Wednesday, 16 October 201
Back in the school playground, around 30 years ago, my best friend and I grew sick of being taunted around the school to slogans like “Ching Chong Chinaman didn’t know how”. We decided we’d get the Westerners back for all the “slanty-eyed” cracks by inventing one of our own: we’d call them “marble eyes”. My father even pitched into the reverse racism by suggesting the next time they call us something, we should call them “convict descendants”.
Thinking back, we were all wrong: two wrongs don’t make a right, and this is not a fight you win by becoming what you behold. Besides, Australians take immense pride in their convict history.
I’m only recalling this little anecdote from my childhood because of a story that hit the mainstream press today about supposed racism towards Asians. ‘Chinese Food‘ by Alison Gold has been variously called one of the most racist songs ever made. Fairfax’s Candice Chung labelled it “an ode to casual racism”.
I actually don’t think it’s particularly racist. It’s a woeful song, it demonstrates a breathtaking ignorance of any culture beyond America’s territorial borders, but I don’t see anything that ridicules or encourages others to put Asians at a disadvantage. I see a lot of symptoms of racism – for instance, confusing multiple races, foods and languages in the subtitles as though we’re all the same is a form of cultural homogenisation – but it is not itself racist. Also: shame on Patrice Wilson*.
But singing about how much you love Chinese food isn’t racist. It’s as though merely invoking a word that identifies a particular race or culture is an act of racism when, I would suggest, it’s a perfectly legitimate statement of fact. I mean, what would you prefer she say? “I like food”? What kind of food? Noodles? What kind of noodles? Singaporean? Ramen? Udon? No enthusiast would ever be so vague.
But I digress: racism isn’t just about these one-off slights that make people feel bad. Well, it’s a form of behaviour that should be discouraged; but the broader picture is that racism is informed by years and generations of continuing abuse, in which a dominant culture places a minority culture at a disadvantage. It’s one thing for a person from a dominant culture to say “this is racist and I understand”, but that empathy ceases the moment they wake up the next day or the next week, where they can retreat to the comfort of their dominant culture lifestyle.
That being said, the whole notion of “reverse racism” that’s occasionally thrown around by White Australians (and the question of whether my facial contortion is capable of being offensive) is completely absurd. A prominent ABC journalist once justified his racist stance against Asians because he was made fun of while he lived in Japan. I didn’t have the words to explain just how crazy that sounds, but I guess it doesn’t matter anymore, and it’s too late.
But this is why Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s proposal to revise our history books is so provocative: Australia’s Aborigines stand to lose the most if the devastation of their culture by the First Settlers isn’t properly remembered.
*I had originally described Patrice as an African American, but was informed that he is in fact Nigerian. Apologies for any confusion.