Observant little ...

I don't understand the answer, but I may have some ideas on the question...

Racism and religion (and some less controversial subjects)

I've had a bunch of links sitting there for a while now, just waiting for me to do something about them. So I thought, today is the day, and here they are.


I used to work on the same floor as one of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups. Chatting to the staff in the lunch room or in the lift, you find out stuff. I've had friends who were of aboriginal or TSI ancestry and dated a couple of these friends when I was younger. While the majority of my friends are certainly middle-class white caucasians, I've always had friends that don't fit into that category. But they've always been very similar to me in attitude, dress and speech. I have never been friends with someone who is dramatically different to me. So does this make me racist?

My parents love to tell the tale of Michella, a girl I knew in primary school. I told them everything about her, from her favourite colour to what she ate and where she'd lived before. The only thing I had never mentioned was the colour of her skin. So it was a bit of a shock to them when they met her and discovered that she was "as black as the ace of spades". She was born in Africa and had been adopted at an early age. The thing was, it had never occured to me to comment on it.

Now that I'm older, I'm more likely to notice the differences. Sometimes I find these interesting - I certainly remember quizzing the first Jewish person I met because I was fascinated by his religion and the dietary requirements. I don't think anyone who is a different colour or religion from me is any better or worse than me, but they are different. I'm more likely to ask someone who looks Asian or Middle Eastern or African where they come from (ie about their ancestry) than I would a caucasian like me. So does this make me racist?

Anyway, the reason why I'm going into all of this is because, when I was overseas, I found that there is this perception that Australia is racist because of it's general attitude to refugees and the Aboriginal people (the Torres Strait Islanders were usually conveniently forgotten). My attitudes to refugees are a bit complicated and can't be summed up in one blog post (however this site has a good introduction to the issues). But my attitude to the problems faced by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is not that dissimilar to that expressed by Sue Gordon, who will be heading up the new National Indigenous Council. I don't think that an apology to the stolen generation will change a thing. Family violence, under-education and poor employment prospects, alcohol abuse and poor health - these are all issues which should be addressed and may make a difference to the lives of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

But all of the problems seem to come down to one thing, and this seems to be the same problem with indigenous people in any developed nation - a lack of self-esteem and pride in their ancestry. It's the message that came out of the Once Were Warriors movie for me. Unfortunately, you can't fix this by throwing money at it - it requires understanding and respect of the various Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures - so it's not going to be resolved by standard methods, but is something that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people themselves have to work on. I believe that Mabo did a lot for the Murray Islanders, but didn't do much for the others.

Anyway, ages ago, I found two links of opposing views, both of which seem to be written by non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, both of which are fairly moderate, and both of which I agree with to some extent. This one is anti-apology. And this one is pro-apology. I think they put some of the best arguments for each side in a non-radical manner.


Some comments by a guy called Jack on Rufus' blog got me looking for info on religion in Australia. I know from comments I've read over many years that Australia is a far more secular society than say America, but my experiences and views have always been a little tainted by the fact that (a) both of my parents are atheists who don't believe in any form of life after death; and (b) I attended schools with a religious affiliation for the latter half of my school career.

But I do remember reading the statistics that, while maybe 3/4 of Australians list themselves on the census as being Christian, less than 1/2 of those would consider themselves practising Christians (these statistics (or see this site for graphic representations) are slightly different, but in the same vein - I couldn't find the results I had read before). For example, I know many people who, if asked their religion, would say "Anglican" (or whatever), but only because they were christened anglican - they haven't attended a church outside of weddings and funerals in the last 10+ years. So I've actually attended church more often than they have - I like cathedrals and went to a couple of services when I was overseas. And I usually go to something over Christmas because I like the decorations and the choir singing Christmas carols. For me, it has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with an appreciation of beauty.

My own views on spirituality is a bit of a mish-mash. Most teenagers go through a period when they rebel against their parents by rebelling against their parents' religion. I sort of did the same thing, but I rebelled against my parents' non-religion. I investigated just about every religion I had ever heard about. Unlike many Christians, I've read the bible - cover to cover. About the only non-cult religion I didn't try was Scientology, but only because there wasn't much information on it at the time. I didn't join churches - I was always one to make up my own mind about something before I sought company in my views - but I read everything I could get my hands on about each religion I investigated.

So I started out an agnostic and ended up an atheist who believes in spirituality and life after death. My beliefs are probably closest to basic Buddhism than anything else. I like the Zen emphasis on personal experience, but not the whole master disciple part. I like the Tibetan emphasis on compassion for others, but not the whole ritual and worship part. I like the idea of balance - the recognition that people will do bad things, but you can balance the bad things you do by doing equal or greater good things.

Bed bugs

I've blogged before about the bites I got in Melbourne, which I suspect were bed bug bites because I've been bitten before (in Paris) and discovered then that I'm allergic to them. But I had thought that bed bugs weren't a problem in Australia... turns out, there's been a resurgence of them in both Australia and America.

Makes the idea of further travel less enjoyable. I really don't want to go through the health problems of Paris/Melbourne again and the only other option would be to take anti-histamines the whole time so that, if I'm bitten, at least I won't react.

Music knowledge test

Despite this test being UK based, I actually scored remarkably well. I guess this just proves that I'm a music geek.

I think like a girl

Yep, I took the test and I don't just look like a girl, I also think like one. I actually found this quite surprising, since I usually score very highly on logic and numerical tests (including the ability to see things in three dimensions). But I only got one question wrong (the find this shape one - I ran out of time), so maybe that's what gave me a "you think like a girl" sort of response.

100 Law Students You Don't Want To Be

This is an old post on Jeremy's Weblog.

Is it a worry that I think I would have fit into about 20 of the 100 descriptions at some stage during the completion of my degree? Bonus points to anyone who can guess which ones. Hint: none of the laptop ones apply since no-one had a laptop when I was at uni.

Listening to: Ben Folds Five - self titled


Blogger verbs said...

It's hard to make a comment on such an extensive post. Regarding race issues...my best friend lives in Africa and also is as black as the Ace of Spades. His sense of identity surpasses anything I, or any of my Australian friends, could ever know. It's fascinating, and one thing about being bitsa Australian (which many of us are)is we lack that sense of identity.

8:53 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is difficult to post on the race issues - I am half Malaysian (through my mother) yet we are third generation Australian so I find it a little strange when people ask me where I come from. I usually say I am of Malaysian descent. With the Indigenous issue - I think that it will be quite a few more generations before any advancements are made with regard to their own sense of identity - I can only say it is quite complex.

Re: religion. I think I am agnostic - my mother had me christened Anglican (in keeping with my father's religion) though my mother who was until a born again Muslim - though recently lapsed after she decided she wanted to be cremated - whereupon she started back into pork to the extent that she even bought packets of pork crackling - like me - All or nothing! I am having religious issues with my son Elliot nearly 6. He talks about God to me as I made him to religious instruction at school even though he didn't want to. I try to couch our discussions in terms of "Some people believe this or some people believe that" and that choosing to believe is largely about "faith" tell me how to explain that to a 6 year old please! We talked about going to church and I told him I would be happy to take him last Sunday (I was going to take him to the Uniting Church - then maybe some others) but he backed out. I have made him aware that while his father and I don't attend I would be more than happy to take him if he so desired. I really don't know if I am doing the right or wrong thing - should I take him anyway??

8:37 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

P.S. Last comment - from Lushlife

8:54 am  
Blogger OLS said...

verbs - yep, get all of my controversial issues out there in one hit! That's the way I like it! ;o)

Lushlife - although both of my parents were atheist, I went to the Anglican church with Grandma and the Catholic church with one of my aunts from when I was 2 until when I was about 6 and decided I didn't want to go anymore. I have never been to church with my parents outside of weddings and funerals. I think this was a good way to go as I was attending church with people who believed in it and were part of the church community, so I got a more rounded idea of what church was all about. Do you have any friends who are religious and would take Elliot with them?

Or if he is just curious about religion in general, there used to be this great picture book for kids about the different religions. I think it's by an English author. I can't remember what it's called though. I'll do a quick search and see if I can find it and will post the name of it on your blog if I find it. I can remember the kids of some family friends having it about 5 years ago, so I would assume it's still around. Anyway, maybe that would at least answer some of his questions?

And re ancestry/race - does it bother you when people ask where you're from? I guess this is part of the question I'm asking. Most of my friends are used to it I think. They know I'm just intensely curious about anything that is different to my own experience. But I'm worried about how a stranger would see my curiosity.


9:42 am  
Blogger sarni said...

I think it depends on how you've asked... I had experiences where the first thing a person says to me is "what are you?" - they don't mean to be rude, but it's lucky for them that I'm not easily offended. And no, it wasn't an isolated occurrence either. Usually, I say Australian... then they say, "no, where are you from" and I say "[my suburb]". :-D

Personally, if I want to know, I ask what ethnic background someone is from - I think that curiosity is good as long as it's done politely.

I think Australians tend to believe in the separation between church and state to a larger degree than Americans do - see the criticism when Abbott came out recently talking about abortion from his perspective as a Catholic.

11:37 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My experiences are exactly like Sarni - most the time whenever I get asked where I am from or "What are you" (which personally I find a litte insulting - I prefer to think of myself as a woman with exotic looks not a different species!.) Depending on my mood and my perception of the person that is asking the question I will choose to indulge them or reply "Oh I am originally from Caloundra but I moved to Brisbane to study" I guess the best way to ask me - because its obvious to all that I am no Anglo Australian be straightforward and polite. Which if I were asking someone else is "Do you mind if I ask what your background is - are your parents Asian or Maori or Indian descent. Take a stab at the background even. I don't think it is racist question just curious God knows I get curious about people like me too.

1:01 pm  
Blogger Lushlife said...

P.S. Lushlife last comment. I have to not be so lazy and sign in.

1:03 pm  
Blogger OLS said...

Yeah, I see where you're coming from. With most asian-looking people, I will take a stab at it now - in the last 5 or 10 years, I've become a lot better at telling Chinese from Japanase from Vietnamese and so on. Though I admit it's mostly language and dress. But with (for eg) African or Islander communities I would seriously have no idea and wouldn't even be able to hazard a guess.

I've always shied away from guessing in the past - I know a couple of siblings who are half Indian/half Caucasian (Irish descent) and they look middle eastern/arabic. Even people who are middle eastern think they look middle eastern/arabic. So I guess you can never really tell.

From what you've been saying, I'm guessing I am often a bit offensive in how I ask, though I don't think I've ever said "what are you?" to someone! And I think I usually preface with "if you don't mind me asking...".

I don't know - do you remember how I raised it with you sarni?

It's good to get both of your perspectives on this though.


1:23 pm  
Blogger sarni said...

Generally, the people who ask me 'what are you?' are quite elderly and pretty much all men - and once I stop playing and tell them I'm Chinese, they often follow up with a comment like "oh, I once knew a Chinese guy from Beijing..."

But they aren't the racists - the racists are people who would never even mention your ethnicity, but are just plain rude.

11:26 am  
Blogger twistedbrick said...

I'm an ABC (Australian Born Chinese). I've always socialized with different mixes of people since pre-school! When I was in grade 3 or 4 there were a few more Asians in my class than usual, who happened to be fearful of socializing with non-Asians. During one lunch break the group of Asians forced me to align myself with the "Australians" or the "Asians", and taunted at the caucasians that the Asians were superior. Basically, racism goes both ways. It frustrates me to this day that some Asians prefer to exclusivesly socialize with only Asians, even though they have spent most of their lives here and speak with an Aussie accent. However, I do realize as well that most people do tend to associate with people of the same race because it is in their comfort zone or because the places that they go to have predominately a particular race (e.g. Asian nightclubs vs. Aussie pubs). In my opinion, you are not racist as long as you don't consciously select your friends based upon what race they are. It is understandable that your non-caucasian friends have similar characteristics to you because why else would be friends? A racist is someone who, for example, meets a lady from the Middle East who wears a head scarf and does not know Ben Lee from Ben Kweller, and despite these obvious differences they get along. When the Middle Eastern woman invites that person for dinner, that person declines thinking in the back of their mind that there is no point in having a friendship because they have little in common. However, what that person fails to realize is that the friendship could be based upon learning about one another's culture rather than sharing similar interests. Went a bit off tangent there, but I hope you understand my point.

3:44 am  

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