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.

 

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Not all insults are racially motivated

Who are those claiming to be hurt and humiliated by words uttered by others? Should I have felt insulted by being asked repeatedly whether I would join ‘the faith’ for my ‘salvation?’ Instead, I saw the speakers as well-meaning but not educated. When, recently, a former Church worker claimed that the one and only God of the universe is a Christian god, all the other gods being ‘pantheistic,’ I challenged his arrogance. I suggested that Christianity is a late entrant in humanity’s search for the First Cause of all that is. Were these people racists?

At a political level, when Lee Kuan Yew, the former leader of Singapore, offered a more efficient definition of democracy, he was attacked by the West. Was he insulted? Instead, his Ambassador to the UN published ‘Can Asians really think?’ That closed down further challenges; were they racist?

Significantly, Singapore is ahead of Australia at so many levels of governance – from education to economic development, based on long-term plans; not, as in Australia, waiting for foreigners to invest (if they chose). A silly accusation recently was that, although students in Singapore are ahead of their Australian counterparts in maths, they could not possibly understand the underlying concepts. Racism or dented white superiority?

More ridiculously, the terms ‘race’ or ‘racial’ are applied, almost as a mantra, to a wide variety of allegedly hurtful utterances. Thus, Australia’s ‘racial’ legislation denying free speech is defended as offering protection against any criticism of Israel’s policies! The Catholic Church is also said to need similar protection (something I do not understand). The Australian Aborigines, the only First Nation Peoples not recognised in the Constitution, do need protection from insults; but how are they to access any protection which might be available?

Then, there are the seemingly newly-arrived immigrants who, unlike their predecessors over half a century, claim to be humiliated, hurt, or offended by foolish words by silly people. Offensive words? That depends on whether one is easily offended. Some people are. Why?

Were such people never spoken to disdainfully ‘back home’? Could there be any intangible benefit in claiming to be psychologically damaged by unfriendly or ugly words in Australia?

We early immigrants were genuine ‘adventurers’ who crossed land and sea to start a new life, and to better ourselves. We ignored (or retaliated occasionally) denigrating words. We were not wimps to feel ‘humiliated’ by words from the ignorant.

Words may hurt only if one lets them. Why allow that?

Cultures need not be competitive

Some years ago, childless couples in Australia were adopting babies from overseas. An Aussie woman opposed this practice. As she explained to the newspaper which published her letter, foreign babies bring ‘foreign cultures.’ The reality, of course, is that any foreign culture brought in would be in the baby’s nappy.

Culture refers to the ways humans behave consistently, traditionally; and the underlying values. I was brought up in a family and tribe of Hindus. Hence beef was not on the menu. We did not eat pork, although it was the main meat for our Chinese neighbours. We saw pork as hygienically unclean. Pork was not avoided because of religious beliefs, as with the Jewish faith and Islam.

During the racist White Australia era, Anglo-Australians complained about the odour of garlic, ginger, and curry spices used by Asian students in shared kitchens. The huge influx of Europeans soon stopped that. Young Aussies who had travelled overseas also took to Asian and European foods.

In the 1960s, I observed 2 young white Aussie girls buying from a food store owned by an Englishman the ingredients to be combined into curry powder. They knew exactly what they wanted. On the other hand, I bought a packet of imported curry powder. I had no idea of its ingredients. My mother had never told me; indeed, I had not been allowed into the kitchen.

Cuisine and clothing, as cultural markers, cross ethnic boundaries easily, in time. Prayer and associated religious rituals, while variable, are motivated by identical objectives – to seek succour from, and to express thanks to, God. Diversity in religious belief is not a barrier to close inter-cultural relations, as I have observed. Doctrine-bound priests may not agree.

In terms of day-to-day living, what differences in behaviour do we all display – wherever we are on the globe – which pose barriers to mutual tolerance inter-culturally?
British Malaya, with its ethno-tribal diversity during my development, was a multicultural nation-in-the-making. There was mutual tolerance, in spite of an original lack of a shared language. We lived our lives as guided by our respective cultures and, in time, through habituation, education, and some social interaction, became one people. Only politics can be a threat to social cohesion.

My own extended family includes Chinese, Malay, Indian, English, Burmese, Italian, and Anglo-Australian genes. We are the lamp-lighters to a new world based on a shared humanity, with any historical cultural tensions devoid of consequence.

 

Hinduism in Indonesia

In front of the Indonesian Embassy (on Embassy Row, Washington), one would have expected to see the statue of Sukarno, the founding father of Indonesia. But no; there is the Hindu Goddess of learning, Saraswati, glowing white and gold, with her four arms upraised. At her feet are three students -young Barack Obama and his classmates while he was in grade school in Indonesia.

The goddess’ statue, on top of a lotus, stands tall a block away from the Indian Embassy in front of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi.

Why would Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, with Hindus accounting for a mere 1.7 per cent, choose a Hindu goddess as its embassy’s symbol?
It speaks volumes about the nation’s respect for religious freedom. Indonesia is a secular nation and its constitution is planked on the philosophy of “Pancasila” which is pluralistic in its outlook. The constitution refers not to “Allah” but “Tuhan” so as to ensure that the minorities feel fully integrated.

Indonesia has the fourth largest Hindu population and the highest number of Hindus outside the Indian subcontinent (after Nepal and Bangladesh). Most Indonesian Hindus are Balinese.

Hinduism’s manifestations in myriad forms are on display in every sphere of Indonesian life. The Hindu influence is immediately brought home when a traveler boards the national airline bearing the name from Hindu mythology – Garuda, the bird and vehicle of Vishnu. The national emblem of Indonesia is Garuda Pancasila. Hanuman is the official mascot of Indonesia’s military intelligence. At the 1997 South-East Asian Games at Jakarta, the official mascot was Hanuman.

Ganesh, the God of wisdom, is inscribed on the 20,000 rupiah currency note. The logo of Institut Teknologi Bandung – Indonesia’s premier engineering institute – is also Ganesh.
The dwarpal statue is placed outside hotels, shops, public offices. He sits with the right knee on the ground and holds a formidable mace in the right hand as a protector of the establishment. Even the Bank of Indonesia in Yogyakarta is guarded by, not one, but two dwarpals.

Indonesia has issued many stamps on the Ramayana and the Mahabharata featuring Arjun, Krishan, Hanuman and scenes from the epics. Depiction of epics in the form of folk painting, shadow puppets, dramatic characters and sculpture are found across the length and breadth of the country.

Sukarno himself was named after the Mahabharata character, Karna. Sukarno’s father, fascinated by his characterisation but equally disapproving of his support to the wrong side in the war, named him Su (good) Karna. Sukarno’s daughter was named Megawati Sukarnoputri and was the president of the country from 2001 to 2004.

The language of India is Bahasa which in Sanskrit means language (Bhasha). Thousands of Tamil and Sanskrit names are found in Indonesia, many of them in their corrupted form due to the passage of time.

The National flag of Indonesia, called the “Sang Saka Merah-Putih” (The Sacred Red and White) has been influenced by the banner of the Majapahit Empire, which during the 13th century was one of the largest empires of the region. Hinduism and Buddhism were the dominant religions in the Majapahit Empire.
(From the Internet.)

(Comment: Indonesia is not the only East Asian nation influenced for a long period in history by Indian culture)

Who were we – Jaffna Tamils?

Who were we? We are Tamils from Jaffna in the north of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Currently, we are a world-wide diaspora. Both my father and maternal grandfather had migrated to British Malaya because of job opportunities there. An adequate knowledge of the English language led to administrative jobs in a country which was being filled rapidly by workers, traders and business men from all over India, Ceylon, south China, and the surrounding Malay lands. The bulk of the people whose mother tongue is Tamil are now found mainly in the south of India.

The Tamils of Ceylon are claimed by a Malayan historian to have originated in the Deccan in central India and, having spent some time in what is now Bangladesh, finally settled in north and east Ceylon. The south of Ceylon was settled by the Singhalese, also from India, about two and a half thousand years ago. The Tamils seem to have been in Ceylon for a minimum of a thousand years. Some Tamils claim two thousand years. After all, in ancient times, only a river might have separated Ceylon from India. The sea has clearly risen in recent millennia. It would also have risen much earlier through the demise of the last ice age.

Whereas Singhala (the language of the southerners) is one of the Sanscrit-linked so-called Indo-European languages of India, Tamil is one of the four Dravidian languages. These are now found mainly in the south of the subcontinent. The pockets of Dravidian speakers in what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and North-West India, together with the strongly-asserted belief by many that the purest forms of Hinduism are now to be found in south India, raise the probability that the Dravidians had moved south from the north-west of India when the Muslim Mughals, other Central Asians, and peoples further west moved progressively and en masse into the northern parts of what is now India. It has also been suggested that the peoples of the Indus Valley high-culture civilisation were part of this exodus when the river system which sustained them dried out.

The wonderful reality about the pundits of pre-history (that is, the times about which we know so little) is that nobody can be shown to be wrong, and everybody is potentially correct, about their theories as to what happened, and why. Now, not only the Indians but also other colonised or otherwise culturally oppressed peoples everywhere (eg the Africans), prefer to research their own histories as best they can.

For, European colonisers are alleged to have reinterpreted world history in order to reinforce the claimed innate superiority of white peoples over coloured peoples; the inferiority of all faiths other than Christianity (with its great variety of brands); and the asserted longevity of their technological skills, in spite of massive borrowing from diverse Asian peoples, especially the Chinese.

Returning to the story of my family, we Ceylon Tamils, through chain migration, soon dominated Malaya’s administration, especially in medicine, pharmacy, education, railways and the postal service. The Chinese immigrants went into trade or tin mining, in the main. The Indians went into trade, or indentured labour in the rubber estates. The other ethnic communities (then referred to as nationalities, in much the same way that all Asians were Asiatics to the British rulers) sought to fill any niche available, or to create one. The Malays, a charming and tolerant people, remained mainly on the land, ruled by their sultans. The latter were ‘advised’ by the British; that is, they did what they were told, or became replaced. On the west coast, the sultans’ titles, clothing styles, and ornaments of authority reflected the historical influence of Indian cultures.

British entrepreneurs developed the land and the economy to suit Britain’s export markets and import needs. Because Malaya was under-developed, they did not cause the kind of damage they perpetrated upon the established economies of India and Egypt. Fortunately for mankind, the British did not produce opium in Malaya. Their output in India was adequate to subvert the Chinese people.

Each ethnic community had its priests to provide guidance to their version of God or Heaven, although many Chinese seemed to restrict themselves to ancestor worship. They  had little red boxes outside their homes at which they prayed, lit candles and burnt imitation money. These, surely, must have assisted many to eventual success. Perhaps, some of our ancestors develop into spirit guides. We all prayed with great devotion, as insecurity was the mainspring of our existence.

Education for the children was, as ever, the primary driver for all. The children who could get into English-language schools (as I did) were naturally advantaged in being able to acquire academic or professional qualifications. Families lived frugally in order to achieve the savings necessary to fund this education. Thus, everyone was skinny, like the survivors of the Great Depression in Australia. Most of us could have done with more nourishing food.

At the end of World War Two, overseas study became the pathway to enhanced security and lifestyles for the whole family. All betterment was for the family, not just for the individual. The so-called Asian values, much derided by those who had lost their tribal leaders and an operational sense of tribe, clan, and extended family – mainly in the immigrant-created new nations of the Western world – are upheld throughout Asia. They stress the primacy of community, not of the individual. This recognises that one is born into a collective, is sustained by the collective, then contributes to the collective in reciprocity, finally moving on to another collective in another domain. One is never apart from that ultimate collective, the Cosmos.
(This is an extract from my book ‘The Dance of Destiny’)

Individualism vs. communalism in modern societies

Society is that highly organised and integrated collective of individuals, organisations and institutions which, in any civilisation, has specified roles, functions, and responsibilities to enable arms of that civilisation to operate as efficiently as possible, while offering security, social stability, good governance, and practices for the furtherance of its youth into useful future roles, within an evolving environment which is necessarily potentially destabilising.

Without such a structured entity, humanity would probably operate in a chaotic manner. Unlike the physical and chemical world, where there can be found coherent patterns of stability within the observed chaos, there is no basis for assuming that similar stability would underpin any chaos of humanity. Indeed human chaos is underpinned by social instability through unfettered selfishness. The events of recent history throughout the world support such a conclusion.

In those 4 nations which I describe collectively as the Ultra-West (viz. the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), which were developed through successive inflows of immigrants from Europe (including Britain), it would have taken quite a while for society to be formed in each location. By necessity, the earlier arrivals had to be self-sufficient in finding a place for themselves and settling down. It would seem that, by the time each society had achieved a necessary stability, and by the very nature of the circumstances of settlement, an ethos of individualism had permeated the psyche of the people. Church attendance may have been the exception. Any sense of communalism which may have prevailed ‘back home’ may have been weaned by new necessary lifestyles.

There may be a flip-side to this development. Did societal alienation then evolve? Through a deficiency in support from one’s extended family (assuming there was one in proximity), a degree of communal support may have been necessary. That is, officialdom may have had to step in to some degree to alleviate extreme hardship, in a material sense. But what of the psychological bulwark available to some degree in more traditional societies?

Francis Fukuyama, an American scholar of renown, wrote in depth of the deterioration of society in the USA, a civilised nation. The USA is a leading member of the Ultra-West. Australian society appears to be following the USA. While Australia is heavily committed to welfare while ruled by the ethos of individualism, it is gradually becoming acclimatised to American culture, business practices, and the philosophy of governance.

This spirit of individualism seems to have engendered claims for more and more personal rights. Taken to extremes, traditional respect for others may be diminished, if not ignored. Conflicts over relative individual rights can occur. In Australia today, surnames and addresses indicating respect for age, position, or relationship have given way to the universal use of first names.

Rights breed rights – even in the open! The proliferation of claimed rights, aided by those using the courts to acquire yet more rights (even for unlawful asylum seekers) can be juxtaposed with the reality that rights are not set out in the Constitution, or a Bill of Rights, or official policy statements in Australia. This results in all manner of societal difficulties, primarily because of a lack of corresponding or counter-balancing personal responsibilities towards the collective.

Some consequential effects of enhanced access to claimed personal rights are the suffering caused to children through the impermanence of marriage and cohabitation, a fear of empty streets (casually brutal attacks by louts or a threat to children), the serious abuse of generous welfare and free medical services, a denial of personal responsibility (eg. acquiring skills to enable employment or to re-locate to centres offering employment), and escalating demands by the well-off for ‘middle class welfare.’

In the light of the above, the unavoidable conclusion is that, at least in the USA and Australia, modern society does not generally offer the cohesion and mutual kin and community support of traditional societies. Does not such support implicate a certain spirituality inherent in mankind to look after one another? Unless governments step into the vacant shoes of extended family, could not escalating personal rights without matching responsibilities be seen to lead to social alienation and to the deterioration of these societies?

Would not weak social bonds and an uncertain sense of community indicate a diminution of valuable social capital?

 

 

Being ‘too black’ and a ‘coloured foreigner’

The White Australia policy had a sharp bite. Way back in 1949, Australia’s first Immigration Minister tried very hard to deport Mrs. Anne O’Keefe and her children. She was then married to an Anglo-Australian, and they had a cute little white baby. Mrs. O’Keefe and her daughters were Ambonese. They had been given succour in Australia, when her husband had died defending The Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) against the Japanese invasion. I had been a neighbour of that family.

The family remained in Australia after the High Court’s intervention. Reportedly, the High Court found that the Minister’s earlier deportation of other coloured people, especially Sergeant Gamboa (a Filipino who had served in the US military in Australia), was unlawful. But the Minister had only been attempting to apply the law. However, it was the Australian public which had defended the O’Keefe family.

Yet, as I had observed over a number of years in that period, the prevailing public attitude towards coloured people was antipathetic. The antipathy applied to white foreigners (non-British) as well. However, when able-bodied European workers were sought and brought into the country, the Good Neighbour Councils (of Anglo-Australians) set out to make them feel welcome.

Educated, fee-paying Asian youth studying in Australia had to fend for themselves; they were however strongly buttressed by their religio-cultural heritage. Discrimination was overt. Oral slights were not uncommon. Yet, we remained untouched, even as we adapted to Aussie traditions and colloquialisms.

One tradition I liked was the evening barbeque over a 9-gallon keg of beer. The party ended when the beer ran out – from (say) 4am to 8am. My hosts were fellow-workers in the factory where I worked, and on the trams. I must have been the first coloured tram conductor in Melbourne.

Since the Aussies then described all coloured people as black (East Asians were yellow), I had to put up with being a ‘blackfellow’ or ‘black bastard.’ But my Asian friends and I just went with the flow, knowing that when the oldest generation of superior whites met their Maker, our lives would be smoother. That did happen. Only the ignorant yobbo continues to seek to protect white space by name-calling.

S.18 (c) of the Racial Discrimination Act, regrettably, emboldens the odd coloured new immigrant to feel offended and humiliated by oral abuse by the yobbos. That is not discrimination! Such immigrants should have been here in the 1950s. I remind them of my father’s adage: ‘The dogs may bark, but the caravan moves on.’

In the mid-1950s, although I had qualified as a research psychologist, I was told that I was “too black” to be accepted by Australians. (I am a very light tan.) Later, when I qualified as an economist, I was advised that “the Australian worker is not yet ready for a foreign executive, much less a coloured one.” The first incident was witnessed; she confirmed my story a few years later. The second event was reported to me by the Head of the Graduate Employment Unit of the University of Melbourne.

In spite of all that, I am quite proud of my adopted nation. It has evolved into a cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic, colour-blind polity. During my work experience in State and federal agencies, and in private companies (from factory hand to senior accounts clerk), only once was I addressed improperly. A fellow factory worker called out to me “Hey, Rastus!” He was obviously a book reader. The Australian worker does stand tall, unlike most of the workers in ‘emerging economies.’

My only complaint is about the overt discrimination during the last 5 years of my career (leading to early retirement) from a small but powerful gang, for whom the word mass carried great weight. This discrimination was clearly tribal. Yet, by being moved from here to there often, I had the opportunity to become very knowledge about all of the government’s migrant-integration and related policies.

From that nasty experience arose 6 books (refer amazon.com), and 44 in-depth articles (refer ezinearticles.com).

Destiny can work in shocking ways. I paid a heavy price for my learning, but it was worth it.