(white) Australian xenophobia – so pervasive and hegemonic?

The term xenophobia received mainstream media attention following the election of Pauline Hanson to the Australian Federal Parliament. Comments in her maiden speech including that Australia was/is ‘in danger of being swamped by Asians’ led to her being asked on a tabloid current affairs program if she was xenophobic. Whilst the ‘please explain’ response resonated with many disaffected with tabloid journalism, out-of-touch elected representatives and the liberal elite, the notion of xenophobia as widespread, even hegemonic is something that has hit me pretty hard in the last week. The context of this is my attendance a school in Canada (for close to a week now) and the significantly more diversity in people/cultures here than in Australia.

I consider myself (and hope others do, and think my posts here indicate/support this) to be progressive and one working on addressing/challenging racism, amongst other things. It came as a big shock, and somewhat disturbing, that I have come to the realisation I unconsciously harbor a form of hegemonic xenophobia. This is (hopefully was) not overarching in the sense that I do not find myself scared of difference, yet that I was second looking and also being the presence of a feeling that I was out-numbered (that is the only term I can come up with at the moment).

In Australia, the notion of being ‘swamped by Asians’ – which has now been superseded by a fear/ostracism of Muslims – receives widespread mainstream media coverage and reification. Is this so pervasive that it has become hegemonic to the extent it permeates into the mindset of those challenging such racist stereotypes and misnomers. The frequent shock-jock beat-up on talk-back radio may promote this heavily, yet those with a critical outlook and reflection surely must not be so easily persuaded? How has this become hegemonic to such an unconscious level?

My awareness came when walking around campus and not being part of the visible majority. There were many people who looked different (and this had little to do with being in a different country) to me, and I was not in the majority. It seems that Australian xenophobic hegemony was showing itself. I also noted my reaction when seeing many posters promoting seminars about Islam (was it trepidation? – I am not sure). I am certain these reactions are rooted similarly.

Having become aware of this I can critically reflect and use this awareness to work towards self-change. However, it says a lot about (mainstream) Australian society – and more than the existence of xenophobia. Why can a country like Canada exist without the racial stereotyping and scape-goating (I am not saying it is non-existent) that we see day-to-day in Australia – especially given the level of diversity present? Why does Australian society (generally) view Islam in such a negative way? How has it become so pervasive that it affects those of us with a critical outlook?

These are questions that need to be considered and addressed. Is there a viscous cycle in that such stereotyping and scape-goating leads to those targeted banding together, and thus perpetuating the fear (and even hatred)? This is something that Australians specifically (and people more broadly) need to consider and discuss with our Asean, Muslim, people of colour and other minority/marginalised sisters and brothers. For everyone’s benefit.

I, for one, am shocked and disturbed by the impacts this has had on myself and glad that my circumstance has forced personal reflection before I made any actions that were visibly racially based. I hope this helps me in working towards changing this, and perhaps provides insight for reflection into other problematic areas of my existence and outlook I am not even aware of.

Cheers to personal growth…

One thought on “(white) Australian xenophobia – so pervasive and hegemonic?

  1. One of the things that I noticed while I was in Australia was the reaction that white Australians had towards Aborigines, as well as Asians, Muslims, etc. I was quite frankly shocked at some of the things that I heard come out of the mouths of otherwise decent people. And these are 18 and 19 year old uni students, the ‘next generation’.

    And like you said, these stereotypes lead to joblessness, which lead to homelessness, alcoholism, and violence, and stories of the negative effects just lead to stronger stereotypes. It’s a vicious cycle.

    I’m glad for your personal growth. Now, what the hell do we do about everyone else?

    Now I know that people can’t be faulted for the society that they were raised in. If it’s okay to be xenophobic and racist, then people don’t even question it. It just gets frustrating to try and ‘open people’s eyes’ when they are so deeply embedded in that mindset. And it’s slow going. As more and more people are exposed to diversity, they (hopefully) become less and less xenophobic, and that will eventually change society.

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