Mark Twain once said, "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme." That's race relations in Australia today. I admire the simple, straightforward call by Dr Charlie Teo for Australia to address racism on Australia Day. As an Asian-Australian I deeply sympathise with Dr Teo's speech. To experience physical and verbal abuse, exclusion and discrimination in one's society, employment or relationships for simply being who you are, it wears you down. It is especially so when the majority of people in your workplace and social environment simply deny it exists, which is what Dr Teo is addressing. Read the transcript if you have time and send it to your friends.
(or watch a VIDEO of this speech)
I think racism is one of many experiences that takes you on a journey to understand yourself and the world that the 'majority' of Australians don't always appreciate. You address internal racism too and you appreciate things that you didn't before. For this reason, I have a strong opinion on our acceptance of genuine refugees. Such behaviour is unacceptable - but growing once again. It take me back to the worst anti-Asian attacks in Perth on 18 February 1988 when Chinese taxi driver, Peter Tan was viciously beaten to death, Chinese restaurants were bombed, and Asians were afraid to leave their house. Seeing the Indian community go through this in the last 2 years in Melbourne, with several racist murders of Indian students was very disappointing. I'm half Indian, so the community was in my ear. It wasn't until Indian student withdrawals in Australia started to hurt one of its biggest export industries, that we heard the beginnings of action to improve conditions, safety and care for these young students.
In between that overt racism remains but is not reported, mainly because it is not necessary to record hate crimes based on race by authorities. Even during the Cronulla Riots our leaders could hardly utter the 'R' word. And since 2001, the Muslim community.
This Australia Day, it is important to address the issues which are real, not imagined by politicians. Issues which affect this country's potential to lead in innovative and creative ways is not currently supported. That innovation, tolerance and true (not token) diversity at all levels of Australian society is needed. My highlights from Teo's speech are his rejection of bipartisan race and division; creating a kinder Australia, and dealing with racism which has become more covert but not disappeared. That is why Mark Twain's quote hits home. Teo's covert racism is another rhyme of history and no less painful or unjust. Teo also please for greater investment in science, in research overall, and highlights Australia's position down the ladder of investment in ideas. I think all researchers appreciated that.
As an artist, my ethnicity, race, sexuality, life experience, spiritual and political beliefs, mistakes, hopes and achievements all go into the art I create. At different times, I use each aspect as a lens for each new painting. This diversity is a strength. To privilege one above another wouldn't give me the satisfaction in my art that I seek. And to privilege one community above another has the same effect. I agree with Dr Teo that diversity and difference is a good thing but that we are not there yet. Teo is not being an activist, he is just being himself. He loves his country and wants to improve it for all. He also has a wonderfully humane attitude to medical patients that reminds me of my father's. By speaking out about racism in Australia, it just gives hope to others who have experienced it growing up here, and sadly well into our adulthood and professional life. Good on you Charlie!
FROM ABC: TONY EASTLEY: One of the nation's top surgeons Dr Charlie Teo plans to use his Australia Day speech in New South Wales to highlight racism in the country. He says that while Australians aren't alone in being racist he was surprised recently when one of his fellow neurosurgeons was spat on and told to go back to India. Dr Teo, the son of Chinese immigrants, said that in researching his speech he was surprised to hear more stories about the racist attitudes of Australians.