Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Is name calling racism?

There have been a couple of stories hogging the news in Australia this week, and the contraversy surrounding them both leads to one question; is name calling racism?

Story 1)
There is a shooting on a Saturday night in Kings Cross. A 'merry' girl sees a TV camera and decides on a whim to pretend she witnessed it - afterall, it would be a laugh to be on TV. The story she tells is so believeable it gets widely covered and only when the police try to question her does it come out (very quickly, in her defence) that she made the whole thing up.

The hoo-ha has come from her use of the word 'wog'. For my non-Australian readers I should explain it means a very different group of people over here - those of Italian descent. Many who would be classed as wogs use the word to describe themselves (just as some black Americans - or maybe just the rappers - call themselves niggers). However others find the term offensive. The comments towards the end here show the kind of feeling the word can produce.

Story 2)
Sol Trujillo, until recently the CEO of the Australian national telecoms carrier Telstra, has called Australia a racist country. His tenure at Telstra wasn't popular and the media, politicans and (I am lead to believe) his peers regularly made comments about him relating to his race (Hispanic).

There is an article of general outcry at the allegation in The Australian this morning. Politicians and business leaders saying they have never experienced racism... that Trujillo is demonstrating sour grapes. I quote:

"I note today that Sol is complaining that Australia is somewhat racist country. The sad irony is that Sol and his amigos bought this focus on themselves by their greed and unnecessary antagonism."

The Prime Minister greeted news of Mr Trujillo's departure with the word, "adios".

Now I am a WASP through and through. White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. And have never been the victim of racist taunts. However I do have an opinion on this stemming from my experiences as a woman.

Perhaps the Kings Cross girl and the Australian business and political communities weren't being racially prejudiced. Perhaps the two "wogs" in the Cross and Sol Trujillo have never been disadvantaged in any way because of their race in Australia.

But as in any bully/bullied situation surely we need to take our lead on whether something is acceptable from the target. If those of Italian descent find the term wog offensive - don't use it. If Sol was offended or hurt at being called racially-based nicknames, surely the adults in the room know better than to do it. Rather than defending name calling as if its some sort of national sport which should be consistutionally protected ("if you don't find the PM's comment witty you are obviously very unaustralian") why not just say "hey Sol, didn't know it upset you, sorry mate. I stand by my comments about your crap management of our telecoms network though."

A woman, an older worker, a short person, someone with excessive hair.... someone of a different racial descent.... everyone has sensitivities. An insult is an insult. And if it is a racially-based insult it is racism. Let's not haggle over symantecs.


Smoph said...

The malaise present in Australia in these times certainly is a casual racism. The trouble is, it extends deeper than that I think, into a complete lack of consideration as to how the use of 'names' affects other people.

I had never thought it was a problem here, until an American friend told me how horrified he was at how easily we were racist. I was ashamed.

cardinalsin said...

People get hung up on whether something is or is not racism - but exactly as you say, if it is unpleasant and offensive then maybe people should think about that, even if they can't bring themselves to call it racist. That said, casual use of such language, while _arguably_ not racist in itself, suggests an unpleasant and disrespectful attitude to a group of people (in this case to foreigners). As my friend R would say, it isn't political correctness, it's respectful communication.

Johnny Rotten said...

There is a casual racism inherent in Australia, that unwittingly adds a veneer of acceptability to more blatant uses.

You only need to hear some of the outrageously xenophobic and ignorant comments people made when there was a proposal to build a Muslim school in Camden (Sydney) in 2007/2008.

Some comments were reported as if they came from the mouths of true-blue Aussie heroes, not the anachronisms (or worse, extremists) they'd be deemed in the UK.

Then you've got the recent spate of 'curry bashings' of Indian decent students:,25197,25566513-2702,00.html

Borat should come out here, only dressed as an Aborigine or an Indian.

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