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Racism in Australia

Earlier this week, Australian tv news reader, Samantha Armytage, was in the news for an ostensibly racist comment she made while reading a news segment, with a petition doing the rounds “to hold Samantha accountable for the comment.” The petition was stated to be “the first course of action before we go higher up” (whatever that was supposed to mean).

While I do not excuse or condone Samantha Armytage’s choice of words in any way, I do consider the entire matter to be a complete over-reaction (as apparently did the direct “victim” who stated publicly that she found it “disgusting” and demanded that the petition be taken down).

It made me wonder whether the people who demanded this petition, and the people who supported it, had any real idea of what was going on in the world around them. If they did, surely they would channel their outrage more productively to try to curtail the very deliberate and wide-scale racism going on unashamedly in other parts of the world which extends well beyond black v white?

Take Singapore as an example. For those of you who have not lived here, it probably appears to be a perfectly egalitarian country, where people of all ages, religions, and races peacefully coexist, right? Of course it does! Why? Because the Singaporean Government promotes the country as a metropolitan, non-racial nation, and that is all you get to see because the Government controls the media and has put legislation in place to restrict journalists and the press, and even the general public, from publishing what really goes on over here. Only recently, a Singaporean man and Australian woman in their 20s were arrested under the Singapore Sedition Act "for posting remarks online that could promote ill-will and hostility among the different races in Singapore". If they are found guilty, they could be jailed for up to three years, or fined up to S$5,000, or both.

As a result of this censorship, you don’t hear about the fact that citizens with Chinese heritage enjoy preferential treatment to those with Indian or Malay backgrounds. You don’t see the job ads that explicitly state that Chinese only need apply, or the application forms for even the most essential of services like housing, electricity and gas, which ask if applicants are Chinese, Malay, Indian or “other”, with the inference, presumably, that their race is a consideration in whether or not their application will be a success. And you don’t hear about the exclusion of Malay-Singaporeans from the Singapore Armed Forces (“SAF”) and National Service on the basis that the loyalty of Malays cannot be trusted, both because they are Muslim and because they have a racial and ethnic affinity with the Malays in Malaysia and Indonesia, Singapore’s closest potential enemies. There is an implicit distrust of Malays as a community, and contempt for them as being lazy and indolent because of the “free ride” given to them in Malaysia by the Malay Government.

In Malaysia, the Malay Government openly shows favouritism towards Malays in critical areas like housing, education and finance. Malays are given preference in securing places at Government universities, regardless of merit, as well as discounts on housing and even burial plots! All key government positions are held by Malays, and all listed companies must have a minimum 30% Malay equity. Malaysia is one of the few countries in the world where the ethnic majority community benefits from quotas. In other countries minorities get special rights, but not so in Malaysia.

As religion is so closely connected to ethnicity and nationalism in Malaysia, discrimination is not just on racial grounds but on religious as well. If you are a Muslim immigrant, you are more easily able to get citizenship than if you are not. Recently, a prominent mufti even called on the Government to exempt Muslims who pay the zakat (a religious payment made annually under Islamic law) from paying the newly introduced GST. Like Singapore, laws are in place to ensure that no citizen speaks critically about this or any other negative consequences of the Government’s pro-Malay policies. Those who do risk facing charges of sedition.

Singapore and Malaysia are just two of the countries in this region where racism and discrimination are rife, but where are the petitions to stop these practices and make these countries accountable? Surely these acts of racism are more significant and worthy of people’s time than an off-the-cuff comment by a fool-hardy news reader who will no doubt take more care in future to mind her Ps and Qs?

Australia is, without a doubt, the most multi-cultural country I know, with overt acts of racism, or perceptions of racism, like Samantha Armytage’s words, so rare that they end up making headline news. To those who stir up those headlines, I remind you that these are actions and words of individuals, and not the mindset of the country as a whole.

Australia is a lucky country and I am proud to be Australian.