The principal cause was undoubtedly the enduring relationship between white invader and indigene. Curiously, governments will promise, from to time, to ‘bridge the gap’ between their indigenes and the mainstream. But the them/us divide seems to have a certain durability.

 

Cross-cultural issues (1)

When people who had grown up or been acculturated in diverse environments come together, there may arise cultural tension, because of the manner in which human societies have developed over their histories. A strong distinction between ‘them’ and ‘us’ seems to be the basal layer of human relationships. What triggers these tensions?

Normally, one is born into a collective, and is sustained in that collective until maturity. Then one becomes one of the legs upholding that collective. In most of Asia, even modernised Asia, this collective is the extended family, in its various forms and traditions. In the Ultra-West, the modern nations of the West created in recent centuries by European migrants, the collective is the nuclear family. The boundary of the Asian extended family will include three generations. The boundary of the nuclear family of the Ultra-West is most unlikely to include even the grandparents.

The cultural underpinnings and traditions of the communalism of the East are quite clearly identified, and enforceable in a subtle manner. Those of the individualism of the West are somewhat amorphous, yet effectively coherent, and apparently binding without coercion (except in the matter of religious conformity).

The reality in both situations is that there is a sense of belonging to a ‘tribe,’ especially when the ‘elders’ of this tribe, the priests and politicians, work hard at keeping separate their collective from other collectives. This separation implies the exercise of power or the display of superiority, reflecting competition for resources, or minds and souls. Fanciful? Or a realistic perception?

Competition between groups (or tribes) of Primitive Man or hunter/gatherer or nomad would have been over resources. Shamans and other self-appointed priests and their subsequently developed institutions, and god kings, would have sought power (and probably wealth). Add tribal leaders, the politicians, and there could result that basal relationship between ‘them’ and ‘us.’

With the ending of colonial rule in India, Ceylon, and Malaya, young people from these countries entered Australia in the early post-war period with, as I observed, no prejudice against white people as a whole. I was certainly taught not to be anti-British, while remaining anti-colonial. We had grown up within extended families in multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-cultural territories where mutual co-existence and tolerance were evident; and we were educated.

We were also adequately acculturated to be superbly confident about our historical and cultural heritage. We did not expect the treatment we received in those early days when we landed in Australia.

Why did so many of the host-people display oral prejudice and discriminate against us, apparently because of our skin colour? We were well-dressed, and spoke courteously, and in educated English?

Was that the trigger? After demolishing the cultures of the First Peoples of Australia, demoralising them, and pushing them into a dim background, and in spite of not having been a colonial ‘power’, was the Anglo-Aussie affronted by the presence of educated and confident middle-class coloured young people paying their way?

 

 

Institutional prejudice – is it always racism?

An employer chooses not to employ a physically handicapped applicant who is able to do the job: is that racism? An applicant for a job who has a ‘foreign’ (ie. non-Anglo) name has, as has been known for some time, reduced chances of getting even an acknowledgement in the Western world: is that racism or just prejudice? What kind of prejudice – tribal? A coloured employee in a workplace is assumed by white visitors to be a low-level worker, frequently: this is obviously a culturally-conditioned perception. Does it reflect prejudice? Not necessarily. Is it institutional racism, since the trigger is skin colour?

Australia’s Racial Discrimination legislation, under Section 18(c), accepts that words can ‘hurt and humiliate’ a complainant. The legislation deems such words as discrimination as well, although no act disadvantaging the complainant in any way was involved. Is this trivialising the concept of discrimination?

Worse still, the oral abuse may have been triggered by the headgear (a turban, skull cap, or hijab), or other apparel, which identifies the wearer as different from the abuser’s people. Is this not religious or cultural prejudice?

Hitherto, it has been the residue (dregs?) of the White Australia supremacists who have sought to defend ‘white space’ (physical or cultural) from those not like them. However, it may not be long before Australia’s multicultural society produces non-white or non-Christian residents publicly responding to the yobbos who abuse them.

The term racism, misused as it has been to cover a wide range of prejudices, will proceed from being confusing to being ridiculous. The concept of races was coined by European colonisers, mainly the British. The white race was posited against all others. This mythical race was claimed to be genetically (innately) superior to the coloured races. Its weaponry was more powerful, and its greed excelled anything previously seen in the history of mankind. The buccaneers who sought to over-run and exploit other peoples would not have known about the cultural and religious advances of some of these other peoples.

Those who create legislation in the English-speaking nations of the world are now probably conditioned to the misuse of the terms race and racial. They may experience some difficulty in splitting prejudice into its correctly-defined categories.

One can only hope that the terms race and racial will follow that wondrous bird, the dodo. There have been no races on Earth.

An Asian screens foreign takeovers in Australia

Nearly 50 years ago, a conservative government, concerned at the rate at which foreigners were buying up profitable Australian enterprises, passed legislation to screen foreign takeovers. Ironically, the day the screening process commenced was the first day of a Labor Government. Since Australia has always relied on the inflow of foreign capital to keep afloat, the government had placed the responsibility for the screening process with the Treasury.

With a staff of 3, with 6 years of experience in another agency in dealing with senior executives of private corporations, I opened the takeover screening office. While I reported to a senior executive, I had no reason to consult him. I set up operating procedures, interpreted the legislation (with the concurrence of Attorney-General’s Department), and obtained agreement from my boss to proceed. I had previously told him about my background. My reports to the Treasurer, via the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB), would be approved by my boss, obviously.

Even after the FIRB Secretariat had grown to 8 Sections (in 3 Branches), I was the one who wrote the occasional briefings to the Treasurer about changes to the policy. This was an extension of my initial role – of explaining to powerful people how my office would operate. My offsider and I, together (to avoid any risk of being misquoted), would point out that a foreign takeover had only to be ‘not against the national interest.’ We were also required to guide the foreign investor to the gateways available. Later, I briefed lawyers and company executives about our approach, by invitation, in their offices.

For a former ‘blackfellow’ for whom the Australia worker was not yet ready, it was significant that, as with my work in the 1960s with the then Tariff Board, I was accepted readily by all the senior executives I dealt with in the 1970s.

In the 1980s, I again related successfully, but with the leaders of our ethnic communities and State Government executives. Australia had clearly joined the Family of Man.

Our political structures have now to open the door fully to multicultural participants, perhaps with a greater emphasis on secularism.