Dear Yassmin and Tim
You know your incessant whinging about how horrible Australia is? As a migrant to fellow migrants, just give it a bit of a rest, m’kay? Ta.
Australia is not perfect – nothing is – but by any and all objective standards in the world it is one of the best places to live: among the most peaceful, democratic, prosperous, free, and fair. Most of the millions who live here would agree, as would millions more overseas who would love to. As a migrant myself, and a very happy one thank you for asking, I can understand all those, whether several generations here or more recent arrivals, who at best roll their eyes when two migrants like the good yourselves keep complaining about everything. Particularly two migrants who have done exceptionally well in Australia.
I had no plans to write to you – God knows I’ve blogged about these issues often enough recently – but then this story from “The Australian” popped up on my Facebook newsfeed yesterday and, well, I just couldn’t:
There are too many Anglo-Celtic faces in the media and leading the nation, the Australian Human Rights Commission has argued, as it calls for greater ethnic and cultural diversity to “strengthen multiculturalism in Australia’’.
The AHRC, which regularly polarises public and political opinion, argues that while Australia’s multicultural society is strong, there are several issues with the potential to undermine its foundations. These include racial discrimination, inflammatory rhetoric in public debates, and an under-representation of diversity in the nation’s institutions because the “ethnic and cultural default of leadership remains Anglo-Celtic’’.“A lack of diversity in leadership and in the media could conceivably lead to a perception of what it is to be ‘Australian’ that does not reflect our multicultural character,’’ the AHRC has told a Senate inquiry examining ways to strengthen multiculturalism. Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane, who is spearheading a campaign to introduce racial and cultural diversity targets in corporate Australia, yesterday hit back at critics of his push, claiming there had been attempts to “reopen ideological culture wars’’.
That, in turn, reminded me of your interview a little while back where you recounted your traumas while flying around Australia:
Soutphommasane, who is a first-generation Australian born to Chinese and Lao parents, says when he hands his boarding pass over to the flight attendant, he’ll get one of three responses. Some will say, “Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t know how to pronounce that. How do you pronounce that?” Others will have a go – and will often succeed or get very close.
It’s the third response that grieves him. “Some of the flight attendants will say, ‘Oh, I’m not even going to try to pronounce that’.
“If someone says to me they’re not even going to try to pronounce my name, that doesn’t necessarily send a good signal. It says that they’re not even bothered to treat me with respect. How would they feel if they were told that every day – that people weren’t going to even try to pronounce their name?”
This happens to me too. And you know what? I don’t give a shit. I have a strange ethnic surname. It will always confound people. Everywhere. I don’t expect people in Australia to have much luck with it, just as I wouldn’t expect people in Laos, or Saudi Arabia, or Paraguay to have much luck with it either. Them’s the break. If I cared about it, I would change by a deed poll to Smith or Johnson. Your ability to find an existential offence in the tiniest human interactions no doubt makes you well qualified to be the Race Discrimination Commissioner, but it grieves me that in a world full of real problems we have now come to this.
As for you, Yassmin, well, you think we, Australians, live on a “stolen land”, are mean to refugees, don’t care about others around the world, our democracy is a sham, we are a racist and sexist and Islamophobic society that picks on and discriminates against people like you, and, of course, Islam is the most feminist religion – presumably if Australian laws were based on Sharia as opposed to the Judeo-Christian tradition as distilled through the centuries of English common law, we would be a much nicer place to live for a “young brown Muslim woman” like yourself, and you wouldn’t now feel the need to escape all this horror to the United Kingdom.
And let’s face, we are a dreadful country for people like you. Your parents were accepted to migrate to Australia as skilled migrants when you were a baby, you went to a good private school (a Christian one, where you were free to wear your hijab), which you duxed, and then went to university where on graduating with a sought-after engineering degree (with first class honours) you were also a valedictorian. You then commenced your career as an engineer, while also continuing a more public life, which saw you write a book and take it on a taxpayer-funded speaking tour of the Middle East, as well as become a part-time radio host and host a TV show.
But that’s just scratching the surface. Forgive me for overusing your Wikipedia biography, but it also tells me that
- You were Deputy Chair of the Queensland Youth Council;
- Sat on the Ethnic Communities Council of Queensland and the Youth Affairs Network of Queensland;
- Co-founded Youth Without Borders, an idea you pitched at the Youth Summit of the closing ceremony of the Asia Pacific Cities Summit and continued as its Chair until October 2016;
- In 2008 you were invited to join the board of the Queensland Museum aged just 17 and remained on the board until your term expired in 2013. You continue as an Ambassador for the Museum;
- In 2010 you were invited to the board of the newly formed Queensland Design Council;
- In August 2011, you were appointed to the Council for Multicultural Australia;
- In 2014 you were part of the organising committee for the G20 Summit in Brisbane;
- In November 2014, you became a board member of ChildFund Australia;
- In 2015, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop appointed you to the Council for Australian-Arab Relations;
- In November 2015, you were appointed to the board of directors of OurWatch, an organisation for the prevention of domestic violence;
- In 2016, you were elected academic fellow of Trinity College at the University of Melbourne; and
- You served as a member of the Federal ANZAC Centenary Commemoration Youth Working Group.
For all that extensive involvement you have received significant official recognition, including
- 2007 Young Australian Muslim of the Year;
- 2010 Young Queenslander of the Year;
- 2012 Young Leader in the Australian Financial Review;
- 2012 Westpac’s inaugural 100 Women of Influence Awards;
- 2015 Young Australian of the Year for Queensland; and
- 2015 Named in the Top 100 Most Influential Engineers in Australia by Engineers Australia.
Australia truly has been terrible to you, a “young brown Muslim woman”. I apologise to you on behalf of our country.
You too, Tim. Your parents migrated to Australia (originally from Laos, via France) on the Family Reunion Program when you were a baby, you got a degree with honours here, and then scholarships to do Masters and a Doctorate at Oxford. You have written books, you have been a newspaper columnist, as well as a university lecturer. You wrote speeches for a state premier and researched for a future prime minister. You are a member of the board of the National Australia Day Council and an ex officio member of the Australian Multicultural Council. Then in 2013, you got a five-year gig as Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission. That’s $340,000 per year plus extras.
Again, I apologise for the ill-treatment you have received in Australia.
Both of you have achieved infinitely more and made infinitely more out of yourselves in Australia than you would have been able to in Sudan and Laos respectively. For that matter infinitely more than I would have been able to in Sudan and Laos. Hell, I too duxed my high school and got a few degrees, but you both achieved so much more than me and in a much shorter space of time – and I think Australia has been wonderful to me. But I’ll swap my white privilege for your brown privilege any time.
You’re both very intelligent, talented and hard-working individuals. Your experience clearly shows that neither religion nor skin colour are obstacles to advancement in Australia if you’re willing to give it a go. And you’re hardly exceptional, except in how much you whine and complain and criticise about Australia. Australia, in fact, has been very good to you, as it generally is to people, regardless who they are and where they come from. Again, let me repeat, we’re not perfect as a country, but no country is, but we are a hell of a lot better a place to live (and thrive and excel) than most other places around the world.
Of course, I can’t change the way you think, and you have every right to think and say what you like. But, as bring all the threads of your thought and opinion together, I should variously feel guilty, ashamed, remorseful, more open, more welcoming, more tolerant, more sharing, and more accommodating, let me reciprocate by opining that you, in turn, should feel more bloody grateful and appreciative of a country that welcomed you in, has given you so much, including so many opportunities, and helped you to achieve so much. I know I do.
P.S. Tim’s surname is pronounced Soot-pom-ma-sarn. You can pronounce my surname whichever way you like, particularly for $340,000 a year.
Arthur Chrenkoff blogs at The Daily Chrenk where this piece also appears.
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