13 December 2005

When you invite the wrong people to your BBQ

Another day, another race-related incident in Sydney's Cronulla beach community.

On Sunday, locals, fed up with gangs of young Lebanese men ("Lebs") invading their beaches, insulting their girls and omigod beating up their lifeguards, fought back. They took to the beach, cooked up some snags, opened some bottles of brew, waved the flag and had a party. The skinheads showed up. And violence ensued.

A lot of people either blamed the violence on the small group of nationalists or even denied that incident was about race. Rather, it was about manners. Or mate-hood. Or perhaps it was just about turf. Of course, Australia would deny that Australia is racist. After all, racism is bad, and they are good people. Clearly, they are not racist. At least not according to leaders like Prime Minister John Howard and Labor leader Kim Beazley.

When we moved to Canberra, I got a job working for an IT company that delivered medical information applications. One day in mid-2001, about a third of the employees were called in to a room. It turned out that the company had been bought out and all the employees were being made redundant (with generous packages). We were simply the first group to be let go, and others would be following over the course of the next several months. When I first entered the room, before the briefing started, my first thought was, "Wow. We're all the immigrants." Later I mentioned the unevenness of the layoffs to my friend (I think about 85% of the non-white and immigrant population was let go in the first round along with a handful of others, making up 1/3 of the workforce). My comment somehow worked its way up to management and I was called into a conference and assured in all seriousness that it had nothing to do with race or immigrant status. The makeup of the groups who were let go / remained was 100% based on the various projects we'd been working on, the companies needs and the workers' skillsets, and so on.

I understood their need to justify themselves (although at the time, I suspected they didn't want a lawsuit added to their troubles.) I also liked each of them personally. I even worked with several of them in future engagements, but I still don't think they recognised their unconscious biases.

Anyhow, here is my unasked for advice to the residents of Cronulla: the next time you have a group of people visting your community who you don't feel fit in, invite them to the Barbie. Invite their parents, their community leaders, their friends. Get to know them, their names, their dreams, their aspirations. Find the common ground. Celebrate your common humanity. Next time - don't invite the skinheads.


Anonymous Ingrid said...

Of course, the whole issue wasn't helped by the media reporting it as some "Lebenese" youths beating up on life guards, rather than just some youths. And then the media talking about the text messages, which just meant that more people were aware of what was going on, and therefore more likely to show up and be part of the problem.
I agree about the BBQ though ;)

6:54 pm  
Blogger Wellington Sludge said...

Invite the skinheads as well. There's probably at least one who just wants to be listened to, and to listen. Heck, let's invite George W. as well!

There's a great film from the mid-90's called "The Last Supper" which I recently rewatched. I'm still not 100% confident on what it's message is, but it's a great film for discussion afterwards.

10:32 am  
Anonymous kcbs said...

Interesting blog. Keep up the good work.


BBQ Lover

11:51 am  

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