• "I’m not saying that the Internet is to blame for racism, obviously... It’s just made it incredibly easy to be heard if you hold discriminatory views." (iStockphoto/Getty Images)Source: iStockphoto/Getty Images
"The Internet has made racism more accessible, for both the racists and the victims of this hatred."
By
Amal Awad

21 Mar 2017 - 1:14 PM  UPDATED 22 Mar 2017 - 10:12 AM

Call me sentimental, but I remember a time when racism involved graffiti being daubed on a wall rather than on your social media ones for all to see. Now, anyone can be a racist, or an apologist for one, with the click of a ‘share’ button.

Worse, the virtual age has enabled the people being attacked to give oxygen to the hatred by re-posting examples of hate online. When I come across videos of people speaking vile words in the name of preserving white Australia or making “America great again”, for example, they are often courtesy of an angry victim reposting content. I lost count of the number of times friends have shared a video of a flame-haired politician immersing herself in tones of anti-immigration rhetoric. And just try escaping news about immigration bans on social media.

It’s not racist to call yourself a wog, ‘amirite’?

There are many clichés when it comes to the experience of growing up in an ethnic family in the west of Sydney, well-worn and exaggerated for the amusement of outsiders. I’m in my late 30s so I grew up Arab-Australian in the 80s. Older and wiser, many of us children of immigrants around this age are complicit in poking fun at the experience, going so far as to adopt the racist lingo that tormented so many of us in our youth. It’s not racist to call yourself a wog, ‘amirite’?

My bio reads like a typical child-of-migrants story: parents who were over-protective and strict, who said no to just about everything because they didn’t trust others (“It’s not you I don’t trust!” etc). Our home featured the staples of other migrant households – herbs and spices from the homeland, artwork featuring the homeland, shiny nods to religion and those clear glasses with the pattern that every ethnic kid recognises. (I looked up ‘wog drinking glasses’ and there they were.)

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As an adult, I can laugh at the complexities of growing up in a household that was not purely white Australian, though not as averse to Aussie “values” as prolific xenophobes will have you believe. After all, when I reflect on my childhood, several things immediately spring to mind: neon clothing, leg warmers, Michael Jackson, and not being allowed to do a lot of things that my friends could do. While identity issues have long been the soundtrack to my life, racism only defined me when it felt easier being a victim than forging a way forward.

I don’t say this lightly. Racism is a very real, a traumatising symptom of fear-based societies. It’s about power and with that there must always be a victim. But the shades of racism have transformed over the years. Australia’s everyday racism is more overt nowadays, and thanks to the Internet and its currency of outrage, we are living it daily.

I’m not saying that the Internet is to blame for racism, obviously; I don’t even think it’s created a spike in racism. It’s just made it incredibly easy to be heard if you hold discriminatory views. It has made racism more accessible, for both the racists and the victims of this hatred.

We were a newish generation, among the first to be born and raised in Australia. And so what if no one said your name right? No one was calling for your expulsion from the Land of Oz.

Growing up in the 80s, we felt racism the strongest when it came to dark portrayals of swarthy terrorists in Hollywood adventure films, in the lack of diversity in the workplace, in the schoolyard taunts – daily life stuff that sucked but through which you persevered. Forget seeing yourself on Neighbours or Sons and Daughters. We were a newish generation, among the first to be born and raised in Australia. And so what if no one said your name right? No one was calling for your expulsion from the Land of Oz.

The fact is, growing up in the 80s, while we weren’t hugely entrenched in society, we also posed less of a threat to white Australians as kids of immigrants. My generation (now in our late 30s), and the ones above and below me, paved the way for a more inclusive society. We are more involved in Australian communities. We have intersected and entrenched ourselves where our parents might not have been. We didn’t have the same language barriers; a lot of us are university-educated and active in the workforce. Yes, we have jobs, even with our difficult-to-pronounce names, much to the chagrin of the old order, many who were more comfortable being able to identify migrants by their accents and looks. Now we have inter-racial marriages thanks to decades of migration, and sometimes it’s hard to tell if a kid is a ‘true blue Aussie’.

This is the thing about racism in today’s world: it’s easy to express it, share it, complain about it and define yourself around it, whichever end of it you sit on. But we don’t need to make it so easy for people to express hatred. 

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For my part, I’m glad that, despite years of experiencing racism in both subtle and outright forms of abuse and discrimination, I stand firm in the person I am, and choose what it means to call myself an Arab-Australian. I’m grateful that I didn’t grow up in a din of racist taunts, politicians bellowing outrageous claims of superiority.

Racism wasn’t so explicit, because it didn’t need to be. We posed no threat. That people like flame-haired politicians who espouse anti-immigration policies prosper is due to numerous conditions in society. The comfortable inclusion of ethnic minorities is the thing people seek to disrupt because they want to blame us for their problems. It’s happening in Australia, and it’s happening in the US.

This is the thing about racism in today’s world: it’s easy to express it, share it, complain about it and define yourself around it, whichever end of it you sit on. But we don’t need to make it so easy for people to express hatred.

In Australia, generations of ‘wog’ kids are now more “Australian”, unapologetic about their attachment to the country they were raised in, and often not so identifiably ethnic.

This is what threatens racist people. Their entire premise is that they’re superior to you. Don’t feed the hate by sharing it.

Amal Awad's new book, Beyond Veiled Clichés: The Real Lives of Arab Women, is due to be released this June.

Her project is supported by the Australian Government through the Council for Australian-Arab Relations. The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Commonwealth of Australia or those of the Australian Government. 

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