Australian racism explored, but not explained

Dumb, Drunk and Racist
A Cordell Jigsaw Production
ABC 2, Wednesdays at 9.30pm

“All they want to do is deny it on TV—‘we have no racism’—hello! Come hang out with me!” So says Somali-born Muslim woman Nasro, in episode two of the new ABC six part documentary series, Dumb, Drunk and Racist.

Are Australians dumb, drunk, and racist? Judging by the ratings of the first episode, it’s a question that people are hungry to explore.

Joe Hildebrand, the unfortunately jarring host, takes four Indian participants around so-called racial “hotspots” in order to test the premise.

The strength of this documentary series is that Australian racism is openly exposed on television.

And certainly, despite Hildebrand’s efforts to trivialise the subject (dressing participants in flak jackets to make light of attacks on Indians, for example) the confronting reality of racism in Australia is on display.

The show exposes racist slurs encouraged by the “say no to burqas” muralist in Newtown and his anti-Muslim hate truck. Hildebrand replays the shocking scenes of the Cronulla Riots and takes the participants to an ugly anti-refugee demonstration by the Australian Protectionist Party outside Villawood detention centre (thankfully interrupted by Anti-Racism Collective activists from Sydney University).

Interspersed is disturbing footage of the participants experiencing racist harassment on the streets of Melbourne and in call centres in India. It makes sense that Radhika, an education advisor in India and one of the participants doesn’t, “recommend Australia [to students] too much… too much in the sense of not at all.”

Looking for explanations

The evidence makes it difficult to gloss over the breadth and depth of racist sentiment in Australia and the participants (and no doubt the show’s viewers) are left demanding some explanation.

Twenty-one year old Indian student Aamer asks, “[the racism] makes me sad a little bit, but more it makes me wonder why, what’s behind it? What’s making them act in this way? That’s one thing I really want to know”.

Unfortunately, instead of digging for an explanation for the racism, Hildebrand tries ineffectually to be even-handed about whether or not Australia is racist.

The vitriolic racism of the Australian Protectionist Party is followed by a segment on a multicultural soccer match in Lakemba, as though the two scenarios cancel each other out.

And Hildebrand paints the attacks on Indian students as random criminal activity. “Arseholes are arseholes”, he says, referring to people from “low socio-economic areas”. He repeats the victim-blaming explanation that anyone going to rough areas should expect rough treatment. By the end of the third episode—the latest as this issue of Solidarity goes to print—racism is reduced to horrifying but occasional and random eruptions, and generally presented as the act of poor, drunk, ignorant people.

There have been a few missed opportunities to better answer Aamer’s questions. For example, Nick Folks from the Australian Protection Party begins his xenophobic rant in episode two with “the current system [of dealing with refugees] doesn’t deter illegals it just rolls out a welcoming mat”, and “these asylum seekers are paying organised criminals to get to Australia”.

Aamer comments that, “it’s not every day that you meet such a bunch of idiots”—and they certainly are idiots. But the host could have pointed out that Gillard uses the same arguments about deterring refugees on a daily basis. Detention centres are built, boats in distress ignored, and Indonesian minors suspected of “people smuggling” are imprisoned on the basis of these very arguments.

Tracing the hysterical fear of refugees back to the seeds sown and fertilised by government policy and rhetoric would have revealed much more honestly where the racism in Australia comes from.

Regardless of what Dumb, Drunk and Racist ends up concluding about Australians, there is little doubt Australia’s leaders are doing their best to live up to the title.

Former PM Kevin Rudd refused to apologise for the racist attacks on Indian students—and even denied they were racist. Simon Crean said Indian leaders should “avoid fuelling hysteria” in response to the attacks.

Labor and Liberal have just entrenched another decade of racism against Aboriginal people with the passage of the Stronger Futures legislation through the Senate in June.

It’s these kinds of policies that help explain why, as newsreader Gurmeet says in episode three, “it’s in the minds of Australian people that these people [Indians] are inferior to you.”

Lucy Honan


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