There have been several media reports recently of people on buses and trains launching into racist tirades against Black/Asian/Arabic people who’ve had the misfortune to catch their eye.
In one that was captured on video only a couple of weeks ago, the gist of the white woman’s rant seemed to be that her grandfather hadn’t fought in the second World War so that ‘people like you’ (i.e. non-whites) could come to Australia.
Today being Anzac Day I want to put it firmly on record that I believe that my Dad, who also fought in WWII, did not fight for anyone’s right to make racist attacks on others.
I admit my dad held racist views. He was a man of his time, born to white middle class protestant parents at the start of the first World War, growing up with as far as I can tell, no-one in his life who seriously challenged the racist culture and media that was the norm. For more than half his life Australia had a white Australia policy that restricted immigration.
Dad volunteered for the army although as a farmer he would have been exempt from service. He was recalled from the Middle Eastern front to ‘mop up’ on the Kokoda trail. Of course like most other Australians at the time he feared invasion by Japan; a fear no doubt exacerbated by Australian politicians and media’s racist fear-mongering about a yellow peril that dated back to the days of the gold rushes. He carried that dislike of Japanese people for a long time, perhaps not surprisingly, as he would have seen the worst of them in the war zone. Just as they would have seen the worst of him and his people.
I think by the time of his death Dad didn’t hold that hatred any more. He was more philosophical and didn’t see war as a very effective solution to anything. He read a lot about it, including at least one book that told some of the Kokoda story from a Japanese perspective.
Sadly, he was also rather cynical about humanity and at times didn’t seem to see a lot of hope for us as a species, what with our continual wars and conflict; our greed, selfishness and harm to the environment.
Dad also believed strongly in fairness, justice, and treating people well. Throughout my childhood he helped the widows and children of returned servicemen through Legacy. He modelled compassion and integrity. I believe that these are the values that he fought to defend. He was a good, decent man. He would have been appalled at the behaviour and attitude of that woman on the bus. And I don’t think he would have agreed with her; certainly not in his later years when time, experience and some healing from war had made him open enough to accept and love an African son-in-law and mixed race grandchild.
I’m sorry that the grandfather of the woman on the bus didn’t have the same opportunities to heal and to learn and re-evaluate, and thus passed his own hatred and racism down to his granddaughter.
And I am stating categorically – whatever you think of Anzac Day, for me it’s a day to remember my Dad and the qualities about him that I loved, that triggered my own commitment to social justice and equality. As the daughter of a veteran I think I have the right to say: you tarnish the memory of my Dad, and of many other good men and women, when you invoke the struggles of our veterans to justify racism and intolerance.