I grew up in an incredibly ethnically diverse part of Sydney. Our school’s Harmony Day events were always a flurry of colours, flavours and sounds that would tantalise the mind, body and spirit. I was very lucky to grow up learning about different traditions and cultures.
If there’s one thing I learned for sure, ethnic minorities can be SO racist and it’s important that we call it out.
Now, look. I know that this is a contentious issue. Many movements over the last year have seen us grappling with this issue – can ethnic minorities be racist?
Let’s take an example – is #BlackLivesMatter racist? No.
Is it shitty for people to expect us to say #AllLivesMatter instead? Well, yes. Absolutely.
Confused? Let me clarify.
There is a school of thought in which minority groups cannot be racist because the very definition of racism requires a group to have a level of power over another. Thusly, minority groups can’t be racist because they lack the power. I am happy to agree with this line of thinking when it’s a minority group being subjected to the oppression of a bigger power – say, a white Western dominance. But when it comes to minority groups being racist to other minority groups, I don’t think it is appropriate to say that they can’t be racist to each other.
The fact is, they are.
A couple of years ago, Mum had a few of her Lebanese friends over. I, like every teenager, was avoiding them and chilling in my room. Eventually I gave in and went to raid the fridge in case something new and delicious had materialised since I had last checked the hour earlier. I heard one of the ladies talk about the ‘عبيد’ (‘abeed’) – the Arabic word for ‘slaves’. I stood by and listened, horrified that there were slaves in modern society. The conversation was something along the lines of the slaves being very pretty -for abeed. I went over and said hello and asked about who these slaves were. One of my mum’s friends informed me that they weren’t real slaves, of course. They were just ‘black people.’
The look on my face must have said it all, because my mum started shaking her head at me, pleading with her eyes that I don’t cause a scene with these ladies that she sees maybe once every couple of years.
Is that not racist? Is it not horrific for one minority group to refer to another as ‘slaves’?
But that’s not the only instance.
Good God were some of my brown friends racist. My clique was a deliciously ethnically diverse bunch. But there was one Pakistani girl and one Indian girl who would butt heads all the freaking time. ‘Indians are X’ and ‘Pakistanis are Y’… both of them came from the superior country – it wasn’t a distinction on religion or culture – just which side of a particular land mass either was born in. And do you know what they constantly bickered about? Which one of them had lighter skin. Truth be told, they had an almost identical skin tone – as though someone used that colour-absorbing tool in MS Paint on one, to fill in the skin tone of the other.
This isn’t a trait reserved exclusively for brown minorities. Oh heeelllll no. I grew up around many refugees from former Yugoslavia. You want to talk about racist?
The Serbian girls bickered with the Bosnians who bickered with the Croatians. They held strong, independent identities and the discrimination here was based on religion. If you were from the region and were Orthodox, then you were Serbian – EVEN IF YOU WERE BORN IN BOSNIA. If you were born in Serbia but were Muslim? Too bad! You’re now Bosnian! The way that these girls looked down on each other was so bad that they would hide their ‘real’ cultural identity from each other and relate only on the basis of religion.
Oh, and the Asians. Goodness me. My Cambodian friend’s mother told her she could marry anyone who was Chinese or Vietnamese or Korean or Thai or Filipino – no Indians or Arabs, obviously. JUST WHITE MEN. My Asian friends’ parents always assumed that the brown kids and the Arab kids had parents who were drug-dealing-bomb-plotting gangstas, so they were never allowed to come over.
And yes. Ethnic people marriages are filled with racism! FILLED. It’s bad enough as it is being a Muslim woman on the hunt for Mister right ; you have about 1.3 people to chose from in the country. However, ethnic parents make it traumatic. Not only do they put restrictions on the country that your potential spouse comes from – they’ll narrow your choices down to a particular corner of a particular village for good measure. ‘A Shite?”The Punjabs’? ‘The Hazaras?’ ‘A South Indian?’ ‘A Kurd?’ HELL NO. But all the minority groups do it to each other! That’s the insane thing!
Still not convinced? Well, ethnic minorities and their racism gets more ridiculous. Most of these racists are migrants who make their way to Australia (or the Western world) through various means – student, work and humanitarian visas. They can come from horrible conflicts that displace hundreds of thousands of people. They have suffered a huge amount and are grateful for the respite they’ve been offered.
Too freaking bad that they don’t want others from their own countries to come here! That’s right, my friends. A large number of migrants from other countries also don’t want other migrants from their home country to come to Australia. They don’t want other migrants from other countries. A good friend of mine who came here by boat as a child once rambled about how people shouldn’t be ‘cutting in line’ and coming to Australia by boat.
Why am I writing this post? It’s not to give ammunition and power to
people like Trump old, racist white men. It’s to say ‘yes, we have a problem.’ Our generation has the power to wash ourselves of the racial tensions of our parents and their parents. We have the ability to mingle and mix with people of other cultures and learn more than any previous generation has been able to learn. We are able to see each other as individuals that don’t necessarily need to be representative of our cultures, while respecting that there might be some differences sometimes. There’s a beauty in that which needs to be appreciated instead of used to divide.
We have no excuse to be racist. So; when you see racism in your community, call it out. Point out how ridiculous it is to expect to be treated with respect when you’re not treating others with the same respect.
And angry, old, white men who are going to use this post to say ‘SEE. REVERSE RACISM IS A THING!’ NO. STOP. STAND DOWN. Here, let Aamer Rahman (@aamer_rahman) explain it to you:
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Interesting, thanks…..I’ve wondered about this before.
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It’s a very interesting thing, isn’t it!
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When I was a kid in Germany, we had some cousins from up North visit. We spent the entire time making fun of their accent and talking in such extreme Bavarian dialect that they couldn’t understand a word we said (but they knew we were saying mean things about them). Why did we feel we should do that? Just kids being silly? Or maybe the many adults making jokes about “Prussians” and how much they disliked everything about them? All of us everywhere need to get over this kind of attitude.
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I think all of our experiences will contribute to the understanding of the next generation. I have faith that they will be better!
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This is a much, much needed post! As a migrant living in Australia, and someone who has been exposed to a fair few cultures from “the inside”, it is incredibly frustrating to observe this kind of racism around myself!
Your post gave me a bit of hope that this can be overcome in the future 🙂
Oh… Irish. I’ve had more racism from Irish people than from anyone else, I think. And you know why? Because my mother’s eight-times-great-grandmother came from Ireland, so therefore I’m Irish. Except I’m not, and because I don’t consider myself Irish… I think it’s worse when they think you’re them and then find out you don’t. Unless you’re English, they hate the English more.
It’s odd for me because I look and sound like a white “Anglo-Celtic” “Australian”… except there’s no “Anglo” in my cultural identity and I was told from early childhood about the evil English and how they murdered us and forced us off the land and tried to ban our language and culture. That might be an exaggeration, but not much, and it’s only sort of true. The ridiculous thing? My culture – Scottish Gael. And in Australia, that’s just the same as English or Anglo-Australian. Like you’re saying… minorities are sometimes racist to other minorities most people haven’t even heard of and think are the same.
Oh, but then my clan is one of the disputed “turncoat” clans, so there’s no peace there, either. I’ll except the “-Celtic” part of the identity, though, so there’s something.