Here’s Some More Bigoted Crap That Went Down In Australia Today
Getting angry at a racist cafe owner is easy. Fighting entrenched racism is a lot harder.
Earlier today Junkee ran a story about a Darlinghurst coffee shop owner who refused to hire a barista because he was black. It got a huge reaction, and rightly so; that kind of racist bullshit doesn’t and shouldn’t wash in Australia anymore, and people have taken to social media to make that known in no uncertain terms.
Before we all start patting each other on the back, though, it bears noting that some people are responding to the coffee shop owner’s racism with some racism of their own, on the café’s Facebook page:
There’s a larger problem, too. That kind of old-school, overwhelmingly blatant racism is easy to identify, oppose and take action against, but the kind of bigotry that major news outlets, senior politicians and talking heads routinely engage in usually doesn’t get nearly as much backlash. The last twenty-four hours alone has seen some horrendous stuff go down, and chances are the people behind it will get off scot-free. If racism and bigotry concerns you, you’ve got more than some idiot in a coffee shop to worry about.
The Daily Telegraph, Lakemba And The Fear Of A Brown Suburb
In case you missed it, this double-page spread is gracing the inside of today’s edition of the Daily Telegraph:
‘Inside Sydney’s Muslim Land’. Today’s Daily Telegraph. No words #nswpol #auspol pic.twitter.com/oW8uVpZafS
— Bevan Shields (@bevanshields85) August 17, 2014
There’s an online version floating around on News Corp websites that I’m not going to link to because they don’t deserve the clicks, but it’s worth summarising what this “article” tries to do. Tele columnist Tim Blair, in an act of courage akin to the mass rescue of Allied soldiers at Dunkirk, somehow ventured out from the Tele‘s office in Surry Hills long enough to spend a night out in Lakemba in Sydney’s west. What he found will shock and horrify you; Lakemba has a lot of brown people in it.
“Lakemba may be only 30 minutes from the centre of Sydney, yet it is remarkably distinct from the rest of the city. You can walk the length of crowded Haldon St and not hear a single phrase in English. On this main shopping strip the ethnic mix seems similar to what you’d find in any Arabic city. Australia may be multicultural, but Haldon St is a monoculture.”
Let’s skim right over the fact that Lakemba is one of Australia’s most multicultural suburbs, that two-thirds of Lakembans are Australian citizens, or that almost half the population of the small suburb don’t practise Islam. To find all that out you’d need to consult the latest Census data, which would distract from your noble mission to paint a fairly ordinary part of suburban Sydney as an ISIS training camp.
To do that, Blair quotes from three extremist books in Haldon Street’s Islamic Bookstore, including passages saying that “women will go to hell” and claiming the “decent” Adolf Hitler never killed “in the manner of the Jews”. He concludes that the “level of ignorance and loathing” he’s found in Lakemba, mixed “with the Islamic community’s high rate of unemployment”, makes “conflict…inevitable”, and goes on to mention Mohamed Elomar, the Australian-born jihadist fighting with ISIS in Iraq who has become known for posing with severed heads.
In case it even needs to be said: extremism is bad. Books that encourage violence against women and Jews are bad, and cutting people’s heads off is bad. But it’s called “extremism” for a reason, in that the overwhelming majority of people stay the hell away from it. The vast majority of Christians are avoiding the upcoming Victorian conference thrown by the fundamentalist World Congress of Families, and the vast majority of Muslims react to the crazy shit in that bookshop by nodding and slowly backing away.
When we agree on that basic rule of existence, it becomes interesting to see how much scrutiny the Tele levels at one religious extremist with a book compared to, say, another religious extremist with a Senate seat. A major newspaper’s portrayal of the adherents of an entire religion will affect more people than one guy with a coffee shop’s treatment of his potential employees, just like how fundamentalist Christian “opinions” on abortion like those held by Eric Abetz — a senior government minister, and an attendee of the WCF conference — will probably cause far more damage than some nut’s opinion on women and Jews. Again, not that the guy with the coffee shop isn’t a racist, or that the guy who wrote in praise of Hitler isn’t a really nasty dude; the point is that it’s very easy to kick the little bigot, and even easier to ignore the big one.
This might be a lot to convey in a single article, which is presumably why the Tele just decided to go with some scary, scary pictures of shop signs written in Arabic and halal butchers instead.
Someone tell Tim Blair: I’ve found another enclave of ‘pervasive monoculture’ in Australia where men exclude women pic.twitter.com/NqF5t5RQfJ
— Michael Woodhead (@mpwoodhead) August 18, 2014
Australia’s New “Anti-Terror” Laws And Useful Racism
It’s interesting that the Tele can run a feature article vilifying an entire Sydney suburb and basically know it’ll face no real consequences, partly because it’s owned by a large and powerful media organisation, and partly because it spews this kind of garbage out so often people are used to it. Of course, the Tele can get away with this stuff a lot easier when the sitting Prime Minister is raising the spectre of an army of frothing young Muslim men to sell his government’s proposed anti-terrorism legislation at the same time.
On a completely unrelated topic, here’s Tony Abbott on national radio this morning telling people not to migrate to “this country” unless they’re on “Team Australia”, whatever the sweet gourmet fuck that’s supposed to mean.
The new laws, which were announced in the same press conference where the government backed off on changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, will broaden the definition of “terrorism” and ostensibly aim to discourage young Muslim men from travelling overseas to engage in “terrorist tourism”. Besides the fact that terrorism is already illegal and that the 150 or so young Australians the government claims are “of interest” are unlikely to be deterred by a law telling them they’ll go to jail or learning how to be a suicide bomber, according to peak Islamic bodies the new laws will unfairly target Australian Muslims even more than the junked changes to the RDA would have.
What the laws do pull off, though, is portraying Australia’s Muslim (read: brown) communities as overflowing with radicalised young men with AK-47s and pipe bombs, all itching to blow Australia to pieces — a stereotype nicely paired with the existing trope that all these young brown men are on bloody welfare by the government’s other announcement that it will stop those considered “a threat to national security” from getting welfare payments, because why wouldn’t you combine your bigotries to save time?
“Jihad bludgers” Look I come from magazines, but seriously how is that journalism? pic.twitter.com/ajweRcXAWZ
— Glen Fuller (@Eventmechanics) August 13, 2014
And that’s where the real difference between the little bigot and the big bigot becomes apparent: racism largely still exists because for lots of people, racism is useful. Racism sells newspapers, gives you something to shout about on talkback radio or distracts voters from the terrible things your government’s doing by pointing at a largely non-existent enemy and saying you’re the one who can make them go away.
So sure, get pissed off about some racist coffee shop owner who doesn’t like black people. But at least recognise that the bigotry it’s easier to ignore — in headlines, on the radio, in Parliament — is probably the kind that’s doing the most damage, and that fighting it will probably be a lot harder than avoiding a certain coffee shop.