In the U.S., being racist is socially unacceptable. People still are, but they don’t talk about it in casual conversation.
In Australia, peculiarly, vilifying Aborigines is almost tolerated. A surprising amount of Aussies have a skewed view of the indigenous people their ancestors killed and forced out of their land — similar to how the early Americans dealt with American Indians.
To illustrate: A couple of nights ago, I met a girl named Anna Lisa. She was from Kalgoorlie, a mining town deep in the desert of western Australia.
I don’t know how we got on the topic of Aborigines, but her reaction was immediate and visceral.
“Abos?” she said with a sneer. “I hate ’em! I try to run them over. They’re really bad [in Kalgoorlie].”
In Australia, it’s generally a rule that everyone is extremely friendly and welcoming. So it was surprising to see how willing some people are to discuss a hatred or mistrust of the indigenous people.
Because they only make up 1 percent of the population, it’s uncommon to see Aborigines. When you do, they’re usually silently walking through your peripheral vision or playing a didgeridoo for coins on an abandoned sidewalk.
After Brad, an Aussie acquaintance of ours, heard about an incident in which an American got roughed up, he immediately asked, “Were they Aborigines?”
But the only Aborigine I’ve met here was a friendly physics student named Maitland, who took an entire day to show us around Perth when we arrived.
When we told other Aussies about meeting him, one of them told us to watch out for the Aborigines because they were known to prey on white tourists, “jumping them at night in groups.”
Bill Bryson, author of the book “In a Sunburned Country,” used telling statistics to describe the plight of the Aboriginal people: “For virtually every indicator of prosperity … hospitalization rates, suicide rates, childhood mortality, imprisonment, employment, you name it — the figures for Aborigines range from twice as bad to up to 20 times worse than for the general population.”
Though the government has made a passing attempt to restore the Aborigines’ rights, it’s pretty much on par with what the U.S. has given American Indians. It’s been a friendly slap on the back and a card that says, “So sorry about the genocide.”
This widespread prejudice is just a damn shame. It seems that racism can bare its vicious teeth anywhere, even in a place where most of the population is friendlier than a drunken college tour guide with a group of prospective students.
Aaron Munzer is a junior journalism major. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org