Friday, 31 May 2013

From the MCG to McGuire: The ‘Racists’ that Shocked a Nation.

Racist' – one of the biggest six-letter words in the English language.  It’s a label as damaging as it is undesirable. In the last week alone, it’s brought a young girl national infamy and now looks set to cost a football club president his job.  So are such repercussions justifiable or has Australia been isolated from the true face of racism for so long, that it’s forgotten what it really looks like?

This issue seems to have very little to do with racism.  It’s about much more than a radio gag made in poor taste or an ignorant comment made by a 13 year-old football supporter trying to sledge an opposing team member.  At the heart of it, the issue is with what people deem ‘offensive’ as much as it is about people being a little to quick to label others as racists and feeling good about themselves for doing so. The question should be; why were these same people so silent when Harry O’Brien called Tom Hawkins a “fat f**k” and where was this same level of disgust when Stephen Milne was being berated by a Collingwood supporter on the boundary line and, among other things, being called a “rapist”?  It seems concerning that many of these critics are unwilling to address the issue of abuse in general.  Given the implications on the recipient of the ‘racist’ tag, rushing thoughtlessly to call someone a racist doesn’t make you a good person. If anything, it more than likely paints you as a tad prejudicial.

Some are calling for people to have a ‘thicker skin’, which given Australia’s leading position in ‘world obesity’ rankings seems a little ironic. In light of this, in terms of the more general topic of what offends us or what we consider hurtful, is it possible that we’re breeding a generation of people who no longer believe in the “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” philosophy?  Yes, certain words have been deemed ‘offensive’.  Some have even been used with undertones ranging from racist to sexist.  However, I’ve heard the words ‘chicken’, ‘noodle’ and ‘string bean’ used in derogatory ways, should we start censoring the list of ingredients in a stir fry recipe?  Words can hurt, they can heal, they can entertain and they can enrage.  Maybe it’s worth examining people’s actions, after all, it’s so often said that they "speak louder."

The problem appears to be a general inability or unwillingness to distinguish between ‘racism’ and ill-thought-out comments that are deemed ‘offensive’.  If this is indeed what the moral majority is up-in-arms about and what they hope to change, there’s going to be a lot of work to do.  For instance; no more ‘supermarkets’ because they denote all other markets as ‘non-super’, ‘ordinary’ and ‘inferior’.  ‘Knock knock’ jokes would be outlawed on the basis that they offend the homeless.  Saying ‘bless you’ to people who sneeze will be outlawed as it is offensive to atheists.  Also, no more advertising Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Lufthansa, the song ’99 Luftballons’, Bosch products, Siemens products, Blaupunkt products, and Boris Becker – because they arouse too many painful memories for holocaust survivors, who are all too aware of ‘German efficiency’.  This might seem a little over-the-top, but you certainly see what I’m getting at.

Ultimately, saying the wrong thing without thinking and having to apologise for it isn’t an example of racism, it’s the foundation of marriage.  Making one thoughtless comment doesn’t make you a ‘racist’ any more than writing a couple of letters makes you a ‘novelist’.  Just over 300 years ago, English poet, Alexander Pope wrote in ‘An Essay on Criticism’, “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”  So many people are rushing to label people as ‘racists’, and taking joy in doing so, that it seems they’re more interested in being seen to be doing the right thing than doing the right thing.  Dangerous, considering that following the masses without exercising rational thought is kind of what persecution predicated on, right?  Realistically, the people that have been so vocal in their criticism of Eddie McGuire’s gaffe are the same people who have remained suspiciously quiet about this “pot” that’s been racially labelling “kettles” all these years.

Perhaps the biggest issue, as Jim Rohn once said, is that common sense is not so common.  We’re humans; sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes we misspeak, sometimes we’re misunderstood.  Some of us are even malicious and sometimes, unfortunately, are indeed discriminatory of others.  It’s important for us to know how to tell the difference.  It just seems that maybe if people exercised a little more discretion when it really mattered, they’d exert a lot less energy on things that really didn’t.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Confessions of a 'Serbaroo': What it means to be a Serb in Australia & New Zealand

Serbs.  I love them.  I love them so much, I had them for parents.  Australia loves them!  So much so in fact, that in the nineties, they constituted one of this country's largest imports.

Not long ago, I was asked to summarise what it means to “be Serb in Australia and New Zealand”.  Now, to attempt to answer this question seriously is pretentious, to approach it with good humour is essential and to tackle it at all is, honestly, too much effort for most.  Maybe it's because being Serb here is something almost as inexplicable as it is unbelievable, or perhaps it's simply that too few people know how to tell the story properly.  I say this because there's an important message here, but any answer to this question, which makes you think without laughing or laugh without thinking, is ironically, laughable and thoughtless.  In any case, anyone who knows me would know that I don't do "serious" but I do however, do stories.  "Serious" is boring, unimaginative and ours is a story deserving of far more.  So below, in less than 500 words, I'm going to answer this question in the only way I believe it should be answered; with overwhelming positivity, with simplicity and through a series of collective experiences that you, the reader, can both laugh at and relate to.

Being Serb in Australia means having to supply alcohol when attending Australian parties as well as supplying alcohol when Australians attend your parties.  It means you can’t legally drink until you’re 18 but that your dad let you sample beer and rakija before the age of 14.  Being Serb in New Zealand means roasting a sheep every weekend rather than making love to a sheep every weekend.

Being Serb in Australia and New Zealand means sharing in a common history of fighting the Turks.  It means eating ‘cevapi’ rather than ‘snags’ and paying twice as much when buying sausages that are half the size.  It means oak Christmas trees instead of conifers, with green oak leaves instead of brown and it means seeing someone starting a fire on the Christmas tree before starting a fire at the barbecue.  It means celebrating winter Saint’s days in summer and summer Saint’s days in winter.  It’s attending school for half a day on Saturdays and it’s knowing two national anthems.  Being Serb in Australia and New Zealand means living in two countries that recognised Kosovo’s illegal independence but still identifying your nationality as belonging to the most important country not to have recognised it.  It means loving a country that shares more than half a dozen borders, but living in two countries that share borders with no one.  Being Serb in Australia and New Zealand means you’re allowed to march in the ‘ANZAC Day’ parade.  It means attending the Australian Open but cheering for Serbs and it means going to the footy with Serbs and barracking for Australians.

Being Serb in Australia and New Zealand means living in one world but having the best of both.  It can mean feeling like you constantly have to defend your own people whilst always taking care not to offend other peoples.  It can mean working a casual job and studying in one country, and all the while having to be a permanent ambassador for a country on the other side of the world.  It means correcting friends when they mispronounce your names and then apologising when your parents mispronounce theirs.  Being Serb in Australia or New Zealand means living in a country that approves of genetically-modified food but has wild animals on its coat of arms, yet belonging to a country that disapproves of genetically-modified foods but has a double-headed eagle on its coat of arms.  It means late nights watching Aussie sports followed by early mornings at an Orthodox church.

Ultimately though, being a Serb in Australia and New Zealand means little to those that aren’t, but it means everything to those that are.  It means you can raise one glass to two countries while you hold-up three fingers.  It means having the freedom to love where you are whilst still celebrating where you’ve come from.  In short; it’s meaningful.