Ethno-cultural superiority

When white Anglo-Celt Australians, divided by sect but not by class, and upheld by a belief in the superiority of the ‘white’ race, its desert-derived religion, and the power of the armaments which enabled this race to rule over coloured peoples world-wide, came face to face with young educated Asians, many found to their horror a generally unexpressed superiority, based on history. Being stomped on by European buccaneers and the administrators who followed them left no great imprint on their sense of who they are.

As Kim (a real person I knew) said to his classmates preparing to enter university way back in racist White Australia, “I am of Chinese descent. My ancestors have been civilised for more than 5,000 years, long before the white man came down from the trees.’ That went down well! Yet, that was the attitude implanted in us all by our parents while they waited patiently for the interlopers to leave: we Asians are inferior to none! See my unpublished paper ‘Early cultural shocks: Asians in Australia’ from my address to students of Australian history at the University of Wollongong; and my 4 articles titled ‘Early cultural shocks: East-West relations’ in Raja A Ratnam.

Perhaps that is why, even in pre-war British Malaya, intercultural relations among the Asians were at a stronger level than in Australia at the end of the last century. After all, it was the white invaders and colonisers who came up with the concept of the ‘white race’, in contrast to the tinted, subjugated ‘natives,’ the ‘coloured races.’ Even some academics once sought to prove that the white race is genetically superior; some went as far as to deny that the Europeans had to learn anything from the ‘black races’ of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia and India. It is a pity that they had not met Kim.

For the record, I can confirm that we were taught not to disrespect white people as a whole, while we remained anti-colonial and anti-racist. Those of my relatives and friends who later studied in Britain confirmed that mutual respect was the norm over there.


Colour prejudice

A mixture of skin colours is commonplace in Asia. Apart from some Indian mothers seeking ‘fair’ wives for their sons (irrespective of the colour of the men), differences in skin colour do not influence human relations as much as other criteria. Genetic mixing for some, or habituation in social contact, over-ride any ethnic superiority.

Further, white people apparently represent only about 15% of the world’s population. To many Asians, white is not an attractive skin colour. Many, if not most, young white people in Australia seem to agree, judging by their sun-baking.

In my youth, I neither experienced nor observed any colour, religious, or cultural prejudice between the Asians. Apparently British colonials were the only ones sensitive to tinted skin. In Malaya’s capital city, outside the prestigious Selangor Club was a sign which read ‘No chinamen or dogs allowed.’

Early post-war Australia was therefore a shock to me. Being served last in shops, having difficulty in finding accommodation, passengers on a tram preferring to strap-hang, leaving an empty seat next to me, insulting audible comments in pubs and on the streets, slighting remarks about our accents, our food (‘foreign muck’), our preference for spicy (and tastier) foods, and our religions were commonplace.  Because Aborigines were denied access to the pubs, some of us were occasionally challenged as to our ethnicity. Learned ignorance and consequential prejudice is not easy to moderate, much less eliminate. See the ‘The Dance of Destiny’ and ‘Destiny Will Out.’

It was a great comfort to me to find that many of the European immigrants, particularly, the war-displaced refugees, had great respect for Asian cultures. Foreigners also tend to be attracted to one another, exchanging experiences past and present.