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Friends Fight Intolerance

The following article grew out of an
e-mail exchange between Biohney
North of St. Paul's Anglican
Grammar School, Australia, and
Brendan Condon, Cold Spring
Harbor High School, New York
This exchange has been taking place
since September 1997 and is
ongoing. In addition to e-mail, the
students posted their messages in
<iearn.hgp>. We welcome
you to join their discussion.

[ Neo-Nazi Graffiti ]

Dear Brendan,

Thanks for your letter! I'm just a beginner when it comes to the Internet and all this modern technology, so it's really exciting to receive e-mail. I'm glad you can publish my article. There's so much to write on concerning Aboriginal affairs in Australia and I often see articles in the newspaper concerning Aboriginal land rights and Aboriginal civic rights.

I have been lucky enough to have a sister in university who is doing a Koorie Studies course. There are a number of Aboriginal groups in Australia: Murrifrom Queensland, the Yolngu group in the North, the Nyungas in the west and, of course, the Koories in Victoria (the state where I live). Within these groups are a variety of tribes. Each had its own unique language, but a lot of the old traditions were lost with the introduction of Europeans to our continent.

Racism in Australia

Through the influence of my school, my church, and my mother, I have been brought up to believe that racism is an ugly word. In our society, a lot of people have begun recognizing people's rights to equality, and it has become almost "politically correct" to condone racism. Yet, this hasn't stopped racism from rearing its hideous head.

A series of events during March 1992 emphasized the sad fact that there are still racist tendencies in Australian society. Yothu Yindi is a well-known Aboriginal music group, yet its lead singer was refused entry to a St. Kilda bar. There was also the screening of an ABC documentary, Cop it Sweet, which revealed racism among NSW police officers in the inner suburbs of Sydney. Perhaps the most disturbing revelation was the screening of a home video in which the "stars of the show" were off-duty police officers at a fancy-dress charity show, mocking the deaths of two Aboriginals, who had died while in police custody.

Since the public became aware of these incidents, there has been an increased focus on Aboriginal issues -- and I come to the question that many of us don't wish to ask: "Are Australians, in general, racist?"

A few years ago, I wouldn't have taken as much as two seconds to think about that question; the answer would have been definitely negative. I lived in a world where I'd grown-up knowing racism was not acceptable, and I had never been exposed to much racism at all. Unfortunately, this illusion was shattered as I got older. I became more aware of the world around me, and I discovered that racism still exists.

Why? I ask myself. We're living in the nineties and, more importantly, in a country with such a distinct blend of cultures; how can there be any room for racism? Maybe the answer lies with the reason why conformity and fashions and special cliques exist -- xenophobia. The fear of something foreign, something different that we may not understand or that brings to the surface our own insecurities. Can it be that we feel threatened by another race? The Jews seemed to be successful in whatever country they were forced. Could this be the reason behind their persecution? When we see Asian immigrants establishing big businesses and finding success in Australia, people begin to fear that the country will be overtaken, or maybe they start developing an inferiority complex if foreigners do better than they do.

"Don't sit there! That's Kamikaze territory!" I was horrified and disappointed to hear this racist comment coming from the lips of my brother's best friend, an eleven-year-old boy. He yelled this out, loud enough for everyone to hear, when I went to sit behind a group of Asian boys at the cinema. The word "Kamikaze" came about during World War II, when Japanese pilots committed suicide bombings. I doubt whether this boy knew the origin of this word, but I'm certain he knew the racism which that phrase manifested, and I'm also positive he has probably heard a similar phrase uttered by at least one of his parents. As children, we begin to develop our values, based on the teachings of our parents and our own experiences. A child may display hostility toward another race with a prejudice which originated hundreds of years ago.

We will never know just how many Australians are racists. Superficially, nearly all Australians are against racism. We seek comfort in our own sense of self-righteousness, and not may would dare admit that they have a racist inclination. Yet, there are also many people who genuinely believe in equality and have sacrificed a lot in the fight to eradicate racism. The future is looking better. The government is really pushing for a reconciliation with the Aboriginals, and over the years, there has been an increase in education about the Aboriginal culture. Since ignorance leads to intolerance, I think this is a good move. Hopefully, one day we can become a beautiful country, a country free from the ugliness of racism.

- Briohney North

P.S -- If you're interested in any specific aboriginal issue, I have got information on the Wik Plan and the Mabo Legislation (both to do with land rights); the work of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (concerning civic rights and Aboriginal welfare); the preservation of Aboriginal sacred land; the Aboriginal culture, social, political, and economic organization -- as well as religion and how the Aboriginal culture conflicted with European culture; the massacres that took place during the white settlement era; Aboriginal labor and stealing Aboriginal children from their mothers; Aboriginal deaths in custody; the fight for Aboriginal civil rights; and, how we, as a nation, have become more tolerant. I've also got statistics and newspaper articles, including much information on government policies concerning Aboriginal affairs.

I also have access to articles written by Aboriginal people on various issues. Don't hesitate to ask for more information.

Dear Briohney,

I just got your letter; it is so long! Thanks for writing back, and thank you for wishing me a happy birthday. I thought that what you said about racism was really good. Racism is not only present in Australia, but in America. Much like the Aboriginals in Australia, the Native American Indians were very much persecuted. They have all been driven onto reservations, with much of their culture and sacred places lost to the white industrialists. Only now has the government started to make amends, by setting up programs to help American Indians to college. Even so, the reservations still have some of the highest rates of alcoholism in the country. It does not help that the government is also giving Indians the right to set up gambling casinos, which may preclude many Indians from getting a formal education.

In California, Proposition 209, which set up laws that schools must let a certain number of minorities into their schools, was voted down. Now the number of minorities attending schools has dropped into the single digits.

In New York City, there was a recent incident with an African American named Abner Louima, who was brutalized by several NYPD cops. There is now a large uproar about police brutality among minorities.

Even with all of these events, society as a whole is still far ahead of where we were a hundred years ago. People can no longer blatantly talk about the inferiority of another race, or openly discriminate. Nevertheless, society does exhibit xenophobia, as you said. I too hope that one day we will be free of racism.

I would like to find out more about the reforms that are being instituted to help the Aboriginals. It sounds very interesting and very similar to the situation of the Native Americans. If you would like to know more about the Native Americans, I am sure that I could get my hands on some recent data.

The student magazine, An End to Intolerance, deals with racism, genocide, and almost all other forms of discrimination. We accept many kinds of writing. We would really appreciate poetry, photographs, or creative writing of any kind, since that section of the magazine is so small. If you know anyone who would like to contribute, please tell them that they would be welcome.

If you would like to find out more about the HGP and An End to Intolerance, you can go to our Web site at <>. Also, I would like to know if you want to be an international editor for the magazine. I would like to know if you would want to work on a joint article, discussing the undiscussed problem of racism in society. I think it would be very interesting, and the issue is not often talked about.

You asked if we were allowed to drive at sixteen; well, in New York state, you get your permit at sixteen, if you take drivers' education. Then, you get your license at seventeen. I can't believe that you have to wait until you are 21. There would be a revolt here if that ever happened. Also, you said that you were confused about the freshman and sophomore system. I hope I can clear it up for you. A freshman is a ninth grader in high school (fourteen years old) or in the first year of college. A sophomore is a tenth grader, which I happen to be, in high school or in the second year of college. A junior is an eleventh grader in high school, or attending the third year of college. A senior is a twelfth grader in high school, or in the fourth year of college. The juniors and seniors are generally called upperclassmen. I hope that explanation clears everything up. If it does not, just ask. Well, that's about it. I look forward to your next e-mail.

- Brendan Condon

Dear Brendan,

The way our indigenous people are treated today is totally removed from the way the European settlers first persecuted Aborigines. You probably know where Tasmania is. It is Australia's most southern state and is separated from Australia by the Bass Strait. The early Aboriginal people experienced the worst atrocities in Tasmania. The European settlers actually planned to annihilate the Tasmanian Aborigines totally. They formed a long line that stretched across Tasmania and marched forward, killing every Aboriginal man, woman and child they saw. There've been so many changes since then. These reforms began taking place around 1957. I will write about them soon.

- Briohney

P.S. -- The following is a little poem I wrote. I'm pretty hopeless at poetry but I've tried to illustrate something that happens quite often. The way people are superficially anti-racist and, in a way, they're probably against racism; yet, they'll still treat Aboriginal people differently, with distrust or caution or just not knowing how to act. People can sense this and I'm sure it must be hurtful.

Being Black

I saw it I their eyes that day.
Judged guilty -- of being black:
A criminal, an imposter,
Trespassing on a land of which I had no claim.
I read it in their words that day,
Application rejected -- for being black.
Their diplomatic reason -- "overqualification";
The resume was left unopened.

I felt it in their presence that day,
Averting eyes -- shuffling feet -- defensive circles.
"We're not suited," they said,
And hastily escaped my contaminating presence.

I read it in their posture that day:
Tense -- on alert -- cautious.
"I was welcome to stay," they said.
But all the valuables were carefully hidden.
I heard it in their laughter that day,
"He does not go out with your type";
And then they saw it in my eyes:
The tears of humiliation, frustration and
Shame -- of being black.

Dear Brendan,

Thanks for writing. I was sorry to hear about the persecution of the American Indians. I did not realize the situation was so similar to ours in Australia. In fact, amongst a lot of other Australians, I have heard of racial discrimination against Negroes but was not aware of the treatment of America's indigenous people. This is a disturbing thought because I wonder if there has been racism in other countries that has gone unheard of. Do you think people subconsciously refuse to acknowledge problems such as racism in our world? I'm sure some people immediately switch the channel when a World Vision advertisement comes on television. Perhaps it's one of those "out of sight, out of mind" situations, or "if you ignore the problem, it will go away." Maybe people detach themselves from problems like this because, as they remain unaware of it, they are not obliged by any sense of humanitarian responsibility to act. Our conscience is a bit of a nuisance at times and, we know, once we are exposed to a problem in the world, our conscience beckons us to act. With this knowledge, we may find ourselves trying to avoid situations where we are forced to see the world's problems and, as a result, recognize our own responsibility to do something. This can be applied to racial discrimination issues, and it becomes part of the fuel that feeds the fires of racism.

Racism is not blatantly rampant in Australia. For one thing, it is not "politically correct" and, more importantly, racial vilification is illegal. So yes, in this culturally diverse country of ours, we are, superficially, a racially tolerant society. There are many people who frown upon racism, and there is also a huge portion of the Australian population who believe racism is virtually nonexistent. It is a pleasant ideal. Our tendency to avoid confronting social problems aids this, but it is just an illusion. Racism lurks beneath a veneer of political correctness and, perhaps, like "creepy crawlies" at the beach, its concealment may make it more dangerous.

What is the root of racism? The cause may be a mixture of things -- fear of the unknown; a lack of education; misunderstandings; and, stereotypical images. Yet, I believe the principal reason behind racism is the influence of parents. When a baby is born, she or he does not recognize distinctions between races. It is only as children grow and are conditioned by their parents' prejudices that racism emerges. My mother is very much against racism, but my father is not. Despite my objections, Dad does not hesitate to use racially derogatory terms, or to make a generalization based on race. Luckily, since my parents were divorced when I was young and my visits with Dad are few and far between, I did not become one of those children who follow in the footsteps of a racist parent.

This is why it is so important for the younger generation to start taking a stand against racism. Racism might tend to follow in a line of genetic succession and this line will continue to lengthen if we do not break the chain. Perhaps, a long time ago, people tended to adopt their parents' prejudices because they were uninformed and unexposed to a mixture of cultures. Now, in the age of the Internet, among other things, we have no excuse to continue racial discrimination. It's up to the kids of the '90s to dissolve the barriers between black and white and to discard old prejudices.

Last semester, our class read To Kill A Mockingbird. One of the things I'll always remember is the bitter irony of chapter twenty-four. It is here that a missionary circle in the deep south, in the thirties, expresses their pity for the "poor Mrunas." They're eager to help these people leave a life of squalor and poverty, yet they don't seem to realize that, in their own home town, racism reigns and right beside them, in the run-down part of town where the blacks live in a similar state of abject poverty. I hope Australia does not become like Maycomb, seeing fault in the situations overseas but not realizing or facing the fact that there are problems here too....

-Briohney North

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