Let’s Talk About Refs

[cross-posted @ groupthink.com.au]

As the flashy pics in our shiny new Multiculturalism Policy shows, we truly live in a Salt’n’Pepa nation. And I’m talking pepper with all the fancy green, pink, etc corns as seen on Masterchef. Look at all the colours! Pretty!

But with the debacles and nasty verbiage surrounding last week’s funerals for the victims of the asylum seeker boat tragedy off Christmas Island, it seems that in addition to celebrating the good things that may be, there are a lot of bad things about our approach to race, cultural differences, and discussion of ‘the other’ that we really need to address.

And one of the really bad things is major newspapers who take it upon themselves to blow the dog vuvuzela whenever they get the slightest sniff of a story about immigrants. And escaped immigrants who were supposed to be detained at the pleasure of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, at that.

The simmering cultural melting pot is truly on the verge of boiling over, and, gosh, rightly so. The outrage that humans who are detained not for committing a crime but because they are about to get shipped off for not having the proper authorization to be in this country get taxpayer-funded trips to bowling alleys and aquariums is clearly a palable tension in our community that must be addressed at THE HIGHEST LEVELS.  And WHAT DOES QUENTIN BRYCE HAVE TO SAY about the all expenses cross-country sight-seeing holiday we gifted that little Iranian kid (who, let’s not forget, arrived here on a pleasure cruise!) who’s parents died or were lost at sea or something.  </sarcasm>

As Teh Hon Scott Morrison MP, Member for Cock and Opposition Spokesperson for Anti-Immigration pointed out last week:

…because these people, who tried to get into the country, and were allegedly asylum seekers – allegedly asylum seekers – we‘ve got to pay for that?

Scott Morrison MP, Squire of Teh Shire, allegedly a wanker (allegedly!), would probably get more ‘Whatta Man’ accolades if he started making sure his buddies at the papers (especially the Daily Tele’s Chief Political Reporter, Simon Benson) start using the word ‘allegedly’ a bit more liberally in their work.

I refer specifically to the yarn over the weekend about how many ‘detainees’ have escaped from detention centres, which was unabashedly splashed with the terms ‘refugees’ and ‘asylum seekers’.

The Tele’s editorial that same day on the need to ‘balance strength with compassion‘ on the refugee issue also made mention that DIAC is:

tracking down dozens of asylum seekers who have been strolling around the country for months. One of them had been on a bowling trip.

Luckily, the Benson’s article made the very decent effort to reassure readers that:

There was no evidence that any of those asylum seekers who had escaped had engaged in any criminal activity subsequent to their escape.

Whew. #thanksGetUp.

Here’s the thing, right: there was also NO EVIDENCE that ANY of those ‘detainees’ who had escaped WERE ACTUALLY ASYLUM SEEKERS.

O_o

And yet, Benson’s article about the Refugees On The Run And Off The Radar (let’s give the subs top marks for alliteration, shall we?) went gung-ho painting the subjects of the story as the very people that everyday Aussies worry have come here to (allegedly) take advantage of us and our respect for humanity and decency.

DIAC’s National Communications Manager Sandi Logan confirmed to me via Teh Twitters that none of the immigration escapees are or were asylum seekers.

The assumptions portrayed by the Tele in choosing to highlight refugees and asylum seekers breaking out of detention and being ‘on the run’ are hateful and vile.  In addition to showing poor journalism in jumping to conclusions without bothering to check the facts, the way they took every opportunity to magnify the beat up of such a sensitive issue (and this week, of all weeks!) is just disgusting.

With deliberate trolling like that in the mainstream media, there is little hope that we can move beyond the ignorance and fear that leads to hate and intolerance.

There are some excellent warm & fuzzy ideas in the the People Of Australia policy document. But in addition to also querying the bureaucratic efficacy (sic) of a National Anti-Racism Partnership and Strategy, there it may be very difficult to get people to understand they actually have the wrong idea about this situation while they being fed shit like this down their throats.

I am. You are. We are.

Australian.

On Australia Day this year I made a crass joke on the Twitters about how brown boat people under the age of 18 get locked up in detention while white boat people under the age of 18 get Young Australian of The Year.  Most people got that I was being facetious and tongue-in-cheek, but there was some feedback that I was being racist.

(There was also a suggestion that I was a Tamil Terrorist working for the Socialist Alliance via a hologram, or something, but I assume that guy was kidding too.)

If I caused any offence, I apologise.

Aside from my misgivings about whether Jess Watson was the most deserving recipient of the YAOTY* award, it was probably a bit harsh of me to use the brown/white dichotomy so flippantly.

In a country that draws its true wealth from its people, those who, as set out in the 2nd verse of our national anthem, have come across the seas and are of all the colours of the rainbow, it is important that we don’t create false divisions and invent tribes.

Obviously, I make lots of jokes about being brown, and I am very proud of my heritage (except when folks in the motherland are committing war-crimes, murdering journalists and establishing dictatorial monarchies, but that’s another story), but I am & always will be far more “Australian” than I ever was “Lankan”.

Despite the fact that I still remember quite clearly a day in Year 1 when a group of girls wouldn’t let me play with them because I had black hair (Yeah. Ouch.), my best friends since forever have been a pack of Skittles. (The men in my life have all been WHITE-white, though. I am totes sexually racist.)

And one of my mentors actually helped frame the multicultural policies of the 1980s mentioned by Chris Uhlmann that convinced my parents that this would be a wonderful country in which to raise their children.

So in the heart-breaking week when an orphan refugee was nearly forced back into detention a couple of days after his dad’s funeral (thankfully he’ll be with his family soon) and when we heard  that the Opposition’s Immigration Dicktwat Spokesperson might have maybe  suggested we should put religious considerations on our immigration criteria (allegedly), it was good to hear that the ALP has released a new ‘multiculturalism’ policy that aimed at ‘maintaining a socially cohesive and harmonious society’.

I look forward to seeking the initiatives that will be rolled out as part of the process.  I hope they are genuine attempts to address the problems we have been seeing, but equally, I hope they are no patronisingly didactic ads or fridge magnets.

The thing is, right—as much as I hope and wish that this works, I have to admit that I’m not holding my breath.

But let’s just cross all our fingers and toes.

* Wait. Did they give it to her because the acronym for the award looks kinda like “YACHT” if you squint? In that case, it totes makes sense now!