In the Melbourne-based newspaper The Age‘s 5th of May 2005 issue, opinion writer Sushi Das wrote an article titled There is something rotten in Australia where she recounted her conversation over the phone with a real estate agent.

The gist was that she had an apartment she wanted to rent out so she called up a big time Melbourne real estate company for help in getting a tenant. The lady agent on the phone told her “in a bright and breezy tone” that she wouldn’t be getting her any Asian tenants. Das was incredulous at the suggestion.

Apparently, according to the agent, Asians don’t know how to take care of property. She elaborated that “they (Asians) never put the rubbish out and they don’t keep the place clean.” Outrageous! Anyway, what the agent didn’t know was that Das is actually of Indian descent! She just grew up in Britain so she had this English accent. So, over the phone, the agent probably thought she was talking to a Brit.

I was actually surprised to read this considering Australia has a law called the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 or simply called “The RDA”. Even more surprising was that this happened in “Multicultural Melbourne” where the Lord Mayor is Chinese (Lord Mayor John So).

But I shouldn’t be that surprised really. Before the 1970s, Australia had the infamous “White Australia Policy” that discouraged non-white people from migrating to the Australian continent and non-white people already living in Australia were not treated equally.

They even had this idiotic “dictation test” where a hopeful migrant will be tested by immigration officials in any European language. That’s right. Any! So, let’s say a Filipino comes to Australia, he could be tested to see if he knows 50 English or 50 Spanish words. But chances were, the Filipino would know English or Spanish so he would instead be asked to name 50 French words instead! And if I recall correctly (from visiting the Immigration Museum in Melbourne), even if the hopeful migrant is able to say 50 words in 7 different European languages, the immigration officer could continue asking for 50 words in other European languages until, at last, the migrant no longer knew the language. And at that time, the migrant could be sent home for failing the dictation test. Fortunately, that is no longer practised here. Whew.

On the surface, most Australians seem to be very tolerant of other cultures and races nowadays. They are a very friendly lot. However, who knows what some of them really think of other cultures and races. In a big city like Melbourne where there are big communities of migrants (Chinese, Greeks, Italians, Jews, etc…), racisim is almost non-existent. But go to country Australia (away from the big cities), and you may start feeling those uncomfortable stares from the town locals. That’s from our experience, at least. The farther away we were from the city centre, the likelihood of discrimination for non-whites seem to increase. Or it could just all be paranoia on our part. Who knows?

When we were still living in Canberra, I’ve met a few discriminatory folk out on the road. Sometimes, I wasn’t even aware I was being discriminated against. There was this one time in Canberra while waiting for a bus, I got into a conversation with a nice old caucasian lady at the bus stop. When the bus came, the driver greeted almost everybody a “g’day” upon embarking the bus. Almost. I wasn’t greeted at all. I thought nothing of it but when I sat down, the old lady I was talking to earlier apologised for the bus driver’s attitude. “Don’t worry, son,” she told me. “Not all Australians are like him.” Oh.

Sometimes, it would seem that a shopkeeper would attend to everybody in the shop except us. I just reason to myself that maybe the shopkeeper is unsure if we could speak English at all and so saves himself the trouble by not talking to us unless we talk to him first. Could be true.

Overall though, I’m not that bothered with the level of racial/cultural discrimination here in Australia. In my five years here, I almost never experienced any and in most of the times I did, they were just the uncomfortable gaze the country Australia locals give you which they may be giving to any other stranger that comes along and not just us.

It’s really difficult to avoid discrimination, anyway. Even in the Philippines, there is discrimination between regions and races. I encounter Filipinos who discriminate against Chinese-Filipinos, specially those who can’t speak the language without a Chinese accent. One time while on a jeepney in Ongpin, a Chinese lady informed the jeepney driver where her stop was and the driver responded by mocking the lady’s accent by repeating what the lady said in an exaggerated Chinese intonation and pronunciation.

I know of Tagalogs who discriminate against Visayans. They (actually, we, as I am a Tagalog, too) would berate somebody who committed a mistake by saying he must be Visayan (“Bisaya ka ba?”). For an example of this shameful Tagalog attitude towards Visayans, read Alan’s blog post Put___ Ina Mo, Bisaya Ka Ba? (You son of a bitch, are you Visayan?).

And then there’s the case of Chinese-Filipinos not wanting to have their children marry non-Chinese. According to my Chinese-Filipino friends, it’s mostly because their parents wanted to preserve their Chinese heritage/purity. Other reasons were that their parents believe Filipinos are lazy bastards and therefore wouldn’t make good spouses. I even heard that the parents believed that Filipinos will be unfaithful to their spouses (yeah, right!). No matter the reason, I thought this was racial discrimination, too.

I’m aware of some Filipinos who complain about being discriminated against when they live in a foreign land but they themselves discriminate against other Filipinos like Visayans or the Chinese-Filipinos. If they wanted to be treated like equals, they should be prepared to treat others like equals, too. “Don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do unto you.”

In the end, I suppose we really can’t escape racial/cultural discrimination. We can only hope that in the coming generations, it will become less and less of an issue. We can help it be so by educating our children about treating others with equal respect no matter where they came from or what colour their skin may be.

Published in: on May 5, 2005 at 12:30 pm  Leave a Comment