Tuesday, 20 Mar 12
In addition there were the following contributors
Dr Eugene Ng (radiologist)
Professor Doug Kendrick (evolutionary psychologist)
Carla McGrath ( National Centre of Indigenous Excellence (NCIE) )
Professor Andrew Jakubowicz (sociologist)
Mecca Laalaa (Community Development Officer and former lifesaver)
Toby Ralph (marketing and PR)
oh and Nick Folkes was there…
Earlier this evening Insight put our audience to the test on their subconscious racial attitudes. We’ll show you the results of that test later on but first, have a look at this.
You’re a little bit racist.
You’re a little bit too.
We’re all a little bit racist. I think that I would have to agree with you.
We’re glad you do. If that’s true. Everyone’s a little bit racist.
Alright. Alright. Alright. Bigotry has never been exclusive.
If we can just admit, that we’re racist a little bit. Even though we all know.
Maybe it would help us get along.
JENNY BROCKIE: Pearl, you were born in Australia to migrant Chinese parents from Malaysia?
PEARL TAN: Yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Are you a little bit racist?
PEARL TAN: I would say yes. Contrary to what people might believe is actually what I call self-racism and my family brought me up to be very assimilated and accepting of everyone. But I do get frustrated when I see other Asians who behave in a way that reflects a stereotype.
JENNY BROCKIE: What do you mean, give me an example?
PEARL TAN: An example is, if I see a bad driver that cuts me off, I’ll go, “Are they Asian?” One time I was swimming and I’m not saying that I’m an Olympic swimmer or anything, but there was a fast lane. They have signs. In the fast lane there was an extremely slow swimmer and my reaction was, “You’re Asian. You can’t read.” It’s interesting because if it was anyone else, I probably wouldn’t have called the race card.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why do you think you feel that way?
PEARL TAN: It’s a reflection on me and it’s a frustration. It’s something I constantly fight against and go, “I’m Australian. I’m assimilated. I was born here – how ocker do I have to be?” When I see something that reflects badly on me, yeah, it makes me a bit edgy.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think of it as racism and do you check yourself?
PEARL TAN: I do. I think it’s a way to take the power back. My friends often say I’m the most racist person they know against Asians. And it’s sort of like, “If I make the joke first, then I have the power and I’m holding the cards and you’re not going to put me down for that.”
JENNY BROCKIE: Eugene, you migrated here from Singapore more than 20 years ago. You’re a doctor. You live and work in areas with big migrant populations. Are there racial groups that you have negative feelings about?
EUGENE NG: I think just like Pearl, I’m sort of racist within our own race itself. If you’ve got a slow driver you think, “Is that an Asian driver?”
JENNY BROCKIE: There’s a lot of laughter coming from the audience when you say this?
EUGENE NG: Also, if you have a hoon driving on the road, you’ll say things like, “It must be a Lebanese driver or something.” So you have that stereotype.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you do that?
EUGENE NG: I do, yeah. Sometimes I feel embarrassed because I’ll tell the kids if someone is driving really slow or cutting in, I’ll say “Bloody Asian drivers.” But I feel justified in saying it because I’m Asian.
JENNY BROCKIE: So that kind of makes it OK?
EUGENE NG: I guess so, I guess racism is sort of like a form of discrimination but it’s just that you classify people in different colours and different races.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you have any feeling why you do that?
EUGENE NG: I think we’re all born with it. I think everyone is born with an inherent, the inherence to discriminate.
JENNY BROCKIE: Vivien, you’re Eugene’s wife. What do you think? Do you think you’re a little bit racist?
VIVIEN LEE: Yes, but at the same time, I’m with Pearl and Eugene, in the sense that I feel it’s justified – firstly, because you’re making comments about your same race.
JENNY BROCKIE: This is a very interesting defence, actually, that seems to be quite common here so far in this group. You think it’s OK if it’s about your own group?
VIVIEN LEE: Especially if you choose to sets up home in a new country, then you should make some effort to assimilate.
JENNY BROCKIE: And why is that grouped around race, rather than individuals, doing what you like them to do or not like them to do?
VIVIEN LEE: Because a lot of the – let’s call them bad habits. For example, a pet hate of mine is seeing, I think I can say Asians spit – spit on the street. We’ve spent decades trying to get rid of TB. And if you’re going to carry on like you do back home, then why be here?
BERHAN AHMED, THE AFRICAN THINK TANK: That’s a question of civilisation. People where they come from, they come with some sort of behaviours and cultures. We cannot change that overnight and this is part of this problem when we talk about racism. I came from a war-torn country and I was a victim of that racism because within tribes, within political lines, people were fighting. The first thing that I like to fight is now racism because I know what it means, how it destroys the fabric of my society, of my well-being.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you find yourself having negative feelings about other racial groups?
BERHAN AHMED: Well, I’ve gone through that process but consciously I start to fight myself to stop that because I see racism as a cancer. It is a cancer growing in us. Unless we stop it, it vegetates and grows bigger which hurts every one of us.
JENNY BROCKIE: But before I leave you, do you have negative feelings about other races and what are they?
BERHAN AHMED: I do. Well, I mean, questions within my own African nation, comes a lot of political debates and political criticism.
JENNY BROCKIE: Sachin, you’re an actor in network 10’s long running soap ‘Neighbours’ and you are from an Indian background, do you have negative feelings towards other racial groups, do you find yourself doing that?
SACHIN JOAB, ‘AJAY KAPOOR’ ON NEIGHBOURS: No, not particular racial groups. I have friends, they’re all Aussies and all from various backgrounds, whether they’re Caucasians and black and everything in between. But I’d say if I did have any racist attitudes, it would probably be to a certain degree Caucasian Australians, even though I have friends that are Caucasians, good friends. And I don’t like that attitude about myself. I don’t like it.
JENNY BROCKIE: What are those feelings you have?
SACHIN JOAB: It stems from, it stems back from childhood. So I didn’t come out of my mother’s womb not liking white people. It’s not like that. But what ended up happening to me as a kid. I can’t even remember once where a non-white child was telling a white child, “You don’t belong here. Go back to England.” Whereas, I always remembered Caucasian kids telling us, “You black so and on. You brown so and so. You Asian so and so, go back to where you come from. You don’t belong here.”
JENNY BROCKIE: What did you do about that as a kid?
SACHIN JOAB: From the verbal racial abuse, it became physical.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you fought back?
SACHIN JOAB: As a kid, I got my shins fractured. I was fairly bullied. My dad didn’t like it at all. He thought that he came to this country after the white Australia policy and he has the Australian flag is tattooed on his shoulder. He’s a proud Aussie from an Indian background. He was born and raised in India. He said, “This is bad. I’m going to put you into martial arts, teach you how to defend yourself. If anyone hits you, you’re going to hit them twice and three times harder.” I thought it would turn into a war.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did it?
SACHIN JOAB: What ended up happening is when it came again, I was just reacting. Punching and kicking.
JENNY BROCKIE: Does that form do you think, your attitudes towards white people that you still have a bit today?
SACHIN JOAB: Yeah. Even in high school, if a Caucasian kid would be looking at me or my friends in a racial way, I might have reacted really badly. “What are you looking at? Do you have a problem?” They could have been totally innocent. And it stemmed from the childhood days and I don’t like that about myself.
JENNY BROCKIE: I’m interested in getting a sense from all the rest of you of how many of you have negative feelings however small about other racial groups. You have four people here who have confessed. Okay, Nick.
NICK FOLKES, AUSTRALIAN PROTECTIONIST PARTY: I just find it difficult sometimes to accept some people’s cultural traits. Australia is seen as a multicultural country today but there’s a lot of friction because our values and some people’s values are quite different. And I find this big melting pot – there’s a lot of problems. I oppose multiculturalism.
JENNY BROCKIE: You actively oppose it through a small political party
NICK FOLKES: Yes, exactly right because I think immigration, that’s fine, but people have to be compatible.
JENNY BROCKIE: Where do your attitudes come from to feel those negative feelings?
NICK FOLKES: My mother was a Russian refugee. She came to Australia in 1952 so I come from a partly migrant background.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why would that make you anti-immigration?
NICK FOLKES: Well, it was a different time back then. The policy of assimilation was in play and it worked quite well. When immigration restrictions act was overturned in Australia, and it brought in a policy of multiculturalism, I see a lot of problems developing from that.
JENNY BROCKIE: This lady has her hand up?
WOMAN: I do have a bit of a thing, I try not to act on it or anything like that but if I’m walking down the streets by myself at night and someone walks past me and they’re a white Australian looking person or an Asian, I don’t think twice about it. But if they’re of Lebanese origin, I kind of will think about how I’m dressed and whether or not I’m safe on the street.. and I know it’s not a reasonable way to think but it’s like my gut reaction.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why do you think it’s your gut reaction?
WOMAN: I think it’s possibly partly because of what I’ve seen in the media of people of Lebanese descent that made me more cautious, particularly things about terrorism on the news and the conflict in the Middle East and all that sort of thing.
JENNY BROCKIE: Let’s have a look at how an evolutionary psychologist describes our feelings towards other racial groups.
PROFESSOR DOUG KENDRICK, EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGIST: Ever since our ancestors lived in caves, the main threat to our existence was other humans. Other humans might also bring opportunities. Imagine when your ancestors spot a group of strangers approaching his village. He had to figure quickly, if they had come to burn down the village and murder him or whether they were friendly. They might be bringing goods to trade or new technologies or even potential mates.
People are amazingly quick at recognising threats from the members of other tribes but it’s a mistake to simply say our brains are programmed for prejudice. Different brain mechanisms turn on when we’re feeling threatened as to when we’re feeling safe. We’re good at recognising opportunities, as well as threats, from strangers. And we’re good at calculating the risks and rewards of embracing people from other tribes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you relate to that, the idea of a threat?
WOMAN: I can relate to that kind of thing.
JENNY BROCKIE: Berhan, can you relate to that coming from a war-torn country? That’s where racial attitudes can come from?
BERHAN AHMED: There is always the fear of unknown – racism comes from people when they don’t know something, they are strangers to the other side.
JENNY BROCKIE: You’re looking interested at this, did you want to say something?
WOMAN 2: I get racist towards Aboriginals or Torres Strait Islanders when I’m walking – are they going to bash me or are they going to ask me for something because I’ve walked down the street a few times and been threatened by a group of Aboriginal girls before. And they’re like, “We’re going to bash you.” And then they chase after me. And I didn’t do anything.
JENNY BROCKIE: Fiona, you study when things go wrong between different ethnic groups and I wonder what do you think is behind all of this and do you think we are all a little bit racist and where does it come from – is it about threat?
DR FIONA K. BARLOW, SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGIST: Yeah, I think we are all a little bit racist as Doug said. There’s a certain tendency that we have to stick to our own groups. I actually had a comment about this situation, though. Can I make that? So when everyone was talking in the audience, you gave some examples of terrible Asian behaviour, like spitting on the street and driving crazily and all that sort of business. And then Sachin gave an example of being like physically brutalized by white people. And when we hear these Asian things we think, “Gee, those Asians. They’re dirty and spitting on streets and driving crazily.” We hear the story of white brutality and we think it’s a horrible isolated incident and we really feel for you Sachin.
Basically, as people, we have this tendency if someone does something very nice to us, it is really, really nice and it informs how we think and feel and behave. But, if they do something negative to us, we are absolutely on the lookout to remember that and let that guide what we do from now on. And we have a cognitive bias where if someone looks different, we hold on to and remember that negative information so much more.
JENNY BROCKIE: So, we hold on to the information about their race or the information about them doing wrong?
DR FIONA K. BARLOW: When someone from a different group, we take their behaviour as diagnostic of what their entire group does, that’s a very normal natural cognitive thing – we use it as a short cut to guide us to how we should feel about any group. But the point is as people, we’re on the lookout for negative information to tell us how to behave. So we let the negative guide us far more.
JENNY BROCKIE: Let’s talk to someone we have called Nathan who says he’s a reformed racist. He contributes to a blog that republishes racist comments that are gathered online and wants his identity concealed because he says he’s received death threats. Nathan, what’s the aim of the blog?
NATHAN: Well, I guess we are all on social networking these days and we’re all sort of feeling very free to say what we want. That’s where these little racist tendencies and comments come out. We fought that for quite a while and tried to get all these racist comments deleted. We tried to get the people making the comments banned from using social media. It wasn’t working. So we went the other way and decided that these people want their freedom of speech, so we’ll give it to them. Anything that’s really said online these days about any race or any culture, we just take a screen shot of it and republish it to the world so it’s immortalised, I guess.
JENNY BROCKIE: Which groups cop the most vitriol on your web site?
NATHAN: The recurring theme is the anti-Muslim sentiment. Since what happened in the States and apparently now everyone thinks a Muslim is a terrorist. I’m pretty sure there’s a few Muslims in the audience tonight, so watch out, everyone, the place is going to blow apparently, according to our stereotypes. But it depends what’s happening in the news really. I think when the tent embassy fiasco flared up there was a lot of anti – Aboriginal sentiment flowing on social networking and you know, in the time where there was a lot of stabbings in Melbourne with the Indian population there, yeah, it was pretty anti – Indian at that stage.
JENNY BROCKIE: Carla, what do you think of a website like that? Indigenous people have been mentioned a few times tonight. What do you know about attacking it that way?
CARLA MCGRATH: I think the website is a great idea. As Nathan said, people are so often, so very keen to get their opinions out there on their own pages or within what they tend to believe is a safe space for them online, but get very offended whether it’s reposted.
JENNY BROCKIE: Up the back?
WOMAN 2: Why do we get put as white Australians whether we’re all Australians together? We have different cultures buts we’re still one race. My mum is full Italian, she came from Italy. My dad came from Germany. I don’t look Italian but I am. And I’m also Aussie and I don’t like being put as a white Australian because I think it’s racist against white Australians. We are all Australians togethers. We all live in Australia, so why don’t we all just be that?
ALLESSIA: But earlier you had a fear of Aboriginal people when you walk past them and I want to make this point that you can imagine that from being maybe one of your friends got rolled or jumped but imagine being indigenous and things that my family have gone through and my ancestors? Can you imagine the anger and the animosity we feel? It’s a generational thing. Can you imagine if I see a white man come knock on my door and think, “Why is he coming here – why is he here?” You can imagine the fear or anger, grief we may feel being faced every day or people walking on our country and not really caring or not recognising us.
JENNY BROCKIE: What I wanted to ask you Fiona is, are we hard-wired for this in some sense?
DR FIONA K. BARLOW: There is actually evidence now that the degree to which we feel really uncomfortable about other groups or to some extent, racist is in part heritable. So there is something.
JENNY BROCKIE: You can pass it down the family line?
DR FIONA K. BARLOW: Yep. There is something in our genetic material which means some of us will have a predisposition to be suspicious and mistrustful of other groups and some of us will have the reverse – this isn’t an inevitability. Going back to Doug Kendrick’s video before and he talked about tribes and at the end you noticed he talked about cooperation. So actually, humans have evolved at an amazing pace. We saw rapid human evolution when we started to cooperated. I would argue that we’re more hard-wired to cooperate, more so than to be racist.
JENNY BROCKIE: What do you think Pearl?
PEARL TAN: Recently on the news there was a pill they’ve discovered that reduces racism. They were saying that. Maybe it’s something that we can just take.
MAN: Let’s all take it.
PEARL TAN: Exactly. I’m not sure about the hard-wiring. That’s a bitter pill to swallow.
DR FIONA K. BARLOW: Could I mention that you are so aware of the negativity towards Asian people that you feel an incredible pressure to distance yourself from the Asian people because you’re aware your face looks Asian?
PEARL TAN: Absolutely.
DR FIONA K. BARLOW: It’s a pretty telling comment.
JENNY BROCKIE: Is that what it’s about, about distancing yourself from behaviour you don’t like?
PEARL TAN: Yeah, absolutely and you see things. You grow up and again I definitely didn’t get picked on as much as Sachin did. When you see that happening you don’t want to be associated with it. If I’m in a country town, or if I’m somewhere where it’s whitey, white, white, I will become so much more ocker, I will say “G’day. How are you going, mate?” It’s a protection mechanism.
JENNY BROCKIE: Eugene, what do you think about the idea it could be genetically passed down, racist tendencies? You’re a doctor?
EUGENE NG: I believe that there is the genes, but I also believe that a lot of it in the environment you grow up in. Sure, there is genes – someone is pre-programmed to do a certain thing. In a lot of instances they don’t do it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Lady up the back?
WOMAN 3: It’s a bit of a copout to suggest racism is a genetic thing. We’re medicalising it and it’s a social problem. If it’s genetic brought from family to family, it’s more of a cultural thing not a genetic thing. By medicalising it and inventing a pill to cure it, we’re saying, “It’s not my fault. I can do this because I’m hard-wired to do it.” It’s a cultural problem, it’s an educational problem politically put out there, media put out there and we lap it up maybe because we’re frightened of difference or whatever. But I really have a problem with medicalising racism.
JENNY BROCKIE: We medicalise everything. Andrew, can I ask you what the research says, you have looked at the research?
PROFESSOR ANDREW JAKUBOWICZ. SOCIOLOGIST: People usually say the hard core of Australian racists are about 15% of the population. But the groups of Australians who are prepared to act in racist ways or espouse racist beliefs varies dramatically depending on what is happening in the outside world and how salient or important it is to them.
JENNY BROCKIE: So it shifts?
PROFESSOR ANDREW JAKUBOWICZ: The attitudes shifts, the behaviour also shifts. So in general, you could say that the majority of Australians when push comes to shove are soft racists.
JENNY BROCKIE: And what about you?
PROFESSOR ANDREW JAKUBOWICZ: What about me?
JENNY BROCKIE: Are you a little bit racist?
PROFESSOR ANDREW JAKUBOWICZ: Who don’t I like? I probably share with most people what I would describe as careful apprehension in environments that I don’t understand is the best way of putting it.
JENNY BROCKIE: That’s a very academic way of putting it Andrew, I have to say.
PROFESSOR ANDREW JAKUBOWICZ: I’m checking myself.
SACHIN JOAB: We’re all going to use that.
PROFESSOR ANDREW JAKUBOWICZ: I’m wary of entering social environments where I can’t read the cues because I don’t know what the cultures mean.
JENNY BROCKIE: We’re looking at racism, where it comes from and whether there’s a bit of it in all of us? Have a look at this and tell me what you think?
SALESMAN: Hi sir, have you got a few minutes to discuss your electricity bill.
MAN: Sorry mate, I’m having dinner.
SALESMAN: I can get you a 25% discount?
WOMAN: What’s going on?
ELECTRICITY UMPIRE: You have to sign up without shopping around. I know it sounds like a good deal, but check first with the electricity umpire – EnergyWatch, it’s a free service that can pay as energy providers and help over 150,000 people every year. So it makes sense to check first, doesn’t it?
JENNY BROCKIE: What do people think of that ad? Some reactions?
NICK FOLKES: It’s not racist though some people might consider it to be but most people that come to the door and knock and ask to change energy providers are of Indian or Pakistani backgrounds. I think it’s relevant. That’s the normal situation.
JENNY BROCKIE: Down the front?
WOMAN 4: I’m half Pakistani and I can say for a fact my dad would not be someone knocking on a door trying to sell you energy. He actually has a normal job and works with a bunch of Australians and I have a Hungarian mother, that’s why I look white and I get a lot of questions about it. It’s a really really bad stereotype to put the perfect blonde girl with the blue eyes ‘ she’s the saviour’ and anyone with dark skin, stay away from them, they’re dodgy in business.
JENNY BROCKIE: What did you think about the ad?
SACHIN JOAB: There are Indian door knockers and call centre operators and taxi drivers. We all know that’s all true. But there are Indian doctors, lawyers, architects. In my 34 years of living in Australia, born and raised here, I haven’t seen that on Aussie TV, but I’ve seen the taxi driver, I’ve seen the call centre operator, the door knocker, I’ve seen it constantly.
JENNY BROCKIE: Last year that ad was banned by the Advertising Standards Bureau. Toby, you’ve worked in advertising for 25 years. Why was it banned?
TOBY RALPH, MARKETING STRATEGIST: It should have been banned because it’s a bad ad. But it was banned because it’s racist. It underlined negative stereotypes about Indians for a start and the way it did, was it cast this guy, you rarely see an Indian on an ad. And this guy is irritating, he’s disingenuous, he’s interrupting dinner. And then we compare and contrast him with this pert little Caucasian blonde who is like a sexualised Hitler youth.
NICK FOLKES: You’re racist! He’s racist.
TOBY RALPH: And we say she’s the solution and he’s the problem.
JENNY BROCKIE: You work in the industry, why are there so many Anglos in ads? Why do we see so many in advertising?
TOBY RALPH: Well, 92% of the population is Caucasian – 7% Asian, 1% Aboriginal or other. Advertising is about going for mainstream stereotypes. Advertising tends to exclude people, we go for desirable stereotypes and they tend to be white because that’s the majority. They tend to be blonde and cute or handsome and employed. It’s not just racists that are not in ads. It’s the poor, the old, the fat, the ugly, people with bad teeth – people who are generally not seen as.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you equate people with bad teeth with everybody else around who isn’t Caucasian?
TOBY RALPH: It just came to me at the last moment. I mean, I think there are, if you believe that the world was populated by people who appear in ads, it would be a far more attractive audience.
JENNY BROCKIE: So is that ever going to change? Do you do that?
TOBY RALPH: I absolutely do that.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why do you do that? Just because you think it’s more desirable to people to see those images?
TOBY RALPH: It doesn’t get in the way of a sale. Advertising is not here to make the world more harmonious, it’s here to sell the world a car and if you had a Sudanese presenting Weet-Bix, a lot of people would think, “Why are they doing that? It would get in the way of a product sale.” That’s why we do it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Reaction?
BERHAN AHMED: Our change is not reflected in the system, because the society is changing. So what is the problem with the advertising industry is they’re still, for me, what I call in Africa is the colonial mind of white men, because the black person or the other colour is out of the line. They’re not good for this sort of purpose.
JENNY BROCKIE: But Toby, you just want to sell stuff and you’ll sell stuff more easily if you don’t embrace more difference?
PROFESSOR ANDREW JAKUBOWICZ: If you don’t tell the consumer that the person on the screen looks like them. The problem is the advertising industry is one of the most culturally constrained and deprived parts of the Australian creative industry. It’s the place where people actually believe what Toby is saying. First time you put a Sudanese selling breakfast cereal out there, you may well get everybody freaking out. The 10th time, the 100th time, the 1,000th time it’s normal. The problem is they don’t have the courage to make the step to change this constant re-creation.
TOBY RALPH: May I? I agree with you and of course a Sudanese could sell it and the tenth time and the hundredth time there will be no problem and I pray for that day. However, to make the commercial decision, to be the person who does that the first 10 times, you need money.
PROFESSOR ANDREW JAKUBOWICZ: You need courage.
TOBY RALPH: No, you need money and you’ll lose your clients along the way. We’re running businesses and that’s why we do it.
REBEKAH OWUSU: It’s not representing Australia. I’m Australian, I was born here, I have an African background, my parents came from Ghana. So I have Weet-Bix every morning and I have been having Weet-Bix since I was born here in Australia. Why can’t a Sudanese be eating it?
TOBY RALPH: A Sudanese can eat Weet-Bix there’s no problem.
JENNY BROCKIE: It’s an interesting point though, so what do you say to Toby? What do you want him to do?
TOBY RALPH: You can talk to me.
REBEKAH OWUSU: To think that we are Australian as well, we do function the same way, just because we don’t look white Australian. We still are Aussies.
JENNY BROCKIE: You’re shaking your head, why?
MAN: I’m actually quite sympathetic to the commercial argument, about pandering to the majority and whilst I don’t agree with it and I do think we should have Ghanaians in ads, I’m sympathetic to it. But is anyone actually surprised that we’re getting advertising fostering this image of white Australia being this perfection and if we’re watching commercial news, we’re getting the exact antithesis of that, that all Muslims are dangerous and all boat people are dangerous? Interspersed between all the negative imagery about foreigners or people from foreign backgrounds, we’re getting all this positive white reinforcement, if you will. Is anyone so surprised that we’re actually racist?
JENNY BROCKIE: Toby, is it ever going to change, that’s self-perpetuating?
TOBY RALPH: It does self-perpetuate. That’s the problem with it. It could change in time as the composition of society changes. I don’t think people are going to make the commercially brave step to do it but as the population changes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Critical mass, it’s about numbers.
PAUL FOSTER, BALANCE RECRUITMENT: It’s it about a marketing manager somewhere, finding the courage and be the first, the first one to say Ghanaian kids are Weet-Bix kids.
TOBY RALPH: Sure.
REBEKAH OWUSU: Or Ghanaian-Australian kids – we’re Australian.
JENNY BROCKIE: Sachin, why do you think ‘Neighbours’ introduced an Indian employee?
SACHIN JOAB: Well, I just went and auditioned as a lawyer just as actors go and audition for roles and I got this particular role and I think one of the reasons would be that Britain, the British are a pretty loyal following of ‘Neighbours’ and there are quite a few Indians and Pakistanis over there, from what I heard.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you think it was about critical mass, a bit like Toby says.
SACHIN JOAB: I have some empathy for what you’re saying because I think that you may not want to say it, but I think it’s all about money. You’re marketing it to the majority. I understand what you’re saying but I also say that I have empathy but it’s only going to change over time. I mean, for the better part of our country, we’ve had unfortunately the white Australia policy. It got terminated in 1973. That’s 40 years ago. That’s nothing. Sorry?
NICK FOLKES: Every country has a policy. Like India, where your parents come from. They don’t try and encourage non-Indian immigration?
SACHIN JOAB: But this country was built on the blood of so many foreigners that came here, even your ancestors came over here.
NICK FOLKES: Not on the blood, I wouldn’t say blood?
SACHIN JOAB: Your family, they descended from overseas, correct? So did mine and much of this audience. I think the only people that have the right and they probably won’t, but if they have the right, any people here in this country that can say that you don’t belong here are the Aboriginal people because we all came…
NICK FOLKES: I never consider myself to be something else. I’m an Australian.
MAN: I am too.
NICK FOLKES: That’s fine, but this constant critique on Australia is unnecessary. It is a critique. It’s saying that we don’t have enough non-whites in media. If people are really concerned, go out and form your own production company. Produce good-quality news and put it in to the market place.
JENNY BROCKIE: I want to ask you a bit more about ‘Neighbours’ Sachin. How did the ‘Neighbours’ audience react to you as a characters coming on the screen?
SACHIN JOAB: In Britain, it was all positive – Overseas, all positive – any negativity came from Australia. I mean, first of all, I have to commend Channel Ten and Channel 11 for putting it on because it’s a gutsy move, when you talk about courage and money and all that. I’m sure the conversation came up, I don’t know. Are we really going to put on an Aussies from an Indian background and bring in a wife for him and a child for him that are non-white, is it really going to work and they went with it. And the reason why? that’s how the country is looking now.
JENNY BROCKIE: What was it like for you as an actor in Australia, an Aussie actor before you landed this role?
SACHIN JOAB: It was hard. I had been taking acting workshops since I was in primary school and I went to drama school and I graduated in acting, I did some stuff in the States and here I always had to put on the Indian accent – it was always the Indian accent or the Arabic accent.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you had to pretend you had an Indian accent?
SACHIN JOAB: Always, and the funny thing is, I can’t even speak my mother tongue language. Here I am walking in there and speaking the accent and so most of my stuff was Arabic and Indian accent and stereotyped roles as well.
JENNY BROCKIE: I just want to ask Pearl about this sticking with what Sachin was talking about because Pearl, you’re an actor too. What sort of roles did you get offered?
PEARL TAN: Probably about half the roles generally that I go for are in Asian accent and because there are so many different nationalities that are Asian it is all the same guys who turn up in the waiting room and we all know each other. What accent are we doing? An Asian accent, which one? It doesn’t matter they say – it happens all the time.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you’re a generic Asian as an actor, you just cover everything?
PEARL TAN: Sometimes there is a particular Vietnamese role or a Singaporean role or a Malaysian role or something like that and sometimes they are specific but a lot of the time they’re not.
JENNY BROCKIE: Accents, do you get asked to do accents?
PEARL TAN: Frequently.
JENNY BROCKIE: What sort of accents?
PEARL TAN: My family are from Malaysia but when I water it down I sound Singaporean so I get that a lot and it’s my natural instinct to go for that. But frequently I’ll do a Chinese accent or a Hong Kong accent. We have to decide it amongst ourselves, trying to figure it out.
SACHIN JOAB: When I was in the States, I was in New York and got invited to the Actors Studio and I got to meet some of the members. One of the actors was Alec Baldwin and he said that I have a fairly convincing American accents. He said something that I won’t forget – he said ‘because you can put on a good American accent, we’ll see you as an American’. For me, I thought to myself, that I speak with a natural Aussie accent, and the Aussies are not ready to see me in that.
JENNY BROCKIE: Rebekah, you used to be an actor but you are now a teacher. When you apply for jobs, what is your name?
REBEKAH OWUSU: My full name is Rebekah Owusu-Akyeampong, now I only put Rebekah Owusu, on my resume if I am applying for work. Because when I put my full name, I wasn’t getting any responses at all and I spoke to my sister who was in HR at the time and she said that I needed to change my name and make it simpler. So I sent out the resumes again and I got a better response than I did with the longer name. She said to me because she works in HR, that employers sometimes they look at the name and if it’s an ethnic name, they’ll put it in to a separate pile, so even though that resume is fantastic, the name has a stigma to it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Paul, you work in recruitment. Is Rebekah being smart, changing her name?
PAUL FOSTER: She is being very pragmatic. I would say the majority of recruitment that occurs in Australia is not racist but I’d say 5% to 10% is racist.
JENNY BROCKIE: In what way?
PAUL FOSTER: The way it presents to us in a recruitment agency is we occasionally get asked by clients to be racist on their behalf. Obviously, the laws are fairly strict and onerous. But if you outsource your dirty work, you can be at arm’s length. It’s very hard to discriminate when you only get three white candidates sent through.
JENNY BROCKIE: What sort of things do you get asked to do?
PAUL FOSTER: A year or two ago, a client said that they wanted no Indian candidates. As the owner of the business, I rang her up and wanted to have a discussion. She said, “I’m not being racist, but we’ve made a decision and it’s cost us a lot of money. We’re an IT company and we could have outsourced our IT support centre but we’ve decided to offer a premium service. If I stock my call centre or support centre full of Indian candidates with Indian accents, how do my clients differentiate between the cheaper offshore solution and the premium solution I wish to offer? So can you help us out here and send us some non-Indians?”
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think it’s reasonable?
PAUL FOSTER: Do I think it’s reasonable that someone asked me to discriminate people against people on the basis of their race, no I don’t.
JENNY BROCKIE: But the way that was phrased as a business decision can you understand where that person is coming from or not?
PAUL FOSTER: On first glance, it’s far more palatable. My father was a recruiter before me and he used to get people saying to him, “Don’t send me any of those bloody rice munchers.” Now 20 years later, we are far more sophisticated in our racism and it’s somewhat less prevalent as well.
JENNY BROCKIE: Cindy and Mike, you feel discriminated against the other way in terms of employment. Do you want to explain why you feel that way?
CINDY: I come from Tamworth. Work there is pretty easy to find because there’s not many other races around – just Aboriginals and white people. Since I have come to Sydney, I find it a lot harder to find work and there’s a lot more people of other races getting jobs over me.
JENNY BROCKIE: Maybe they’re just getting jobs over you?
CINDY: A general opinion of what I’ve heard of people applying for the jobs saying that they’ll work for cheaper and they get the job.
PAUL FOSTER: As a recruiter, I can tell you – it’s a lot, lot harder if your name is Singh or Patel or come from a foreign background to secure a job than it is if you’re white. It doesn’t give me any pleasure to say it but your greatest attribute is your skin colour and your surname. If you’ve arrived from Pakistan or India, you’d be having a hell of a lot worse time and I regularly interview people and regularly sit with them and you can see the desperation in their eyes. They have degrees and really good skills but can’t get the first break in the country.
JENNY BROCKIE: Earlier tonight, most of our audience did an online test developed by Harvard University that can measure underlying racial prejudice. The test measures subconscious associations we have using pictures and words. We wanted to compare attitudes towards white and indigenous Australians. So our audience was presented with the pictures of both. First, they had to link one group with negative words and the other with positive words, then vice versa. You have to do the test quickly – that’s how it works. Your reaction time reveals how readily you link good and bad feelings with those different groups. It’s a test that is widely used around the world to measure our subconscious prejudice. The results found that around 80% of you have negative associations with indigenous people. Toby, do those results surprise you?
TOBY RALPH: Not wildly. No.
JENNY BROCKIE: I must say they’re in keeping with what the test shows with subconscious attitudes to other minorities as well around the world. It’s not an unusual result to get around 80% for that. So, it doesn’t surprise you?
TOBY RALPH: No, I’m not particularly shocked by that. If I was guessing a number, I thought it would be 70%, 80%.
JENNY BROCKIE: Carla and Allessia, how do you feel about that?
CARLA MCGRATH: I don’t think it surprises either of us at all. We live in the Australian society. We come up against those sorts of attitudes all the time.
JENNY BROCKIE: What do you make of those results?
DR FIONA K. BARLOW: They’re quite typical and what they indicate is that people, this audience in general, finds it easier to pair Aboriginal faces with negative words, maybe like a fear feeling or something like this. This doesn’t mean that the audience is racist or secretly negative or anything like that.
WOMAN 5: I was really angry with the result I got on my test. I know for a fact I don’t discriminate against indigenous people at all. When my result said that I had a moderate prejudice against indigenous people, I looked that guy who ran it and said, “This is wrong and this is ridiculous.”
JENNY BROCKIE: The test is well regarded.
DR FIONA K. BARLOW: I want to make really clear that having a moderate negative association to out groups, people that are different to you is totally normal. And this doesn’t mean you’re racist. It really is what you do with it. If you tend to start feeling jumpy when you see someone down the street or catch yourself feeling frightened when you sit down next to a Muslim couple – I just used that example – it’s what you do with that attitude. If you feel that and go, “Hold on, silly, these are fellow Australians.”
JENNY BROCKIE: If those feelings are sitting there, if those associations are sitting there, how easily can they be tapped?
DR FIONA K. BARLOW: I want to make it really clear, I don’t think racism is biologically determined, that was one throw away comment that I made. So, they can be easily brought into action by a whole bunch of social situations. People are really funny – we react to a lot of different stuff going on around us. There’s research out of the States that shows that most race riots occur when the day gets really hot and that most lynchings, terrible hate crimes against black people occurred when the cotton prices fell and the farmers were going broke.
JENNY BROCKIE: Mecca, you would be interested in this because the Cronulla riots in 2005, now you became a surf lifesaver at Cronulla after those riots under a program that was funded by the Howard government. How did it work out in the end?
MECCA LAALAA: I’m not sure how it’s worked out in the long term. In the short term it looked like there was an attempt on both sides of the communities in building bridges. I’m not sure whether those bridges are still existing today, unfortunately.
JENNY BROCKIE: Are you still a lifesaver?
MECCA LAALAA: No.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why not?
MECCA LAALAA: I guess it was part of my life and although I trained for quite a while and had broken bones and bruising to last a lifetime, another opportunity came to do something just as Aussie. So I trained for the Kokoda Track and I’m constantly trying to prove myself that I can be just as Aussie as anybody else. Why is what I wear different, make me different to Vivian?
JENNY BROCKIE: You told that producer you were a bit scared about being a lifesaver in your situation?
MECCA LAALAA: Definitely. I mean, it wasn’t probably an ideal place to be thrown in to just after the Cronulla riots, a Muslim girl training at Cronulla. It wasn’t ideal. But I definitely knew that I had to sacrifice and my parents knew that was a sacrifice we were willing to give up.
JENNY BROCKIE: It sounds like you’re always trying to be more Aussie than Aussie?
MECCA LAALAA: Definitely. What else do I need to do?
JENNY BROCKIE: Jabba, do you feel the same way?
JABBA: Not really. No. But, I mean, ever since the rape issue with the Lebanese – I am Lebanese and Muslim, but everyone is safe so no one has to worry about that. Ever since the Lebanese rape cases and stuff like that, you sense that when you walked into a room and there was a lot of Australians or Anglo Saxons, that the attention was drawn towards you. But obviously that fear comes from what knowing, so when you see someone with what I’m wearing and the beard, you get shocked. It’s strange, it’s different. The only way you can overcome this is by mingling and talking, communicating. There’s mosques that you can go into and get an idea of what Islam is.
JENNY BROCKIE: I want to talk about what the Government is planning now. The Government is implementing an anti-racism strategy from July. Toby, do you think it will work?
TOBY RALPH: depends on what they do, if it’s an advertising campaign, no.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why?
TOBY RALPH: Because advertising is too trivial a tool to deal with such a deep issue. If it’s doing something more substantive, unless it is putting someone from Ghana in the Weet-Bix ad, then that’s a cracker. But if it’s encouraging people to mingle, but if you were saying that encouraged moderate people to go to a mosque and understand about Islam and make a Muslim a mate, that’s a positive thing.
JENNY BROCKIE: Make a Muslim a mate.
TOBY RALPH: A slogan for you. I think in slogans it is ghastly, isn’t it?
JENNY BROCKIE: Would you take it on if you were offered it?
TOBY RALPH: Absolutely, I’d love to do that.
JENNY BROCKIE: How would you deal, how do you think we should deal with the idea that there might be a bit of racism in all of us? What do we do about it?
TOBY RALPH: Cope with it. It’s there. Let’s try and wear it down. But cope with the fact it’s there. Be real about it. Don’t pretend it’s not otherwise it is not going to go away.
JENNY BROCKIE: Sachin?
SACHIN JOAB: I totally agree. It’s there. It’s important to acknowledge it. If you check out the history of the US and England and so many other countries, you’ll see the progression occurred. Racism was there in the beginning and slowly, slowly it has started to diminish. It’s still there even now, even in the US with an African American president it’s still there but it’s diminishing and I’m hoping Australia will be the same.
PEARL TAN: I think it’s about creating positive role models as well. So to let people know your stories and to have forums like this. And in terms of television and film to give those stories a chance to be out there, so that the youth can sort of have something else to relate to.
JENNY BROCKIE: That all sounds very nice but racism can be very ugly. I mean, what do you think Mecca?
MECCA LAALAA: It’s not really that simple to just live with it. We live with it every single day. Our families live with it every single day and there’s only so much living with it that you could do, and as soon as, people need to start taking responsibility for what they say and their actions.
JENNY BROCKIE: Nick, you’ve been shaking your head all the way through this, tell me what you think about an anti-racism strategy?
NICK FOLKES: I think it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money. It’s a fact of life, Australia is one of the most tolerant countries in the world. Maybe we should have a program to encourage people to assimilate. Assimilation is better.
WOMAN: I think it’s why we need it. If someone thinks that we’re not racist….
JENNY BROCKIE: What did you say?
NICK FOLKES: I’m surrounded by mad lefties.
WOMAN: I’m not a bad leftie. I had no problem with John Howard with other policies and things like that but if you don’t start with kids and you start showing kids in schools – and I think children should be the people we start with.
JENNY BROCKIE: We have to wrap it up here. You can keep talking online.
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