I’ve been feeling quite ashamed of being an Australian lately – especially when I watch documentaries by Simon Reeves and other TV presenters that discuss our country’s past and present treatment of indigenous Australians and refugees.
For a country that prides itself on its melting pot past and multi-cultural diversity, many of our current policies and attitudes display a serious lack of sensitivity and vision.
A few weeks ago, I briefly discussed some of the negative impacts of racism on the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities in my post about our Aussie dialect (Strine Part 3 – here).
However, I hadn’t realised until recently that racism and the active exclusion of certain ethnic groups may have contributed to economic decline in the 1890s and the early decades of Federation. And again in the late 1980s.
Just as Australia’s economic protectionist policies were designed to keep out foreign goods, the White Australia Policy kept out ‘undesirable’ foreigners and significantly limited the extent to which some resident ethnic groups could contribute to our productivity (as discussed in my post about Australia’s sugar slaves – here).
While some may dispute the relationship, large waves of immigration in the second half of the 19th and 20th centuries have clearly corresponded with periods of strong economic growth and success in Australia.
So is Australia repeating history again by strengthening policies that lead to a less welcoming society and so carefully controlling the intake of migrants from certain countries?
Have we underestimated the impact that racism has on our nation?
And to what extent are the media responsible because of the way they portray these issues?
On the surface at least, we appear to have made some improvements in terms of inclusive language.
For example, if you hear an Australian saying that they ‘picked up a wog’, they probably mean they are ‘crook’ (sick) and have been infected by some sort of ‘bug’ (illness).
Or they might just be ‘chucking a sickie’ (taking a day off work without actually being sick).
(See here for more about the origins of the word ‘wog’ in terms of bugs and illness.)
Whereas, in the past, the person was more likely to have been telling their mates that they met someone of Mediterranean descent at a bar and took them home for the night.
It’s reassuring that the term ‘wog’ is rarely used in Australia nowadays as a derogatory term.
And interesting that the term has been appropriated by the subjects themselves in comedy shows such as ‘Wogs out of Work‘, ‘Acropolis Now‘ & ‘Greece is the Word‘. Or that it may be used as an adjective to describe over-the-top ‘gaudy’ architecture and furniture or a hotted up car.
As far as I am aware, this term’s close cousin ‘dago’ is even less common and survives primarily in old films such as ‘They’re a weird mob‘ (1966). (Or do I just lead a very sheltered life?)
(Check out this 3 minute clip from the film – here. If you find it offensive, make sure you watch to the end.)
It’s no coincidence that the classic racist sentiment expressed in the ‘Weird mob‘ video clip ‘Why don’t you go back to your own bloody country?’ was adapted for the title of a recent Australian TV series ‘Go back to where you came from‘. (Trailer – here)
Programs like these suggest that discrimination against people from non-English speaking backgrounds is widespread and that racism is alive and well in Australia.
Unfortunately, only the countries and regions from whence the migrants come have changed over the years.
Even our attempts at ‘politically correct’ language may be thinly disguised racial slurs and constitute more subtle or sophisticated ways to perpetuate unflattering and insulting stereotypes.
If only racism could be avoided or eradicated with hand washing, disinfectant and antibiotics – like the bacteria that cause wogs.
Or might this simply create a new breed of super-racists?
- ‘Immigrants and the economy are inextricably linked in the story of Australia‘ by Alex West. Published at Sydney Morning Herald Online on 9 April 2015 (This article was a response to criticism about the 3-part ‘Making Australia Great: Inside Our Longest Boom’ series that screened on SBS in March 2015.)
- ‘Wog‘. Report by Bruce Moore at Lingua Franca. Presented by Maria Zijlstra at ABC Radio National on 15 May 2010
- Sick man lying in bed suffering cold and winter flu virus having medicine and tablets ID 49038199 © Ocusfocus | Dreamstime.com