4.14 Racism, Sexism, Lunacy

Decades of isolationism, dependence on a foreign power, and ambiguity about our rights to our own land has engendered a sense of anxiety about our future as a Nation which simmers in the depths of our unconscious. From time to time these anxieties are fanned by cold winds making them come up to the surface. On occasion they flare into a massive conflagration.

That is one reason why we cannot ignore calls to our unreason, to the savage beast within us.

It is very easy to convince oneself that one's own race is superior to another. Every ethnic group can find some characteristic for which they are superior to any other, be it size, brain power, organising ability, social or artistic development, etc. It is also very easy to label other groups as in some way inferior, particularly those who have not had a chance to catch up with the rest of the community. It is at the root of all major upheavals that this feeling of superiority must be advertised to the clan, preached widely so that the individual members can identify with it.

That racism is on the rise is no secret. Pamela Bone, writing in the Age (Sept 25th1989) emphasised some of the evidence for this, such as the bomb threat which forced the Human Rights Commission Inquiry into Racist Violence to hear submissions in a car park, or the daubing with swastikas and fascist slogans on Richmond Council hearing rooms.

Equally insidious is the constant stream of subliminal or frank messages that come from popular singers and performers who appeal to basic prejudices and fears in immature fans which has lead Jon Pareles to ask: 'Has hatred become hip? From isolated spots in pop culture, racial and sexual prejudice have slithered back into view' (see "Music's Racist Tone' The Age Sept 23rd 1989).

The attack by the RSL on multiculturalism at a recent meeting in Canberra can be lumped into the same category of inflammatory appeal to lower instincts and fears. We do not believe that their comments should be ignored. We rather take the view of Mrs Franca Arena, as Chairperson of the Ethnic Affairs Task Force, that "the RSL is doing irreparable damage to Australia's reputation overseas, but especially in the Asian region'. With Franka Arena, we would like to call on moderate members of the RSL 'to take an active part in their Organisation, and not to leave it in the hands of people who seem to live in a bigoted past'. It is to be remembered that there are many members of our own ethnic community who belong to the RSL and are also proud of their services to their country in the past, who must now be ashamed to belong to an organisation that espouses such views.

The ways in which divergent views are expressed tend also to mirror the society we live in. In a tolerant democratic society, discussion and debate are encouraged. In a more primitive society, alternate views are considered dangerous and threatening and provoke aggression. In a frightened society, a reversion to a primitive state may occur with a tendency to egocentrism and overt aggression.

Australian society is becoming an ever more aggressive society. Like America, in whose footsteps we follow with a 5-10 year lag, it has become dangerous to walk in some parts of our cities. In our infatuation with our rights we have forgotten completely the rights of others. Our capacity for tolerance is at an all time low.

It is the duty of all to work towards understanding the basis of such behaviour. It may be too simplistic to ascribe it to the educational trends of encouraging the ambitious, even though ambition and aggression are but partners. Maybe also we have put too much emphasis on one's own rights rather than the rights of others. The recent attempt to encourage us to move "towards a gentler society" could be a first step in the right direction.

The alternative is a wild free-for-all. Larry Nucci (The Sciences, July/August 1989) believes that this is best illustrated in William Golding's Lord of the Flies. "By marooning the youngsters on an uninhabited island, he showed that inside even the most innocent of human beings - the child - lurks a lord of the flies: a beast that freed from the moral strictures of society is capable of - indeed hungers for - all manner of depravities." We do not need latter-day prophets to justify such depravities, to make them acceptable to society through constant re-iteration.

There is no reason to be complacent about our racist attitudes in this society. We cannot sit back and hope that they will go away. If anything, they are on the increase and therefore have to be combated, bearing in mind that what is dismissed as a raving minority today can swell into an unmanageable majority tomorrow.

[From: The Ethnic Voice, Vol 1(7) October 1989]

Source: Maurice N.Cauchi - The Maltese Migrant Experience, Malta 1999

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