Racial vs religious discrimination

I offer personal testimony about these two major categories of discrimination. I experienced racial discrimination in my early years in Australia. That was when the White Australia ethos had seeped into the sphere of public behaviour. The trigger was my skin colour – then a light honey colour. The protection of ‘white space’ was triggered by the sudden appearance in public places of Asian students. “Why don’t you go back home, you black bastard?” was my first experience of this dual trigger for expressions of prejudice.

The discrimination experienced by Asian students was petty: we were the last to be served in the shops; or denied accommodation; there was often a reluctance to serve us, displayed by a gruff voice, and a sour look; people avoided sitting next to us on public transport; some white students would jeer at us on campus; etc. It was all quite puerile and obviously silly.

By discrimination, I refer to an act, not to a displayed attitude or an oral comment reflecting prejudice. The former can cause harm, whereas the latter can be ignored as reflecting an immature soul. In time, when the oldest generation obtained their wings, life became less irritating for us.

Yet, the record will show that I was denied appointment as a psychologist because I was considered to be “too black” (reliably witnessed). I was subsequently denied appointment as an economist with major corporations (as told to me by the Head of Melbourne University’s Graduate Employment Unit) because ‘the Australian worker was not yet ready for a foreign executive, much less a coloured one.’ Was that not racial discrimination?

However, late in my career in the federal public service, I experienced religious discrimination (but no words of prejudice were heard); that is, one would find it very difficult to prove discrimination. The trigger for discrimination in my case was the competition for promotion which I provided.

A singularly overt display of religious bonding (and boorishness) occurred thus. My new branch head opened his first meeting with his section heads by saying that it was a long time since he had attended Mass; but he had been busy at work. My peer group responded, each in turn, by saying that they too had been remiss in attending Mass! I did not dare ask what Mass was. My life was then made very difficult; the slights were overt!

As well, for the next 5 years, I was asked by 3 successive bosses to move out of my job, in favour of the boss’ choice. Then, annually, my work responsibilities were altered substantially. I kept my cool, until age 60, when I took early retirement. Those responsible for my plight were only a handful, but they were influential. To attempt to counter them would have been unwise.

That was 30 years ago. As long as those who belong to the faith now behave in a mature and professional manner, my experience should not be repeated. Religious discrimination is far more insidious and deleterious than ‘racial’ discrimination; utterances reflecting petty prejudice should be ignored.