Humiliate, Reduce, Destroy - Everyday Racism in Australia
The white guy in the high-vis vest yelled at me in an inane faux-Indian accent. I didn't hear what he said so I stood awkwardly in the bottle shop, uncertain about how to act. I skirted around the margins of my fears. High-vis swaggered closer and yelled at me in the stupid accent again. The air was electric and his mate sniggered with approval. In 2017, racism is funny in Australia.
When I left Toronto to study in Australia, Appa told me not to go. Hadn’t I seen the news? Didn’t I know Australia wasn’t safe for people like us? Nitin Garg had just been fatally stabbed in Melbourne days before. Naively, I brushed aside Appa's worries. I told him the headlines were exaggerated, that it was an isolated incident and the violence wasn't race-related.
As I stood in that bottle shop, I thought of the way I had defended Australia to Appa. I wondered what had provoked the manifestation of aggression towards me this time. Was it a joke? Was I expected to laugh? Did this happen to Nitin Garg before he was stabbed? It's exhausting trying to believe the best in someone who doesn't think you should be in their country.
“He doesn’t want to talk to us…” shouted High-vis in the accent as he pushed his mouth into my ear. His friend continued to laugh.
The older white man behind the counter was deafeningly silent.
I paid for my cheap vodka and bolted out of the shop, trying to move on from the humiliation of what had just occurred, being reminded of where I belonged in the social order of modern day Australia.
Later that evening my friends and I were drinking at my place. A familiar loud voice, stripped of its minstrel stereotype, echoed from the kitchen. It was High-vis, standing in my kitchen with my housemate and his friends. As I walked in, a look of recognition dawned on High-vis' face. I left the kitchen before he could heckle me again in another hilarious accent. My friends looked at me in confusion and asked if I knew High-vis. I could not bring myself to explain my reaction. I had already been forced to deal with him once. Why did I have to do it again? I was humiliated, and realised I could not avoid racism in this country. I could not even escape it in my own house.
Since I have come to Australia, I have felt this humiliation regularly. I am humiliated every time news of Australia’s everyday racism and bigotry makes headlines overseas and I have to explain to Appa why a 29 year-old Sikh man was set on fire, or why four young hijab wearing Muslim women were punched outside of a university in Sydney. I find myself excusing this bigotry to ease Appa's worries. I repeatedly tell him these are isolated incidents, but now I don't believe my own words.
Immigrants in Australia are targeted even though they sacrifice everything in their lives to contribute here. They are regularly humiliated, reduced, and destroyed.
I have spent 6 years of my life watching my parents grow old over Facetime. I have rebuilt my life in Australia. I went to law school here, started my own business here, and now work here as a lawyer. I love triple j and Byron Bay. I bought into the expectations of the dominant Australian culture and did everything I could to meet them.
Yet in the end, my contributions, and the contributions of immigrants like me, have meant nothing to Australians. 1.5 million Australian adults believe that some races are inferior or superior to others. Further, research conducted by the Western Sydney University found that 1 in 3 Australians have negative feelings towards Muslim Australians. Over 48% of Australians believed that people from racial, ethnic, cultural and religious minorities should behave more like mainstream Australians.
I now find myself sitting at my laptop in Surry Hills, looking at the Australian Values Statement on the immigration website that says ‘Australian society values respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion, compassion for those in need, equal opportunity for individuals, regardless of their race, religion or ethnic background.’ However, as a result of Malcolm Turnbull’s recent immigration reforms, I am no longer eligible to apply for citizenship.
I am reduced to my skin colour and race - another boat person, a product to be traded and vetted, a leech on Australian society. I am rarely seen as a valuable thinker or a potential politician or someone who can contribute to the progression of Australian society. I am not afforded the privilege of being a complex, whole, human being. Malcolm Turnbull’s call for all immigrants to become patriots perpetuates this perception. Immigrants are incapable of loving this country without emulating every aspect of some monolithic Australian way of life - that immigrants critiquing this country are ungrateful and should go back to where they came from.
In this “successful” multicultural society, I am reminded that I do not belong when posters of people that look like me are depicted as monsters with racist slurs and disparaging descriptions. When the carcass of a rotting pig is left at the footsteps of an Islamic primary school, emblazoned with swastikas. I am reminded that I do not belong when the murder of brown and black bodies is excused as a simple over reaction, when I am called an immigrant, a faggot, a curry. Australians are rarely held accountable, and no matter what I do, how successful I am, what friends I make, I find my hope in the Australian people dying in the otherisation of my body and my skin. Appa was right. I cannot belong here.