Last week, university students in Melbourne braved the winter chill, returning to campus for the beginning of a new semester. But instead of the usual bittersweet end to the holidays and the commencement of new classes, students were confronted with posters affixed outside multiple buildings threatening Chinese students with “prosecution or possible deportation” if they entered the building.
Is this yet another disturbing display of racism in an increasingly anxious society? Or perhaps it was simply a doltish prank designed to stir up a reaction amongst the student body. Either way events such as this, even if they are perpetrated by a single person, reduce our hopes of advancing towards a community that looks beyond race.
Regardless of whether the episode represents a grave injustice or a vile prank, the aftermath of incidents like these is symptomatic of a sinister trend. In the comments section of a web post regarding last week’s incident, hundreds of us jump to conclusions, pointing fingers at who is overreacting, who is overprotective, and who should be under the microscope.
We seek to blame someone, anyone, for exacerbating the friction that occurs in a globalised community. Our anxiety at the thought of being discriminated against can be allayed if we can find someone to hold accountable. While this particular event brought together students speaking out against racism, it also demonstrated that racism is still as prevalent as it ever was.
In the United States, every one of the 197 days during which Donald Trump has been in office – so far – has been tinged with the feeling of tension and instability of a divided nation. His aggressive, finger pointing style which involves blaming individuals and groups for societal flaws illuminates a need to hold someone accountable for discord.
Here at home, we know that Australia is an inclusive, multicultural place, isn’t it? The obstacles we face are paltry compared to issues like widespread police brutality or a history of slavery spanning several centuries in the US… right?
Not entirely. While we may be generally tolerant, race arguably remains a major factor amongst Australians. Our community, despite living for the most part in harmony, is still defined by race. Those who have migrated to Australia live in clusters, among others who share common ethnic or cultural heritage. The phrase ‘asylum seeker’ is apt to trigger a firestorm of arguing and dissension – and it all comes down to whether race relates to national security. And while this controversy is habitually addressed on television, social media and in print media, the vast inequality experienced by Indigenous Australians is utterly overlooked, accepted as a norm, or at the very most considered an insurmountable aftereffect of a past for which today’s leaders are not responsible. Just look at the recent court in WA’s response to a young Aboriginal boy death, in which his white killer got off with a three year sentence – unfair treatment of Aboriginal Australian’s is still more prevalent that many would like to believe.
These matters, though certainly worthy of greater individual attention, combine to create an image of Australia which is very much characterised by race. To envisage a post-racial Australia in the next few decades would be to deny outright the fact that every stitch in the fabric of our community is fundamentally defined by skin colour, ethnicity and culture.
Nonetheless – while race is the root of many tensions worldwide, it is also incredibly important. In spite of the manner in which we are often driven apart, we cannot overlook the value that is found in diversity. To conquer our differences, we need to realise that our inability to accept and move past them is what paralyses interaction between nations, families, ethnic groups and entire races. Of course ‘moving beyond race’ is easier said than done. But to put it simply, there is no superior race. There is no inferior race. Differing ideologies may shape us and skew our tendencies in favour of our own beliefs, but we need to accept that there is no one correct way of living and being.
In a time where race appears to be the root cause of all conflicts and clashes, the idea of post-racialism seems like a magic pill. But there is no quick fix to this issue. Whether a permanent solution exists to quell racism and racial profiling is unclear, and will likely remain so for quite some time. The differences between us – the different ways our facial features have evolved, the rituals we perform every day, the foods we eat, the art we make, and the songs we sing – shouldn’t divide us.
Around the time of his election as President in 2008, an MSNBC host said of Barack Obama, “He is post-racial by all appearances. You know, I forgot he was black tonight for an hour.” Since then, any sense of post-racialism in the US has dissolved – but while continued discrimination is a serious issue, the disintegration of ‘post-racial America’ isn’t such a tragedy.
After all, we shouldn’t need to forget the race of our leaders in order to acknowledge their worth. We should be declaring – Yes, my leader is black, my neighbour is asian, my teacher is hispanic, my friend is Latin American, and my favourite writer is an Indigenous Australian, and I respect all of their rights to participate in society and be considered one-another’s equals.