Posts Tagged ‘Racism’

I have been living in Australia for 10 years now and have had to cop a lot of casual, knee jerk anti Americanism. And, you know what? It’s offensive not to mention hypocritical. Those of you who read this blog pretty much already know that I’m no flag toting patriotic “God Bless America” wanker. I know my country of origin is fucked up for many reasons and rapidly getting even more fucked up. I don’t harbour any illusions that my country is some sort of land of milk and honey that does no wrong. I can complain about America right along with most people and I understand where anti American sentiment can stem from. But there are certain people (a whole lot of you Australians, whether you think so or not) that automatically denigrate America in ways that you would never dare do so to any other country. The reason you wouldn’t dare demonize any other country in that way is because it is offensive, insensitive and racist. So why is it ok to do it to the US? Yes, the US is predominantly white so the racist* argument would be hard to hold up. But that doesn’t change the offensiveness. This sort of thing happens across all sorts of subjects but the one I notice the most is language and accents.

Just now on Twitter, I noticed some people I was following having a conversation about the correct way to spell “premie” (as in, a premature baby). The fact that Americans say “preemie” was mentioned. I jumped in only to say that the reason Americans say that is just an accent thing. We pronounce “premature” “pree-mature” as opposed to the Australian/English habit of pronouncing it “preh-mature.” I also pointed out that “mum” vs “mom” is accent related yet it’s reflected in the spelling so go figure. I then got served with some snotty comment along the lines of “if it’s American then it’s wrong.” I pointed out how offensive that statement was and I got served with yet another snotty dismissal of all things American.

Here’s the thing: Accents are not wrong, they are simply different ways of pronouncing words. Different is not Wrong. Accents fascinate me because they seem so random and weird. I always wonder how one group of people speaking the same language as another group of people came to pronounce things so drastically differently. Even groups who live right next to each other have radically different accents! I find some accents beautiful and some of them make my teeth itch. Honestly, even I find a really strong US accent quite jarring especially after having lived overseas for so long. So, I get that some accents are just not palatable to certain people but they are not Wrong, for crying out loud! Neither are different spellings. They are DIFFERENT and they are all ENGLISH (well, in this context I’m only talking about English). I would have gotten pretty upset (and justifiably so) if any of my teachers had marked me down for spelling “colour” the British way as opposed to the US “color.” The same goes for if my kids happen to spell something the American way.

Language is a funny thing. It’s always changing. The English we speak now is nothing like the English spoken in Shakespeare’s time, for example. These days it seems to change even faster (I’m no linguist, that’s just my personal perception of how quickly words seem to make it into the dictionary). Accents add another layer to this. It’s all pretty fascinating and a good topic of discussion, really. But to say that everything about US English is Wrong and therefore should be ridiculed is ignorant. I wonder what the people who behave like this would do if an American went off about how Australian English is Wrong and deserves ridicule? You can bet they’d get pretty offended and justifiably so.

The language thing isn’t the only time this casual anti Americanism happens around me, to me, or about me. It’s uncomfortable on top of offensive. How should I act? If I stand up for myself and my country, I am seen as an overly patriotic American wanker. Often I have just joined in or let it go for the sake of social harmony. But, that is pretty cowardly on my part and after a while, it gets to me. These things should not be ok**. Part of what’s wrong with America is Americans’ perceived arrogance and ignorance of the world. And you know what? That’s fair enough because, as an American, I know that the American government (and many Americans, collectively) can come off as arrogant and ignorant of the world. It shits me too. But what shits me even more is that the people displaying the casual knee jerk anti Americanism are BEING JUST AS ARROGANT AND IGNORANT OF THE WORLD as the Americans that they complain about! So, get off your high horse, you arrogant fuckwits! Not everything Americans say, do, spell, eat, or think is shit. Quit acting like you’re so much smarter and worldly than an entire country of people just because you happen to live somewhere else. In short, grow up.

*    I almost want to call it a sort of cultural-ism. Does that work? Can I make that a word?

**  I’d just like to note here that I am not entirely humourless. I can take a joke and I do find most America jokes pretty funny. So don’t give me the “Australians take the piss” lecture. I know they do and I love it. What I’m talking about is not your usual light hearted Australian piss taking. Some jokes go beyond that and have too much animosity behind them to be funny.

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Today is Australia Day. Otherwise known as Invasion Day. Otherwise known as Hottest 100 Day. Take your pick.Basically, for the non Aussie readers, Australia Day is the national holiday. From the American perspective, it’s kind of like the Fourth of July (BBQs, fireworks, beer) only with the deeper racial issues associated with Thanksgiving (for those of us who bother to worry about such things).

When I first moved here, I thought Australia Day must mark the day the penal colony went from being a penal colony to a proper, semi autonomous country in its own right within the Commonwealth … er something like that. Basically, I got sucked into the harmless fun of the day and enjoyed it like I would Fourth of July with beer, fireworks and BBQs. The calls of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oy! Oy! Oy!” amused me as some quaint little foreign thing that I had no idea about so I joined in. I was young, childless, loved a cruisey BBQ party and there was Little Creatures beer on tap. Woo!

Then a few things happened. First, I slowly began to realize just what January 26th marked: The day the first boat of convicts arrived to set up the original colony. It is, quite literally, Invasion Day from the Indigenous perspective (and from the perspective of any rational human being with a bit of compassion for conquered people). Needless to say the day was a bit soured for me. Then an even worse aspect of the day started to pop up: the rabidly racist, anti immigration nationalism. Suddenly the occasional Aussie flag or silly costume turned into a mark of just how Aussie (read: racist) you were. Australian flags all over cars, people wearing the flag like a cape, “Fuck Off We’re Full” bumper stickers are everywhere now. Even the Southern Cross symbol has become an emblem for racism, intolerance and hate.

As an immigrant myself, all this makes me extremely uncomfortable. And, ironically, the fact that I am not readily distinguished as an immigrant (at least the kind that these yobbos are attacking) makes me even more uncomfortable. I am white, middle class and a native English speaker. I do not get as overtly attacked as the hardworking non white people who likely struggled a hell of a lot more than me to get here (I count having to learn an entire new language and completely foreign culture as struggling more than I). So I’m lucky and privileged in that but it doesn’t have to make me happy. It sickens me that these people have to deal with any of this shit.

At the end of the day, though, Australia Day is also a summer public holiday. A perfect day for BBQs, beer and friends. How to resolve all this? I think of it as Hottest 100 Day. The Hottest 100 is a tradition started by the national youth radio station Triple J. Triple J, incidentally, is the only radio station I can stomach listening to and would miss it bitterly if we were ever to move overseas. It is, quite simply, the best radio station I have ever encountered (and I’ve lived in quite a few areas of the US so have had a bit of experience with radio stations). Every year, they run a poll for people to vote for their favourite songs of the last 12 months and then they count them down all day long on January 26th. Its usually a fantastic soundtrack to a BBQ. There is discussion of what will get in, who will be in the top 10, and how much we can’t believe that people actually voted for this particular song. It’s pretty awesome and something I can get excited about. So, that’s what this public holiday is for me: Hottest 100 Day. Even though this year’s number 1 got leaked a few days before the event. 🙂

On a personal note, today marks something else as well: I officially became an Australian Citizen on January 26th, 2008. I did have brief misgivings about having my ceremony on Invasion Day given the implications. But I opted not to decline the invitation for fear that it would have taken them forever to offer me another ceremony date and I did want the whole thing over and done. So, I have been an Australian for two years now. This week, in particular, also marks nine years since I officially moved to Australia. Nine years. That’s a long, long time.

For more information on the race issues associated with today, I have some links. The first is the wiki article about the Cronulla Riots which happened in December 2005 but which I feel was a catalyst for the nationalistic fuckwittery around January 26th to crank up to full throttle. The second is a link that I have not had a chance to look at myself (audio issues on my machine & no chance as yet to steal The Geek’s machine to review it) but which was highly recommended by an Indigenous friend of mine as a representation of the Indigenous perspective on this holiday. I’m shit at the fancy link embedding crap, sorry.



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