‘We are all in this together’
In the rich, complex multicultural society in which we live, flare-ups of a racial or cultural nature are never far away.
Last week, a woman of Asian appearance boarded a crowded Sydney-to-Gosford commuter train at Strathfield.
In the carriage that she entered, three young men of non-Anglo appearance and their bags were occupying six seats, so she asked one of them to move his bag to let her sit down.
The man refused and, when she insisted, he abused her and told her to “go back to Asia”.
When I apologised to her for the racism she had experienced, she responded that it was mostly those who were themselves among more recent arrivals to this country who were the quickest to be abusive.
Perhaps so. Yet this incident put me in mind of another train journey last Australia Day.
Three middle-aged women, of Anglo appearance and draped in Australiana, together with their bags, were occupying seven seats on the train home.
A young woman of Asian appearance asked them to make room for her, to which they retorted that she should go and look elsewhere for a seat. The racism was not overt but a more than likely element of the exchange.
In each case, others in the carriage responded in such a way as to make it clear that such behaviour was unacceptable.
In our normally calm and laid back culture we are also a volatile mix of hospitality and suspicion, fear and trust, where things can go either way at any time.
The recent violent demonstrations in Sydney in response to an anti-Islamic film are the unacceptable edge of a largely peaceful and engaged Islamic community, whose leaders have quickly acted to condemn the violence and offensive sloganeering.
They do however also remind us of the broader context of relations with the Islamic community since 9/11; a climate where Islamophobia has flourished and media “personalities” and social media can combine to incite violence, for example in the Cronulla riots.
Even normally sane and reconciling voices can lose their cool.
The reality is that we are all in this together and the type of society that we become is very much in our own hands.
Instead of a series of actions, reactions and counter-reactions, could we rather pause to reflect on the basic principles that make for a safe and harmonious community, complex though it may be?
Principles such as the so-called Golden Rule, “Do to others as you would have them do to you”, are a good place to start, along with a determination to make the best of this great country and unite for the common good … and go back to standing up for one another on trains.
The Rev. Dr Brian Brown is Moderator of the Uniting Church Synod of New South Wales and the ACT.