For a nation of immigrants Australia sure seems to spend a lot of time demonising immigrants. I wonder what the cost of that might end up being and if it will ever be a thing of the past.
Of course, not all Australians hold anti-migrant views, but there are enough out there to ensure an endless supply of “fed up” voices on talkback radio and to give succour to politicians like Queensland Senator Fraser Anning and his yearning for a return to the white Australia policy.
Yet you don’t have to tune into talk-back or listen to speeches in the parliament to hear nasty, racist sentiments expressed in Australia. I’ve been hearing it point-blank for years from a person I know well in a regional city I frequent.
“Bloody immigrants!” Tony would seethe as he gestured across the road to a neighbour’s house. “They come over here and take our jobs and houses! They get money for free and too much support from the government!”
I was well acquainted with the targets of this bitter — and entirely false — judgement. The “offending” household was a family of South Sudanese refugees; Mum, Dad and three adorable kids under 10.
Given a sanctuary in Australia from the horrors of civil war, the family had wasted no time contributing to their new nation and making a better life for themselves along the way.
Both parents worked hard; the Dad had two jobs — one as a road worker and another packing shelves at night at the locals Coles. They earned enough money to rent a house, pay their taxes and put their children into school with the rest of the neighbourhood kids.
And yet … “Bloody immigrants. Bloody reffos. They’re taking our jobs. All they want is hand-outs.”
The family was subjected to this kind of abuse for years and all that negativity, all those projected fears and false accusations indeed left their mark — mostly on the kids.
Nowadays the children are older — into their impressionable teenage years — and they are much less engaged with the community than their peers.
Looking back, the tragedy had unfolded in front of me in slow-motion. Bit by bit, comment by comment, these young Australians had been worn down and made to feel unwelcome in the country that had promised them a new beginning.
People react differently to bullying — be it passive or overt — and in the case of the eldest boy, well, he became extremely angry. Over time the fury in his heart had spilled over into the community. A couple of times the police had become involved.
Observing this young lad made me think back to a younger me. After all, I’m something of an expert on being young, disconnected and full of rage.
I found it easy to imagine myself in this young man’s shoes. Were I a boy watching my parents work hard for years to make a place in the community only to hear them scorned, jeered and showered with racial slurs, I’d be pretty upset at the world, too.
If I were continually told how unwelcome me and my family were, told to “go back where you came from” every other day, I’d feel trapped in a world that hated me, too.
And so the prejudice of some Australians became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The “immigrant” with the darker skin and funny-sounding accent who had been vilified as a threat had ultimately become enraged and volatile. A real threat, now, they reckoned.
I can’t help think that if he had been a Muslim as well as South Sudanese the neighbours would be calling him a terrorist now. What would that escalation bring to the cycle?
It’s a depressing thought.
If I think of this in terms of this youth’s anger being a form of mental illness, I ask myself what an effective treatment might look like.
I have some ideas about that. Do you?