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You could say that I’m a product of my environment, however, my fear of the other has followed me throughout my entire life. It’s taught me one particular lesson.
Looking back on my life and my small place in this country, I can admit that my circle has not been as large as it could have been. Growing up in the coastal town I still call home, the only connection I had with someone who didn’t look like me was the owners of the Chinese Garden on our street corner. They were lovely enough people, fiercely protective of their property from a pack of marauding kids, but the casual language in which the neighbourhood used to describe them has since been passed into unsuitability through the passing of time.
I’m reminded by of those words of my father in our kitchen, who, despite my mother’s complaints, decided to continue addressing the owners of the garden in the same manner that he did previously, because he felt like he knew who they were.
A part of me wishes I could ask him why he felt that way while he was still here, but I think I might have a clue, as I feel it too. It’s fear. Fear of the unknown, of the different. Hate is driven by fear, and the more you feel, the more you hate. I understand that, but save for interpersonal connections with that other, you tend to let the collective definition form your opinion.
You seldom see law-abiding people, as it’s not good television, what’s left is every “shifty looking foreigner” as my husband touts, and while you know, or hope that that’s not the case, without something to measure it against, it slowly begins to become what you believe.
Ever since I retired, my primary sources for information are what’s presented to me through the evening news and broadsheet newspapers. They both paint in the brushstrokes of fear. I’m not on the Internet, and I no longer have to research my own thinking, so, in many ways, I’m told what to think.
The usual board of fare in my household is the trusted evening news, followed by Border Patrol, RBT, or whatever now passes as reality according to television.
Those particular programs do a great job of colouring in the blank spaces. You seldom see law-abiding people, as it’s not good television, what’s left is every “shifty-looking foreigner” as my husband touts, and while you know, or hope that that’s not the case, without something to measure it against, it slowly begins to become what you believe.
Every strange person is either breaking the law, smuggling contraband or drunk. The law-abiding mass (which is to say the viewer), is the one in the right and is therefore wronged. I know it’s stupid, but I feel fear more than I do logic. Air travel is dangerous, as is the world, and because we don’t remember it always being like this, we push for someone to blame.
However, I realise the danger in this thinking. It’s become so constant, and over the last decade, the image of the terrorist has solidified in our mind. For me, it’s barely an impulse. You think of a terrorist, you see a middle-eastern gentleman in a beard holding a knife, Kalashnikov, or severed head. I’ve lived long enough hear to figure out that we’re the Immigration Nation, but we also fear foreigners. The Sudanese gang problem is merely the latest in a long line of boogeymen, boogeymen that I’ve feared, and have been told by trusted voices that they are shooting up the innocent streets of polite Australia. Off the top of my head, it used to be the Italians, then the Vietnamese, the Lebanese, the whoever. I’ve never been to Cabramatta because I figured it to be extremely dangerous.
Sadly, as a result, all of this has curtailed my impulse to say ‘Hello’ at Woolworths, or on the bus, or wherever. It was better to play it safe, as you have no idea who these people are. Which feels true, and but is absolutely false. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have the majority view you with suspicious eyes, and I’d imagine that you’d eventually see the world through the same awful prism.
Wisdom, I’ve found is passing on what you’ve learned to people who won’t listen until they learn it for themselves. So, take my words with as much salt as you need to, but hear me when I say this: At 72, I’ve discovered that a lifetime of this thinking has got me nowhere. It hasn’t expanded my experience or made me any happier. I don’t feel safer, or as my father did, validated by the thought process.
I’ve feared thy neighbour, and I’m not exactly sure why.