Countering Indigenous disadvantage

Australia’s politicians talk frequently about ‘bridging the gap.’ This gap refers to the relative socio-economic status of the First Nation People of Australia. They represent the underclass of society. There are, however, quite a few achievers of note within this community, mainly through personal effort.

One Prime Minister said “Sorry” on behalf of the nation. Other politicians come across as sincere in their wish to reduce indigenous disadvantage. Against that, a State Government was once accused of deflecting federal funds to other policy objectives. And there was a lot of talk once of fly-in and fly-out consultants.

Remarkably, an African-American established 8 years ago an organisation in Australia involving the private sector, “Career Trackers,” which “mentors indigenous university students into professional jobs.” Its success has attracted the attention of Maori and Pacifika leaders.

Here are extracts from an article by Caitlin Fitzsimmons in the Sydney Morning Herald of 7 Feb. 2018.

Modelled on the INROADS program for African-Americans, Career Trackers provides support for participants during their studies and matches them with paid internships during university holidays.

Despite being 2.8% of the population, Indigenous Australians compose 1.7% of the workforce. Career Trackers is trying to change that – and it’s reporting amazing results. There are 1354 students in the program and 108 corporate partners. A number of companies have committed to take paid interns from the program for at least 10 years, including major law and engineering firms.

Less than half of Indigenous university students make it to graduation, according to the Australian Council for Educational Research, but Career Trackers says nearly 9 out of 10 of its participants do.

Career Trackers says a whopping 95% of its alumni are in full-time employment within three months of graduating.

 The median weekly income for all Australians is $662 and for Indigenous Australians only $441 – but for Career Trackers alumni it is $1192.

It would be naive to think Indigenous disadvantage will be solved by a few corporate internships.

(Comment: Some real progress – at last. This comment is based on 70 years of observation of Australian society.)


Multicultural, ethnically diverse or one people?

In the 1970s and 1980s, ethnic empowerment (my phrase) became federal government policy. Since 1948, selected able-bodied European immigrants had to find their way wherever they lived in Australia. Now, their successor entrants had to be shown their way by social workers. These would be employed by their ethnic communities at taxpayer expense. Settled ethnic (European) populations, with few new entrants, were to be served too!

Coincidently, during that period, both sides of politics decided (on obviously faulty advice) to chase the so-called ethnic vote. Instead of a residence of 5 years out of 8 to qualify for the grant of citizenship, one government reduced the qualifying period to 3 years; this was followed by the other government reducing it to 2years. The beneficiaries would have included those with a criminal intent; by keeping their heads down for only 2 years, they could go back with Australian citizenship. Dual citizenship was not then available.

Multicultural policy was also introduced – to manage multiculturalism; that is, to tell us ethnics how to relate to one another. Quaintly, some British then claimed to be an ethnic community too, displaying a revived Morris dance. Since the Anglo-Aussies had already accepted us foreigners as fellow-Australians, what was there to manage? By the very fact of being foreigners, we got along with one another. Ethnic enclaves had not been formed as yet.

To guide the government, ethnic advisory committees were established. There was also a Minister for Multiculturalism, with attendant public service staff. What did they all do? The parallel migrant-settlement service managed by the ethnic committees was also never evaluated for its effectiveness.

State governments were not slow in establishing counterpart ethnicity-focused structures. What did they achieve? In essence, what ethnic tribal chiefs opposed was ‘mainstreaming,’ where governments provided necessary services to the public irrespective of ethnicity; that would have saved a great deal of taxpayer money. Needed services, when ethnicity based, emphasised cultural differences.

Why were cultural differences relevant? Interpreters were available in both public and private agencies. Gone were the days when children interpreted for their parents; or when some host people raised their voices to be understood.

A prime minister and a state premier then replaced culture retention with shared citizenship, and pride in being one integrated people. Most of our children had already led the way to one people through their education, socialisation, sport, and habituation.

In what ways do people display their ethnic origins in day to day living? Are not diverse clothing styles over-laid by a shared Australian accent in spoken English? And in shared community attitudes?

Could we just be Aussies without burbling about how culturally diverse our origins were? Do allow our young to lead us.

Aggrandising colonialism’s cultural ancestors

Was it not the Scottish Enlightenment (centred on Edinburgh University) which offered intellectual enlightenment to the English? Did that widened understanding of matters significant seep into the psyche of the buccaneers of the East India Company and, later, into the policies of the British rulers of India? Probably not! Were not the latter imbued with the objective of enabling their ‘natives’ to achieve a speedier access to Nirvana through being clutched to the bosom of Christ, while continuing with their own role as shopkeepers?

When scholastic writings by white supremacists did not convince subject peoples that the ‘white race’ was genetically (inherently) superior to all other ‘races,’ the British colonial mind seems to have sought appropriate intellectual and militaristic forebears in continental Europe.

Fortunately, there were the philosophers of Athens, who were not pre-occupied with the semantics of the Church; Macedonian Alexander (the Great), who allegedly introduced everything Greek to all the tribes on the way to the Indian sub-continent, was also available.

Two further developments aided the search for an appropriate cultural ancestor. European scholars of Indian philosophy were cleverly able to date Indic writings to no further back in time than about 1500BC. This allowed Abraham and his people to establish Judeo-Christianity as the religious ancestor of Europeans, with priority over Hinduism.

Then came the acolytes of these scholars, who claimed with great certitude that no ‘black peoples’ had contributed in any substantive manner to human civilisation. These black people were presumably the Egyptians, Sumerians, Persians and Indians, and anyone else with a nicer skin colour than (coppery) white. Strangely, the Mediterranean cultural ancestor and the Levantine religious ancestor could not have possessed that superior white colour!

I now ask these two questions. Who taught Heraclitus that ‘It is all fire up there’ (or words to that effect)? An unknown Indian whose name is not recorded in a text book allegedly reached that conclusion thousands of years before.

Second question: Did not the Bible draw liberally upon Sumerian writings, while the Vedas of the Indic people have been dated, through known planetary configurations, back to about 7,000 BC?

After the modern Western neo-colonials have self-destroyed themselves, or hopefully matured morally, could we recognise that we human beings are all one species? Could we also accept that each one of us will probably have different religio-cultural ancestors in each life on Earth?

The wonder of past-life memories (2)

I do believe that where (geographically) one is born, and the family and culture into which one is born, have significance. Chance, in my view, is not a determinant. For instance, I already ‘know’ that I will be re-born as a constituent member of another culture. There have been many strange intimations in my life which lead me to this conclusion.

As for my birth in this life into a Hindu religio-cultural milieu, my acculturation made me initially religious; later spiritual, as I was guided by the Upanishads. My on-going reading about religion then led me to realise that all the main religions are equal in their potential, and I became a free-thinker. Growing up in a multicultural nation-in-the-making also helped to form this perspective.

Without a prescriptive Good Book, Hinduism encourages free thinkers to explore the Cosmos ideationally and spiritually. No authority structures abound. In my experience, the priests do not tell us what to do; they facilitate our reaching out to God – by praying to one or more of the manifestations of God available to us. Insightful commentators are the lamp-lighters of this religion. The many tributaries of Hinduism lead ultimately to the end we all seek.

I visualise these tributaries of spiritual insight flowing into that Ocean of Consciousness from which we are said to have arisen.

I do believe that being born into a Hindu milieu in this life, after having been a Muslim, is part of my destiny path through Earthly existence. What next? The path of Confucius?


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.


Reality may be non-material

I prefer the material realm of the universe we occupy to be a projection of an ethereal realm. The latter realm is effectively unknown. It is also an inexplicable dimension of existence. Yet, reality also seems to me to be more ethereal than material. Why do I say that?

Because almost everything in the material realm is subject to change. Newton’s Second Law of Thermodynamics, of entropy, goes even further. Nothing of substance seems to be durable. While the material realm also cannot explain the ethereal realm, the latter may contain the templates (see Plato’s ‘real’) for transient materiality.

When Heraclitus (a Greek philosopher of yore) quoted a typically unrecognised Hindu thinker of centuries before him, saying “All is fire,” he was referring to the firmament which surrounds us. All my life, I have been enchanted by the apparently infinite number of balls of fire which we see as stars.

Recently, my mind’s-eye developed this scenario. The invisible ‘smoke’ from these fires could represent an integrated ‘mesh,’ the ephemeral realm of the Universe; and the ‘ashes’ and other disgorgements from each sun which fall upon their respective planets (such as Earth) could represent the material from which life forms eventually oozed or erupted. Does this vision make possible sense?

Then, there is the material realm of which we are part; that is, we are substantially matter. We are part of the 4% of the totality of matter estimated to exist in the Universe to be visible.

What of invisible matter? Two-thirds is said to be dark matter; one third is apparently dark energy. Was the latter transmuted from dark matter, or vice versa? However, since we cannot see either, could they actually exist? Of course they can, since bees and some animals are apparently able to use certain alternative strands of the electromagnetic spectrum to go about their business.

As well, there was my first clairvoyant who could see, and describe accurately, the spirit of my uncle who had manifested himself to him. That is, invisible cosmic matter may become visible under appropriate conditions; and invisible energy may be identifiable through its material impacts.

In the event, what is the point of all the fuss we make about the minuscule amount of visible matter in the Universe, including our human material selves? Are we not a lot more than our material bodies? The essence of each human being is of far more significance than the outer shell. Should we not be investigating non-visible matter and energy in their role in shaping humanity, in order to understand our place in the ephemeral realm?

Ultimate reality seems to be beyond the visible, tangible, cupidity and crudity of much of Earthly human existence.

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.