Steven Barnes

Casual racism: My nan’s new bag

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When I was growing up, my nan was the person who told me not to judge others. However, I’ve started to notice a change, and I think it has something to do with the television she watches.

 

 

I love my Nan. She’s an impressive woman. She has travelled the world and scribed the human condition as a career. From her vast experiences, she taught us to not judge others based on our assumptions. In saying that, she collapses into the giggles at the sound of an Indian accent that I sometimes do – one I classify as extremely racist; but she loves it, as she loves India. She thinks Ernie Dingo is beautiful, but can’t give me a reason why.

I’ve noticed a change in her recently, for she’s started to click her tongue at the oft-repeated news of sensationalist violence. Any mention of ISIS/fundamentalists and/or the shenanigans of “shifty foreigners” brings on the most resolute shake of the head, accompanied by the cowbell of disgust.

When she shakes her head toward me, I nod in support of her clicked tongue. Violence is deplorable, regardless of the side, and I certainly wouldn’t judge the woman who taught me not to.

She’s taken a particular dislike toward terrorism. And I fear she’s subtextually linked all Muslims to Muslim fundamentalist terrorists. Nothing overt – just in small, passing comments to me. She was retelling an anecdote while we were waiting in line at the fish and chip shop, in which she crossed a woman in a “full Niqab, it must have been hot in the, you know the…” as she ran her hand over her face, “you know, the whole disaster.”

This staggered me. I looked over my shoulder in fear, scanning the clientele that filled “Old Mate’s” to see if I had to apologise profusely. Even the possibility of that was a bit of a shock to the system.

At lunch recently, she informed me that “we never used to have terrorism,” to which I considered mentioning Munich ’72, Lockerbie ’88 etc, but didn’t. For a woman who survived the Blitz, this was apparently the more galling issue.

Why now?

She has always loved foreigners. She went out of her way to help wherever she could. If someone was lost, she’d do her best to give directions, despite her noted “lack of the direction thing”. So, has she always been racist?

If so, have I just started to notice it?

Or is this a new development?


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Personally, I think it’s those shows that she watches. She religiously watches the main news coverage from 5pm to 6pm, followed by her new favourite show, Border Security (it used to be Burke’s Backyard), which I saw for the first time recently and was appalled by. The ad threatened its approach (“Tomorrow: 7:30!”), before telling the story of an Asian lady, creatively edited, eviscerated by the pointy stick of loaded accusation. The exact finer details of her vicious crimes weren’t explained in the spot, but they didn’t have to be.

The lady was guilty of being guilty. Classic foreigner.

I shook my head, but so did my Nan.

For the large part of the populace, these television shows are taken on their own merit. The bias seemed obvious to me, but I was railed when my nan clicked her tongue through the hour that followed, in between bouts of querying my desire for the remainder of the fruitcake.

It reminded me of the “Two minutes of Hate” in George Orwell’s 1984, with people yelling at lazy propaganda before carrying on with their daily business.

So, who is the fruitcake? Me or her? Is it me for reading too much into it or her for not seeing through it? Has the wave of televised foreigner crime turned her away from the noble empathetic ideals she held for three generations, and replaced them with a fearful, casual racism that needs a nightly outlet?

I’m unsure if this is a larger problem beyond my nan, but her accepting shows such as Border Security as absolute truth worries me.

While it’s too late for her to change anything on a grand political scale, it has, however, changed her mind.

And that’s far worse.

 

Steven Barnes

Steven Barnes is a journalism student at Monash University. He is also a freelance journalist who has done work in community Radio and TV and enjoys interviewing and reviewing as well as exploring the world around him.

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