Who takes weight of racism?

Ordinary Chinese-Australians are being forced to carry both the weight of racism and suspicion on their backs—much of the abuse has emanated from our institutions

16 October 2021 | Words and Main Image by Marcus Reubenstein

When an Asian-Australian is abused on the street, on public transport or in a shop, that is low level racism. It is a reflection not on our society but on the individuals engaged in these racist attacks.

The perpetrators of such racism are vile and insignificant morons who, not that long ago, were hurling similar abuse in the direction of Islamic Australians. The question is where are they taking their cues from?

One answer is that racism is coming out of Australia’s institutions, and there’s been no better example than the conduct of right-wing Tasmanian Senator Eric Abetz. A year ago during public hearings for a senate inquiry he, and fellow right-winger, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, demanded three Australians of Chinese origin denounce the nation of their ethnic origin, the People’s Republic of China.

One of those three people is Australian born, while another was not born in Mainland China and emigrated to this nation as a child. The third was born in China, and also emigrated as a child, she is an Australian citizen who’s worked in academia and government departments and is substantially on the record as being critical of the Chinese government.

Whilst I don’t know these people well, I am pretty certain Abetz’s appalling, and opportunistic, racism still stings them today.

Let’s not forget that 60 percent of Australians of Chinese ethnicity were not born in Mainland China. So why are all Chinese-Australians carrying the weight of suspicion of disloyalty on their backs?

Whilst Prime Minister Scott Morrison might choose his words carefully, so as not to offend Asian-Australians, he is an unabashed advocate of imposing British and American control over Asia. In the face of some stiff competition Morrison is perhaps the most culturally ignorant leader this nation has ever had.

However, it’s overly simplistic to lay the blame at the feet of Americans—just as Morrison’s anti-China rhetoric lays the blame at the feet of the Chinese people.

“America” might be the inspiration for Australia’s boneheaded Asian diplomacy but that inspiration comes from a very narrow slice of US society.

It does not reflect the views of millions upon millions of thoughtful and exceptional American people—the kinds of Americans I am very grateful for instilling in me the values that have made me a strong advocate against racism and, in particular, Asian hate.

The gun and Bible can’t be trusted

Given events of recent times I am constantly reminded of the great American soul and R&B artist Stevie Wonder and a song he released on the 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life.

The album debuted at Number One on the Billboard record charts (back when they were in fact vinyl records!). It won Album of the Year at the 19th Grammy Awards and was named by Rolling Stone magazine as the fourth greatest album of all time.

One of the tracks on that album is Saturn, not so much an optimistic song as many of Wonder’s tracks are, but a song of hope in which a line has for years always stuck in my mind: “We can’t trust you when you take a stand with a gun and bible in your hand.”

The full verse is:

We have come here many times before
To find your strategy to peace is war
Killing helpless men, women and children
That don’t even know what they are dying for
We can’t trust you when you take a stand
With a gun and bible in your hand
And the cold expression on your face
Saying give us what we want or we’ll destroy

It is poignant to note, on that same list, Rolling Stone ranked Marvin Gaye’s 1971 album What’s Going On as the greatest album of all time.

With its brilliant composition, lyrics, harmony and arrangement, What’s Going On was a protest song about the discrimination of black Americans, which also became a peaceful anthem of opposition against US involvement in the Vietnam War—an American war against communism in Asia, that ended in no regime change, instead the deaths of countless innocent Vietnamese citizens.

That point bears repeating:

The last time the United States ventured into Asia to wage war on a communist regime, two million civilians were slaughtered and five decades later the communist leadership, of tiny Vietnam which the mighty Americans failed to topple, is still in place.

Gaye’s song was released exactly 50 years ago. The issues surrounding the race riots that plagued America in the 1960s have now become the Black Lives Matter movement. While the “domino theory” which said communism in Vietnam was poised to engulf every Asian nation has now been replaced with the “China threat”.

Are we headed down the same road again?

Is the current situation history repeating itself? Yes and no.

The China threat industry’s most active media operatives are the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, through its news and current affairs division and senior on-air presenters who profess a profound knowledge of China; the Murdoch media, in particular The Australian which brings shame upon the national masthead by continually splashing blatant lies across its front pages; and Nine Entertainment with television beat ups on its news and current affairs platform and print news ‘features’ and ‘exclusives’ from reporters who have never been to China.

These people are getting paid handsomely by three outlets which, in order, are government-funded, owned by a deeply anti-Chinese American citizen and thirdly chaired by the former treasurer of a Liberal/National Party Government.

There are the think tanks like ASPI, the US Studies Centre and now the Lowy Institute which recently picked up $1.8 million in government funding to produce a series of research reports on Chinese Australians.

The first Lowy report was roundly criticized by Chinese community leaders for being too open-ended in its findings, thus leaving key parts of the report open to the interpretation that a significant number of Chinese-Australians are disloyal their country.

Then of course there is the security establishment, government officials who constantly leak to the media and key senior figures in academia.

In June one of Australia’s founding fathers of the China threat narrative, Clive Hamilton, took to Twitter (archived here) with a slur that a group of prominent Australian academics were “eat-shitists” after they published an open letter expressing concern of the treatment of the Chinese diaspora in Australia.

His comment was appalling and I fail to see how it is not racist.

Where is the path of peace or protest?

This is the “no” answer.

Prompting public outcry against public figures who are marching Australia off to war with China, has proved elusive. Save for a small number of voices in independent media, social media activists and YouTubers pushing back against this narrative there is no mass protest movement.

It seems those beating the drums of war are prepared to wait until a cold war becomes a hot war and then deal with the backlash.

Those pushing back right now, among which I include myself, are basically asking of only two things from the China hawks. First, concrete proof of the supposed ills of China. Second, disclosure that they support their arguments based on the propaganda generated by overwhelmingly US-funded groups.

Along with the Chinese diaspora we now find ourselves as targets.

Is the United States exporting racial abuse?

This is a thorny question because what exactly is the definition of the United States?

When millions of people are not prepared to accept the results of a free election, and when the defeated leader of the free world seemingly incites the deadly storming of the seat of government in Washington DC, what does that say?

More than anything it says America is divided and—for long time US watchers, like myself—reinforcement that America has always been divided.

The current US political, defence and foreign policy rhetoric on China is a vile, hateful and racist campaign desperately trying to ensure that America remains the sole global superpower.

That rhetoric is, for the most part, dog-whistling. It presents what should be a rational argument on the challenges of the emergence of a second global superpower as a campaign which targets all Chinese.

When these conservative policy hawks begin a sentence, “I am not against the Chinese people but…” that is the red flag! If somebody qualifies a statement on the Chinese race with a conjunction like “but” “yet” or “except”, in my book that is racism.

US governments have an unending desire to meddle in the affairs of other nations mostly for ideological reasons but, when convenient, they can just as easily single out race or religion—that too is institutional racism. Conversely, America is a melting pot of many cultures and, just like Australia, there are many tolerant and generous people across the nation.

Australians can justifiably blame the US for hijacking our national interests but we can’t blame the American people or their culture for our own brand of racism.

The anti-China export industry

This is essentially a small but vocal and highly influential group of propagandists. Their broad brush strokes paint all Chinese—except activists from Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang, not forgetting the fervently pro-Trump Falun Gong movement—as being guilty by association, or worse still, ethnicity.

It is Americans, like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, who overwhelmingly shaped my views on humanity—that is why I referred to them above. It is American filmmakers who have caused me to have an open view of the world, and a remarkable American actor in Alan Alda, in the role of “Hawkeye” Pierce in TV series M*A*S*H, who shaped my dual beliefs of compassion towards others and the madness of war.

While the brilliant and fearless American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh made me aspire to producing journalism of the highest standard. Other American writers, Gay Talese, Hunter S, Thomspon, Tom Wolfe and P. J. O’Rourke were equally important influences on me, and remain so today.

Though he is technically a stand-up comedian, I believe Washington DC-born and raised, Dave Chappelle (a black Muslim) to be the greatest humanitarian his craft has ever produced and arguably one of the most important humanitarian commentators in the world today.

Incidentally, Chappelle’s wife is an Asian-American.

It is not people who are exporting anti-China rhetoric around the world—it is institutions and politicians (who technically are people but in 2021 seem to be sorely lacking in humanity).

C’est le ton qui fait la musique

To borrow from the French—it is the tone of the music being played. And it is the tone of institutional, governmental and mainstream media racism which makes low level racism okay.

If the nation’s key opinion leaders are forever unloading criticism on China, indeed when Prime Minister Scott Morrison leaks to the media that an “unnamed state actor” is up to no good, what are people to expect?

It is a global phenomena embraced in Australia with perhaps greater enthusiasm than any other western nation. The so-called “wolverines” in Australia’s national parliament and the apparently racist Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China they helped establish, are at the centre of this.

These people set the tone.

China’s rise is a challenge that must be handled carefully and diplomatically by western nations but the dangerous tone of the hawks and alarmists is that China represents nothing more than a threat.

It is little wonder that a racist ‘man on the street’ should view that as the green light to threaten Chinese-Australians.

Whether it’s Chinese and other Asian-Australians falling under suspicion in the workplace, being targeted by the media, being denied promotion in government departments or facing harassment when they work in government institutions, that is wrong.

As a nation, Australia cannot remain tone deaf to institutional racism.