Two casually racist encounters concerning Auburn

People were surprised by racist abuse on a Melbourne bus this week? They need to get out more. I’ve had two racist encounters on Sydney trains this week alone.

The other night I was sitting next to Dave (not his real name) on the Blue Mountains train. He was heading home to Emu Plains after his day shift as a barman at a Sydney pub. We got talking.

He was originally from Auburn, he said, but he was glad his family didn’t live there any more because the place was run down.

I mentioned that I’d recently been told that Auburn was now the second-poorest local government area in New South Wales, and the council had trouble paying for services.

“Yeah well it’s all full of Lebs and Arabs now,” Dave said. “They’re pretty much all on the dole.”

Awkward silence ensued.

Dave’s story amused me, though, because only a few days earlier I’d been on another train, a local through the western suburbs, and I shared the carriage with a group of four or five Muslim women and a vast collection of children they’d taken on a day trip. They were heading home to Auburn.

They were friendly women. We chatted about many things, from the mystery of how children can still be so rowdy at the end of a long day to where they might do a first aid course. “St John Ambulance,” I suggested. “Or the Red Cross.”

Suddenly I felt embarrassed to have mentioned two organisations with Christian roots. “Perhaps your local mosque runs them,” I added, before realising that churches generally don’t run such things so why would a mosque? And why don’t I know what services a mosque may or may not provide?

But then why does an Anglican church in Enmore run yoga classes? It’s all very multicultural.

We chatted about Auburn too. I’d recently been told that in Auburn you can find the best Turkish Delight this site of the Bosporus.

“It’s a lovely place,” agreed the women. “But it’s not as good as it was. Too many foreigners. Chinese and the like.”

Racism is widespread in Australia, bubbling to the surface in everyday conversations.

[Photo: Gallipoli Mosque, Auburn, photographed in 2009 by Newtown graffiti. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.]

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  1. yewenyi’s avatar

    It’s always the same. Some of my polish workmates moan about the drop in land values that happened to their polish immigrant parents when the Asians moved in, replacing the poles.

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  2. Eric TF Bat’s avatar

    Yeah, well, that’s exactly the sort of thing you expect from humans. Bloody carbon-based bipeds, oughta send ‘em all back where they came from.

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  3. sroc’s avatar

    You needn’t have been so embarrassed: the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement does not discriminate based on religion.

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  4. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @yewenyi: And, as a Japanese acquaintance once said, “It’s not racism if they’re Korean.”

    @sroc: I actually did know that, and remembering that I knew that after I blurted out my comment about the mosque made me feel even more of a goose.

    I was fascinated by my emotional reaction to the situation. I was conscious that this group of friendly Muslim women must at times face some racist idiocy or just ignorance. I was worried that through some ignorance on my part I might accidentally cause offence. In hindsight, that does them a disservice, and highlights how highly-charged issues of race and culture can be.

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  5. glengyron’s avatar

    There’s plenty of racism to be found everywhere. It’s one of those common elements that all people share. The universal human experience.

    And now having been flippant I’ve also got to say that your experiences weren’t quite like the bus in Melbourne. It really did look like that French woman was in danger of being beaten to a pulp by an unruly mob.

    And ignorance isn’t really the problem with racism. Although it certainly doesn’t help. How can you know everyone’s values and traditions? It all gets personal very quickly.

    Ignorance is bliss, it’s intolerance that wants to hurt people.

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  6. sroc’s avatar

    I recall feeling ill-at-ease having lunch with attendees at a seminar when one of the other attendees, a teacher, told a brief story about “an Asian student” in her class. She was complimentary about the student, but the student’s was irrelevant to the story unless she was trying to make a pont t either: (a) Asian students in particular are exceptional at the subject; or (b) this student was exceptional despite being Asian. I don’t think either of these implications were intended and she was simply telling a story about a single student, but I felt uncomfortable merely by the apparent sub-concious need to mention the student’s ethnicity at all, as though incapable of being able to look past that detail when thinking or even talking about them.

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  7. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @glengyron: Oh, I certainly wasn’t equating the dangerous mob mentality on that bus with a muttered complaint to a presumed fellow traveller. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.) But at the same time both acts stem from from the same underlying belief — or attitude, I’m not sure which to call it — namely that “the other people” are lesser creatures than ourselves.

    And in a way, such tribalism surely serves an evolutionary purpose, namely to keep resources and support to people in our genetic clan and deny them to others. Societies evolve as much as species do.

    But when a society becomes multicultural, we have to stop using the physical markers of difference (skin and hard colour, eye shape etc) and the cultural markers (language, head scarves, dietary rules etc), and instead use a more abstract notion of nation.

    I’m tempted to say that it takes a more sophisticated understanding of “same as us” and “different from us” than many people possess, either through hard-wiring or early education. Yes, do feel free to paraphrase me as “Racists just aren’t as smart as normal people.”

    @sroc: That’s a great example of the “assumed default” that multicultural education (propaganda?) of the 1970s tried to explain to us. All that stuff about having a “chair” or “chairperson” defined in your meeting rules, not a “chairman”.

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  8. Daniel’s avatar

    Hi, I like your post about racism and agree that it abounds everywhere. Where I live it’s predominately Caucasian and christian. There is a large East Indian population here as well and I find them quite friendly but I also think there is racism on both sides which I think is quite the norm. When I have traveled to a country where I would be considered an outsider I find it fascinating to see other cultures altho am acutely aware that it’s me who is different.

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  9. Marc Lehmann’s avatar

    Yep all races have racists. I really believe most Australian’s (of all backgrounds) aren’t racist. However, there is a big minority that are. We shouldn’t trick ourselves into thinking it’s all bad based on what’s on youtube and in the press (it’s mostly what bleeds that reads) but equally we should keep making a fuss about this problem as the real enemy is people residing in their ego. Humans constantly want to exist in the “self” and thus self interest. This is the mindset that breeds racism.

    I once did an exercise where i had to stand in front of a stranger and just look them in the eye. 30cm apart. It was extremely confronting, you then after some minutes let go and found yourself seeing them like you see yourself. That’s when judgement stopped, as the ego backed away.

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