An African Beauty

The newspaper headlines screamed – Hanson lost. Did she?

You know her, Pauline Hanson. She is the founder and leader of the Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party (PHON), an Australian Political Party with a strong base in Queensland and with four seats in the Australian Senate. The untamed and unashamed Hanson is known for many things, not all good. She stands at the forefront of the anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism campaign in Australia, the two main areas where Australia (the largest multicultural nation in the world) punches high above its weight in the world. Pauline is not only spitting fires against them, she is following up with measured actions. In 2015, it was the Islamic Community in Australia that caught her fancy culminating in her wearing a Hijab to Senate in 2017 in a manner to question the decency of that mode of dressing.

Now that you’ve gotten the idea, there are Xenophobic people amongst us and we need to curb their enthusiasm to run amok before it is too late. People like Pauline Hanson are ecstatic about others who do not speak or look like them. Thank God they are in the minority and the laws had kept them at bay from publicly causing harm and bringing their racial prejudice to the open.

In my career, working in international locations, I have met a few people like Pauline and usually shrug them off. However, I have had two notable experiences here in Australia that were not only scary but instilled some fears in me as to what lies behind the skins of people that walk our streets. It was late in 2016 that I requested the services of an Air Conditioner (AC) technician in my house using the website. Leigh of Conway Services Pty Ltd showed up. He was a handful and I can’t forget him in a hurry. He took a look at the AC, delivered the bad news that the refrigerant had to be replaced and invoiced me One hundred dollars as his call out fee. I offered to pay by credit card but unfortunately he had no POS machine. He chose to go the old way, using carbon paper, he traced out all the details on my card and left.  Two days after, I got a call from him demanding for payment and I explained that he already has my credit card details and should charge this. That was when he went into a tirade, calling me all sorts of unprintable, racist names. Honestly, I was very disturbed that I could be the subject of racial slurs and verbal abuse.

Earlier that same year, a couple of wayward white kids drove through my usually quiet neighbourhood and pelted my house with raw eggs. Well, there were no words exchanged but the idea that my house was the only one pelted made me wonder why we were singled out. The only reason I could adduce was that we are not ethnically white. This made more sense since a colleague, living in another affluent neighbourhood, had had his car spray painted with racist slurs about a year or so earlier. For his and his family safety, he relocated from the neighbourhood.

Being Black and speaking with distinct African tones, I had thought that I was subjected to these racial slurs because of my skin colour. I was wrong and did not know this until I sat down with ML (full names withheld) this week for coffee. I had met ML at one of the social tennis clubs that I am a member of. He is lovely to talk to and of good manners. As we talked about different life issues that caught our fancy, the discussion drifted to racism. I had responded that racism is inherent in us all but at different points on a spectrum. Some unfortunately have a high concentration of it and are on the intolerable end of the spectrum while others are on the lower rungs. Our biases reflect these and are reflected in the way we see the world and act.

When ML said he was being discriminated against by Australians, he lost me. How can you be discriminated against – you are white and Australian! I am British and not Australian, he responded. Now I was completely disoriented. To understand him, he had to tell me a bit about himself. He has been living in Australia for more than 40 years, married here and established a business here. It’s most likely that I am racially blind – to me, he is Australian. His look, name and knowledge of this great south-land reveal nothing otherwise. Even when he speaks, there is nothing in his tone that makes me see him as different from any other white Australian. And yet he is on the receiving end of racial slurs.

He complained of being called a Pom, I never heard of that word until now. What it means and how derogatory it is, I had not the faintest idea but the mere fact that he felt offended by the use of the word was all that mattered. He cited instances of his experience and I could not but be sympathetic to him on these. He is a painter and had been called for a job in Mindarie. He had arrived timely early in the morning and knocked on the door to announce his presence. When the door opened, the guy on the other side was angry that he is a Pom and asked where all the Australian painters were. He said he countered the offensive by telling the guy that the Aussie painters were probably still all asleep, wearied from the binge drinking of the previous night. In another instance, his pronunciation of the word “Cup” had been ridiculed by some Aussie as being wrong and mimicked in a way that he felt offended as well. I could feel his pains.

So I asked who really is an Australian? Except my knowledge of history is deficient, there is only one group of people that can truly lay claim to being full bred Australians. These are the indigenous people, the Aborigine or the First Australians. Everyone else is an immigrant. Whether first or third generation immigrants, we are all immigrants and equally lay claim to being Australian. When next someone questions your “Australianness”, remember you are not alone. I encourage you to question theirs. No one has better rights to this piece of God given territory that any of us. Australia is a nation of immigrant and arriving first does not anyone superior to those that arrived last or will be arriving in future.