Elise Bottle reckons that if most “real Aussies” got over their bigotry and started saying hi to people, rather than “F*** off we’re full,” we might all learn how to get along.
It’s a sad truth that Australians are seen as some of the worst perpetrators of bigotry on Earth.
What’s even sadder is that this view is not entirely unfounded, starting almost immediately with British colonialism through to the White Australia Policy, which still lives on, with the common use of slogans such as “F*** Off, We’re Full.”
The worst part about bigotry is that it isn’t always as obvious as the vile loud-mouth shouting obscenities on the bus. Most bigotry, the bigotry you see every day, is quieter and more subtle, the little bits of small-talk between neighbours. Even if you’re aware that only 6% of all terrorist attacks are carried out by Islamic extremists, there are those among you who are still likely to believe that the larger Muslim community want all women to wear headscarves and generally start adjusting our lifestyles to meet “their” needs. I hear vague claims of this sort of thing all the time.
One question – just where are these Muslims who are insisting that we start changing our lives to suit them? Where are the street rallies with placards demanding laws forbidding men from shaving their beards? Where are the volunteers standing in shopping malls handing out fliers detailing the benefits of switching to a Halal diet? Where are the infuriating door-knockers who visit to remind us to say our prayers five times a day?
You’d think if the Muslim population of Australia were so eager for us to adopt their way of life, they’d put in greater effort. The truth is, we’ve chosen to focus on the voices of a few knobs and assume that they speak for all Muslims.
These sorts of negative attitudes aren’t just applied to Muslims. Something I hear said often about all sorts of immigrants including, but not limited to Asians, Indians, Africans and so on is “They’re not trying to integrate.” It’s true that many so-called “New Australians” do set up their own little micro-communities, but is this really a sign of not wanting to integrate? Imagine you’ve moved halfway across the world, to a place where people speak a different language and hold different values to you. Wouldn’t you want to find something familiar to help you adjust to the change you had made?
Honestly, these are the kind of questions I’d expect to be asking a bunch of grade-schoolers.
I can expect quite a few folk seeing me as some sort of wide-eyed idealist at this point, but I can tell you that I have good reason to believe that the “New Australians” really do want to mingle. Why? Because I’ve interacted with them, that’s why. Now, I’m not going to say “some of my best friends are Muslim” or something like that because it’d be a lie, but what I have had is ordinary day-to-day encounters, whether it be walking my dog or just at the local shops, that prove that that these guys are just, well, normal people.
I remember this old Asian guy on one of my former dog-walking routes who didn’t speak a lick of English, but every time he saw me he’d start chuckling and bring over his grandkid to say hello. I’ve passed old ladies in saris and old men in turbans, again literally unable to speak the same language as I do, and all it takes is a wave and a smile from me to get the same in kind from them.
I few years ago, I was at the zoo when I saw a young Muslim mother sitting to eat lunch with her family and I happened to think the headscarf she was wearing – dark blue with sequins – was rather fetching, so I went over and told her so. She was flattered, and, I kid you not, she invited me to sit down and have lunch with her family. I politely declined because I didn’t want to intrude, but come on, does that sound like someone who doesn’t want to integrate?
I’d like to try a little social experiment – next time someone you pass someone in the street who clearly did not arrive on the First Fleet, just say a nice, straight “Hello, how are you?” and see how they respond. I guarantee, nine times out of ten their reply will friendly, and they may even be willing to make further polite conversation. If we could just ditch the stupid “Us versus Them” mentality for just one second, we could make some new and very interesting friends.
Maybe then we can work on how to stop shooting each other.