Postcard from Australia: Parks, recreation and racism

Major-parks-Hyde-ParkFor me, there is no greater symbol of Australian tolerance and acceptance of multiculturalism than park life.

Not the song by Blur, but what goes in a park in Sydney or Melbourne (or Brisbane or Perth I am sure) on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

If you don’t spend much time in parks, I urge you to visit now that spring is in the air and the days are warming up and the skies are a deeper shade of blue.

Here you’ll find people of all colours, creeds and sexual and socio-economic persuasion eating, playing, laughing, drinking and cooking side-by-side in seemingly perfect harmony.

You’ll see Asian families with their massive plastic Tupperware containers of marinated chicken wings and rice eating under gazebos, traditional Muslim families sitting on rugs having picnics and pasty white folk riding their bikes, throwing the frisbee, walking dogs or just enjoying a good book on the lawn. The children’s playground will be a similar multi-coloured, multi denominational kaleidoscope filled with laughing, screaming happy kids having fun without a bother in the world.

I see scenes like this every time we go to the park, without fail. It’s positive reinforcement that Australians are decent at heart, kind, tolerant and accepting, fitting in with the global stereotype: the happy-go-lucky, easy-going laughable larrikin Aussie.

Parks are where I find myself, someone who does not usually engage with strangers, striking up conversations with parents of all backgrounds, while my daughter swings or hurtles down slides. Last week it was a guy, Rudy from Santiago, Chile, who has lived in a Australia for more than a decade, is an Australian citizen, making the move here for a better life. A couple of weeks ago it was a Greek grandfather “pappou” as his grandkids called him, with whom I discussed the economic collapse in the country of his birth.

It’s hard to correlate this multicultural idyll with some of the racist vitriol that is so very present in so many other aspects of Australian life and which reinforces another widely held stereotype, that Australians are racist bastards who call Italians “wogs”, Aborigines “Abos” and who want to send Muslims “back to where they came from”.

But yet, we live in such a dichotomy, one that is particularly pronounced under the most conservative government in the country’s modern history.

Last weekend’s Border Force crackdown Melbourne where there were plans for the new militarised goon squad in their sinister Stasi-like black uniforms to target suspected visa dodgers before a public protest led to its hasty cancellation only rammed home the message of racial vilification because after all, as a colleague of mine highlighted, they were unlikely to ask a pasty white guy like me (a permanent resident, but a foreigner none the less) for proof of my residency.

Adam-Goodes

Adam Goodes being booed

Add to this the thousands of mainly Muslim asylum seekers, deemed “illegal” by the government, locked up, abused and forgotten in offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru, the many Reclaim Australia and even more sinister United Patriotic Front rallies – skinheads disguised as “concerned citizens” and the recent targeted booing of aboriginal AFL player Adam Goodes and its hard not to stereotype Australia as a hotbed of white-trash yobbos parading in those blue Australian flag singlets on Australia Day.

Most recently, a gang of racists disguised as concerned citizens protested at a property auction, because of the prevalence of Asian buyers in the overheated real estate market (even though research shows its local cashed up mum and dad investors that are driving up prices)

As someone who lived in apartheid-era South Africa, I am acutely aware of racism in its many forms, overt and subtle, as a Jew, I have experienced the occasional anti-semitic episode.

But it seems to be as though racism is too easily brushed under the carpet here. Racist remarks by well-known public figures like Dawn Fraser, Eddie Maguire, Darren Lehman and others are quickly forgotten after the most facile of apologies. There are no repercussions for the right-wing columnists like Andrew Bolt who regularly degrade minorities, while the government through its stoking of the paranoia of fear about Muslim extremists (when the greatest dangers appear to be domestic in nature), is doing nothing, but helping prejudice, bigotry and intolerance fester.

The remedy of course, is to forget all about this and take off to the park on a sunny spring day, breath in the air, feed the ducks and enjoy the multi-cultural ambience. Perhaps even strike up a conversation with a Muslim father playing with his kids, an African women walking her poodle or a tanned Spaniard practicing his English.

Think of it as anti-racism therapy 101. It’s good for the soul. It may also renew your faith in Australia.

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Twitter’s anonymous racist underbelly is a parody account.

********Spoiler alert: @ozprotectionistparty is a parody**************

If you ever want to pick up the mood among Australia’s racist underbelly,  then Twitter is a great place to start.

Some of the vilest guff comes out the mouths of anonymous twitter accounts, racist cowards not brave enough to sign their name to their bile.

Take for example I wrongly picked this fella:

ozprotectpartyI recently came across his account as part of a Twitter war involving Wendy Bacon, an academic and journalist ( , Sharri Markson, media editor of The Australian () and News Corp ultra conservative columnist Miranda Devine ().

It was a classic lefty journalist criticising a News Corp editor, which descended into a slanging match.

The fuse seems to have been lit by Wendy Bacon. She tweeted in response to an article by Sharri Markson about how journalists that tweeted their own opinions (examples included Bacon herself, Crikey star writer Bernard Keane, former Channel Ten broadcaster Paul Bongiorno and journalist and blogger Margo Kingston) were putting journalism at risk.

sharri
It was a provocative tweet no doubt – Bacon was clearly incensed that her opinions had been cast as a threat to journalism.

Miranda Devine leapt to Sharri Markson’s defence in typical fashion:

devineAnd then it all erupted as you can see with all the retweets and favourites.

I won’t go into all the comments – it was essentially a slanging match between ultra-conservative tweeters and left-leaning thinkers.

Amongst it all,  @ozProtectionistParty caught my eye with this bogan-esque comment:

ozprotect1Then I read through OzProtectionistParty’s Twitter feed. These are just a few highlights:

On refugees:

ozprotect2Homosexuals and same-sex marriage (SSM):

ozprotect3
Women:

ozprotect4Renewable energy

ozprotect5
And so it goes on…

The twitter account is a  parody – which I understand to be that he is actually mocking the right wing/racist elements in Australian society.

Otherwise and were it not for the spelling mistakes, it seemed would be an almost perfect synthesis of all the worst right-wing stereotypes – refugees are illegal queue jumpers, feminists are power-hungry bitches, students are bludgers – cloaked behind an anonymous Twitter handle.

Ten years ago, this fellow – were he real – would be spewing this stuff down at the pub with his mates rather than on the public forum that is Twitter.

There’s thousand of REAL PEOPLE out there who are not a parody like this account, barometers of what’s lurking beneath the surface of people you might stand next to on the train on the way into work or who are in front of you in the queue at Hungry Jacks.

Eager funnels for every right wing ideology and stereotype that comes out of the mouths of white/male/conservative/bigots.

Just hope you don’t bump into one of these REAL PEOPLE on a bus or train:

The jew at the table: reflections on racism and growing up Jewish in South Africa

“Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition…our chief weapon is…surprise.”

So begins the famous Monty Python sketch heralded by the arrival of evil clergy in red robes.

nobodyexpects

Well I wasn’t wearing a red robe or any identifying markings at a recent business lunch when as discussion turned to who would pay the bill, someone remarked:

“I’ll be the Jew and leave” – or words to that effect, before they got up to go.

A general snickering followed. Someone remarked flippantly that you should be careful what you say – you never know who may be around – and it was quickly forgotten.

No one knew there was a Jew at the table.

Me.

I never said anything, nor did I regard the person who said it with any particular malice. But I was a bit taken aback. It made me feel uncomfortable; I felt inclined to say something but also reluctant to make a fuss.

Others I know would have had no indecision. They would be proclaiming their Jewishness loudly and demanding an apology accompanied by accusations of anti-Semitism.

Did the person who made this remark hold some deeply felt hatred towards the jewish race or religion, or was it just like the time I remarked, flippantly, to an ex-girlfriend of mine who was half Asian that the kitchen of the digs I shared with friends in London “resembled a Chinese laundry”.

(I also recall that she distinctly did not like the South African colloquialism “china” used in the same way Australians say “mate”).

Anyway, as the words came out my mouth, I realised what I’d said, but it was too late. An uncomfortable moment followed as I apologised profusely.

And wouldn’t this person sitting across from me at lunch, who suggested “he be the Jew” have acted similarly had he known I was Jewish.

My gut feel, is yes.

And does he harbour some ill-will towards Jews. Probably…

Would he suddenly dislike me if he found out I was Jewish – probably not.

The truth is everyone has made a remark like this at some point in their lives -and it’s hard to think of anyone I know who does not hold some kind of prejudice or quasi-prejudice against some other race, religion, sexual orientation or political belief system.

At the same time, it strikes me that my Jewish brethren appear the most sensitive of all races, colours and creeds to offensive remarks, no matter how harmless or slip of the tongue they may be.

Years of persecution – the pogroms, the holocaust, indeed the Spanish Inquisition – will often be the explanation for such an acute sensitivity.

My own experience growing up in South Africa is of a deeply racist Jewish community, with the racism passed down through the generations as it is every where else.

Words learnt and bandied around Jewish social gatherings (white people only apart from the black domestics serving food or minding the children) included the horrible sounding “schvarzte” and “shoch” meaning a “black” person and “chatis” for an Afrikaner.

These words were used regularly at dinners, family gatherings, teas and barbeques – often in earshot of the African domestic clearing away plates or bringing food to the table.

Sadly they were often spoken by those who had fled pogroms or persecution or were the children of those who had. We as kids would play cricket in the garden, while the adults (BMW or Mercedes parked down the driveway) would chat away about their privileged lives: trips overseas, new restaurants opening, community gossip. As you got older, you’d join the adults and hear the conversations, where “shochs, schvartzes and chatises” were mentioned all too frequently.

Paradoxically, these same people would often stick their heads into the kitchen to say hi to the African domestic washing the dishes, to ask about their children or their health.

But it was always in the realm of the ‘master and servant relationship’:

“How are you today Sophie?”

“I am well thank-you master.”

“How are your children?”

“They are well thank you master.”

So what’s happened to these people who I remember with their expensive cars, who would sit around discussing the cricket or rugby with the odd racist remark thrown in from time to time?

Many of them have packed up and moved to Australia. They’re living on the best streets of Bondi, Vaucluse, St Ives, Toorak, Caufield, Bentleigh and Dianella. Some – would you believe it – have even brought their domestics along to do the dishes.

Few have dropped their prejudices and most will happily tell you South Africa has “gone to the dogs since the blacks took over”.

It reminds me of something someone very dear to me (but with horribly dated ideas) once said to me a long time ago:

“I don’t believe in apartheid. But really, you can’t put the blacks in charge.”