Australia is labelled as a successful multicultural country. Former PM Malcolm Turnbull told the ABC that “Australia is the most successful multiculturalism society in the world, it’s one of our greatest achievements”. Yet, everything from our social behaviours to policies seem to suggest otherwise.
The number of refugees globally continues to increase, and yet Australians remain steadfastly unwilling to help. Despite our population reaching the 25 million mark– largely due to asylum seekers who have made the journey to find refuge on our shores- popular opinion seems to suggest that we feel they’re not welcome here. European immigrants, on the other hand? Bring it on! In other words, Australians, by large are racist.
How are we providing these people the Australian experience? The first 1-3 years is more often than not, spent in an offshore processing centre, which is not exactly the greatest Aussie welcome. So the least we can do, is to be friendly, lend a hand, and maybe even a welcoming smile? Yet, the majority seem to struggle with that.
As the political issue of asylum seekers is ongoing and constantly in the media, it has certainly sparked disagreement about the right of someone to seek asylum, consequently generating prejudicial attitudes.
We know what explicit racism is. We know it is racist to call someone names based off the colour of someone’s skin, or to reduce someone’s culture to a stereotype. Although this racism still exists with no signs of curbing, we have been exposed to it for some time now and are aware of this behaviour.
But Australia is home to a more insidious form of racism- one which many of us don’t even realise we partake in. Implicit racism can be even more damaging than overt racism, in part because it’s so frequently glossed over in our culture.
In our society, when we see someone who is of Asian descent, or has dark skin, do we avoid them? It seems kind of silly, when you put it like that. But, would you be more inclined to make eye contact, or strike up a conversation with another Caucasian than someone of a different nationality?
Jobs for example, seems to be an area which exemplifies this struggle for refugees, or any person with a foreign name. After finally settling in to a new country, the next challenge presenting itself is probably employment, mixed with the stress of supporting a family. Yet, irrespective of experience and qualifications, anyone with a name that doesn’t sound ‘white’ is less likely to be considered, or even called back for an interview.
Now that, is blatant discrimination and really highlights the problem we have in Australia, which refugees face.
Although it’s confronting to think about, especially if we really do have genuine intentions.
The bottom line is these prejudicial attitudes are degrading and make refugees feel isolated from society. In reality, it’s 2018- these problems have existed for centuries, yet still subsist and exclude foreigners from participating in society.
This role played by racism is tricky to pin down. But dissimilarity has been considered a key factor of prejudice which sheds some light on these negative attitudes.
When we see someone of different ethnicity, we immediately see them as being different and our first instinct is to avoid. Research suggests that we feel threatened, by symbolic intimidations such as conflicting ethnic customs, values, traditions and morals, which makes us feel disconnected. Because refugees are an out-group, symbolic and realistic threat theories may influence negative attitudes towards refugees in Australia and generate this reluctance to accept.
The main arguments Australians make for turning back the boats come from religious, cultural and economic views. I’m sure you’ve all heard about Muslims wanting to ban Christmas carols in schools, shopping centres and changing cards to say ‘Happy Holiday’. This sparked fear any many Australians that refugees wanted to come and impose their own religious views, changing our loved traditions.
The list goes on, but essentially, we are scared of them not wanting to assimilate and bring their culture which contradicts ours- all stemming from our limited understanding of ‘othered’ groups.
Given the increasing rate of refugees coming to Australia, something needs to change. With stats showing that two to one have negative views on asylum seekers, there’s plenty of room for improvement. But this is easier said than done, and if it could be easily fixed, surely it would be by now. But, the ramifications of a significant part of our population being segregated and isolated from everyone else is a scary thought.
Australia needs to be cohesive to be strong. We are a multicultural nation and we need to start acting like one.