By Sandy Ghandi January 23, 2012
Last week revered neurosurgeon Charlie Teo commented about racism being alive and well in Australia.
His Aussie-born and Chinese-featured daughter told him about being on Bondi beach during an Australia Day celebration when someone told her: “Go back to your own country”.
He later discovered an Indian colleague of his had been spat on for being black.
I can relate to both events because both have happened to me.
I migrated here from Bangalore as a 12-year-old in the 70s and, despite a list of prejudiced and race-related atrocities, many fabulous things have also happened.
I am now an Australian citizen. This is my home.
Jessica Rowe’s insightful piece posted on The Hoopla, I’m not a racist, but… reminded me of a couple of tongue-in-cheek columns I wrote for the Byron Bay newspaper, The Northern Star, about racism in sport and what prompted me to write them.
One sunny day in downtown Byron Bay in early 2008, for no apparent reason, a bunch of white blokes drove past me and yelled out, “Fucking Indian monkey! Fuck off back to your own country!” and then the gutless wonders sped off.
Turns out there was a reason. There had been reports of racist incidents on the cricket pitch, involving players from both teams of the India/Australia cricket match the day before.
I’m no sports-person, and although I’m Indian by birth and origin, I’m not a cricket enthusiast. (I do eat a lot of bananas but surely that doesn’t make me a monkey and, as an Aussie, I’m in my own country, so what?)
Initially I was shocked and hurt, but relieved this had happened in broad daylight around other people, rather than meeting these guys in the dark somewhere on my own.
Then I was pissed off. So I went home, researched the “monkey incidents” and wrote a piece at the time called “Cameras don’t lie, reporters do!”
I had a bit of fun with “The Bowled and the Beautifool, starring Andrew Symonds and Harbhajan Singh”. It was published in the Northern Star.
Some two years later, racist attacks on Indian students were in the news.
It was my opinion, that the on-field argy bargy, and the subsequent shock-jock style media reporting that ensued, only served to incite racism and was instrumental in the racist attacks on Indian students that followed.
So in 2010, I wrote:
Racism – beat up or take-away?
Have we got racists? Of course we’ve got racists, in several colours, like most countries. They are an ignorant, fearful minority, often found in groups of sports-crazed, violent yobbos – when on their own, they’re gutless wonders.
There’s also the closet-racist Caucasian, who secretly thinks Caucasians are superior to Asians, or other coloured skins – these are the ‘but’ people, who say ‘I’m not a racist, but…’. Perhaps they should be called the ‘butt’ people.
If we are to enlighten our racists, we have to own them, but our pollies are in denial of their existence and some media and sporting outfits often nourish them, making it a difficult task.
Maybe we should start a sort of RA – Racist Anonymous. Racists can clandestinely attend RA meetings to admit their prejudices amongst like-minded ignoramuses, with the idea of curing themselves of their race-phobia.
Actually, let’s just kill them… with kindness. Provide some multi-coloured refugees to give them a hug and a kiss, and an Indian take-away… student, that is!”
The reply from the newsdesk was probably predictable, although I didn’t see it coming. After all, I had been submitting my weekly column to the Northern Star for four years, receiving the the stellar payment of $50 (raised from $30 after some agitation).
The email came from the then acting editor and he said, in part: “I know you are trying to push the envelope and be feisty but I think in trying to do that you sometimes confuse the point you are trying to make.”
“Like it or not, we are a family newspaper (the demographic is 40-65, mainly professional people working in Lismore, Casino and Ballina). That’s a fairly conservative audience so swear words are not going to go down too well.
“… thank you for your input to the Star, but we won’t be reconsidering the decision (to cease your column), nor will we be asking readers what they think. If we do cop some backlash and get some letters to the editor, we’ll run these in the appropriate place.”
I offered to “tweak” my words. (Surely they’d get the Shane Warne reference?)
But after an almost four-year association, the acting editor saw me off with a three-line email, one of which read: “Just to confirm that we no longer require your column for the Northern Star.”
In this ever-increasing multicultural nation in which we live, that includes mixed-race marriages producing more mixed-race offspring, sometimes it’s hard to define racism.
One theory is: “When you have a derogatory attitude to certain people based on their cultural or ethnic background, that’s prejudice. When you express your prejudice through bad words or actions, that’s racism.”
Like many other “isms” that come from bullying, to me racism is bullying with ethnic undertones.
As nasty, distasteful and scary as it is, I find it laughable – possibly one of the reasons why I took to stand-up comedy and satire and prefer to see the lighter side of the darker things in life. No racism intended!
*Sandy Gandhi of Byron Bay, is Australia’s most “Easterly Indian”. From Bangalore to Bangalow, her verbal jousting has endeared her to stand-up comedy audiences in Byron and beyond, including a recent successful stint in India. She launched her first book at the 2008 Byron Bay Writers Festival. Called Enlighten Up – a literary titterary, it’s a collection of some her columns and other musings, and photos.
Sandy is much in demand for corporate performances and is a regular on the comedy circuit in Northern NSW and beyond. You can get all her news at http://sandygandhi.com.au/. Namaste!!