Saturday, June 7, 2014

White privilege in Sydney

"Is Melbourne a racist city?" asked Suneal.

I had just met Suneal in the city. We had discovered a mutual affinity for poetry, music and the arts, and were now chatting over coffee.

I didn't know how to answer this question. I assumed he had the beating up of an Indian student some years ago in mind. Suneal was originally from Mumbai. I thought about two possible replies. The first was to say that Melbourne was only as racist as Sydney, comparing the incident of violence against the student with the Cronulla riots. The other was to say that as far as incidents go the Melbourne one was pretty isolated, and that we were living in one of the least racist countries in the world. I couldn't answer the question in black and white way, which is what he wanted.

In the end I said "I don't know." Maybe Suneal knew something I didn't. But then he went to express approval for Brisbane, which I had no reason to believe was any less racist than Sydney or Melbourne. We changed topics.

*

There's a new cafe on Clovelly Road, a minute's walk from my place. Bus Stop cafe, as it's called, is run by a man with a Chilean background, who says that when he was growing up in Woollongong he was a very angry young man. People didn't know much about Chile so they assumed everyone who had dark skin could be lumped together as Aboriginal. He says things are much better now that things have moved to Sydney's Eastern Suburbs.

*

Things don't seem to be sparkling if you're Asian, either. Talking to a nurse from the NSW Prince of Wales hospital, he said that he found things were a bit better at his workplace because of the nearby UNSW, which has a lot of Asian students, but that generally he experiences a lot of discouragingly racist attitudes. He didn't look like a happy chappy while he was discussing this, leading me to believe that prejudice against Asians was well and truly alive.

My friend Matt summed it up with this thought on how white people saw Asians: "There's another one." This implies that people didn't differentiate between different Asian individuals, merely seeing them all as 'part of the crowd'. I encouraged Matt to spend some time in Canada, which I've identified as the least racist country in the world, as opposed to the more racist USA and UK. It's sad to know that even in the place I'm obsessed with, Sweden, is far less welcoming to non-whites than it is to me. But I do believe that things are changing, slowly but surely. There are limitations to how far minds will open within my generation, but places with a lot of immigration can expect to become more and more welcoming as time goes on. We won't have the problems we have now in the future, and that's encouraging. In the meantime, we need to keep educating people about the similarities behind our differences, and encouraging them to think outside their racial boxes.

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