Monday, December 6, 2010

Racism in the Supermarket... It's Still Ignorance Wherever You Find It

Well - I was going to post a fairly light piece on cultural differences this evening, however there's been a slight change of plans. I will instead recount a short - but poignant - story from this evening. Tonight, our family walked down to the local supermarket in our neighbourhood... principally as I had promised L-kun last night that I'd buy him some strawberries (ichigo) to go with ice-cream, and I don't like breaking promises. Even small ones.

Well - it turns out we had to make some compromises on the shopping list, but just as we were waiting at the checkout, a male (about 30-35 years old and fairly average looking) accompanied with his younger female partner walked past us casually. As they reached level with us, the man said (somewhat loudly), "...another f#####g mail-order bride". Insinuating, I suppose, that any white male with an asian woman must have purchased her off ebay... It didn't matter to him that T-chan had lived here for the last 8 years, or indeed had come to Australia to study nearly 17 years ago. It didn't even matter that she has struggled through those years with homesickness and worry about her parents whom were still far away in Japan. It didn't matter who I was, or how we had met (or even where). All that mattered to that man was that there was a white man and an asian woman. Apparently that was all the information he needed to come to his earth-shattering insight that he felt he just had to share with the world.

The truth is, I couldn't believe my ears... I still can't. He clearly wanted us to hear it. Yet he had not broken stride at all as they continued to walk down the shopping isle. After a moment of being stunned into silence, I almost growled "Excuse me!...."... but he continued to walk away, a dismissive hand in the air - as if to say that he'd wasted enough of his breath on us.

I am not exactly what you'd call an Alpha Male, but as T-chan can attest to, I can be quite stubborn when it comes to things on principle. And the principle of insulting not only my wife, my son, myself, and all other inter-racial couples out there was one that had me seeing red. The choice of going down and confronting him, whilst appealing to my sense of justice, was not something I would like to do with my child watching. L-kun deserves the innocence of not knowing such bigotry exists. He will have that lesson later on, when perhaps he is old enough to understand that it's root cause is ignorance - and ultimately that's also the fault of our society.

I know that racism is alive and well in Australia, as it is in most (if not all) parts of the world. And yet, for all the 30-40 years of planned multi-culturalism in Australia, I am continually amazed at how little distance we've apparently come. Of course - this is not a normal thing to happen to us, but it doesn't need to be common for it to have a devastating impact on us. It is obviously not good to have someone insult you in a supermarket (of all places)... in front of your family. That's not to say that everyone should be the same - or heaven forbid, share my views.

I guess, I've been happily content to post about our good-times as a half Aussie - half Japanese family here in Adelaide, Australia. The truth is, it isn't all beer and skittles, as the saying goes. And the more disturbing part was (as T-chan told me later on); if it wasn't for me there, she wouldn't have necessarily known that they were insulting us. How often does the background racism go unnoticed by those that we love but can't defend all of the time? What should we - or even can we - do about it?

It is difficult for me, as a man and a husband, to hear my wife insulted. And it is even more difficult for us both to keep our hearts unclouded when we think of the future of our son. In the immediate moment, I can but write out my frustration. In the longer term, we can only hope that the future will continue to show a society growing more tolerant of diversity... and failing that, then at least for those that can't tolerate that diversity to at least shut their cake-holes.

Right now however, I'm not a proud Adelaidean. I'm not even a proud Australian. What a shame... all this over one ignorant man. And that's about all I wanted to say about that right now.


  1. Such ignorance is stiflingly frustrating. I hate when people attack others like that just because they aren't as narrow minded as themselves. Be proud for having something that's more than surface value

  2. I have to say, in the grand scheme of things, the racism that we experienced is only mildly annoying - but perhaps more so when you don't experience it every day. When it suddenly rears it's ugly head when you least expect it, ie waiting at a checkout - it catches you by surprise.

    The real problem is for those for which this sort of degradation is a constant thing. Their outrage doesn't necessarily have a nicely defined focal point.

    Overall - whilst I might gnash my teeth, it's kind of a small thing. But it really unsettled things for us.

  3. True. It really shouldn't be at either end of the spectrum though.

  4. I appreciate your comments Kyoudai.

  5. You're a good man to have that much reserve, I think I would have snapped and broken my foot off in his a**. Just reading your recount makes me all sorts of annoyed.

  6. To be honest, the one thing that kept me from losing it was that my wife was so calm (she hadn't caught the drift of what he said). At the end of the day however... jerks like that want to provoke a reaction - and most probably the best response is to treat it like it is. Meaningless (though ultimately quite sad as well).

    Actually - we've noticed today that our son is mis-behaving incredibly... and his mood was strange since we came back from the shop. I can't help but feel that he sensed our emotion and is trying to express his own confusion - as he knows something happened to upset mummy and daddy, but doesn't know what.

  7. It is very sad to hear, Ben. Prejudice prevails everywhere, and your situation could happen to every mixed couple (not only races but nationalities) in anywhere in the world.
    What I worry about the most is, yes, kids. When they go to school, including kindergartens, I hear that mixed kids sometimes have uncomfortable time among other kids, possibly reflecting the opinions of their parents.
    We can ignore prejudices ourselves, but for our future kid, we still do not know what we should do or how we should act.
    Well, we will see. Send our wishes to T-chan and L-kun.

  8. Muravej, I agree that it's easier for us as adults to reflect on the prejudices of others. It's much harder with children as they can internalise much more (and then re-direct the feelings elsewhere).

    We're not at the school stage yet, but we know that our challenges are just starting with L-kun. This would be true whether we are in Australia or Japan.

    I still think however, it's easy to underestimate the impact on partners (who have immigrated into a country, and are sometimes victimised in ways that are hard for them to deal with in the same way that they would in their own environment).

    I'll pass on your kind thoughts - but as I mentioned above, the sad thing is that we're the lucky ones. The racism expressed to us is infrequent (though still hurtful) - we pick ourselves up and move on. There are many people around the world that don't get that opportunity.

  9. When I hear stories like this, I'm first appalled, then encouraged. Encouraged because I know among my generation, I can't imagine anybody I know under the age of 25, no matter how bogan, saying something like that. I think things really are improving generation upon generation. And when I travelled last year and encountered racism overseas, I was kind of proud that I had never experienced anything like it in Australia. Maybe I've just had an anomalous good experience; I don't know.

  10. I hope it is that way... but one thing you should bare in mind is that as people get older they start looking and sounding progressively like their parents. That's just the natural order of things.

    Thanks for your experience.

  11. I'm a white male with a mixed family. Stories like these are beyond depressing; when a human being's entire existence, worth and place in the world is summed up so disrespectfully and wickedly and disposed of as if it's something worth nothing at all. The irony of course being that a product mass genocide over the centuries speaks with the authority of an indigenous Australian!

    I'm originally from South Africa so am well aware of what a (formerly Eurocentric) superiority complex is and how it tends to prevail amongst individuals with lower than average IQs. Problem is that the army of low IQ individuals is alive and well!

    1. Thanks for dropping a line. The problem is that ignorance is everywhere... when it comes to people, we can readily put a label on it. Still, I don't understand where the hatred comes from. Fear? Learned behaviour? Just plain stupidity? It doesn't really matter - but the challenge is not to get too depressed, and not to let the views of the (hopefully) minority ruin it for all.

      So I hope the army of morons (my words) are only a perception rather than a reality.