by Emily Newton
Nb: This article was submitted for a Masters university assessment in 2016 and as a result all information was correct at the time of writing.
An Australian artist has seen his anti-racism campaign bombarded with graffiti of racial slurs in Penrith.
Melbourne resident, Peter Drew, has restarted his “What is a REAL Aussie?” installation following a successful crowd-funding campaign, with multiple posters located in Penrith because of it’s diverse multicultural society.
The image of Monga Khan, an Indian man seen as crucial to Australia’s growing economy 100 years ago, was chosen as the poster’s subject to reflect the dense local Indian population of the area.
However, soon after being installed messages including “go munch on curry,” and “towel head” highlighting racial tensions that exist in the area. These posters have remained on walls in Penrith with this graffiti over them for weeks, viewed by thousands of local residents
Some of the worst posters have since been taken down, however their message creates a lingering effect in the community.
Branden Joe Qamar, a local Arabic resident, says when he sees this type of racism, he fears it is the beginning of much worse to come.
“I remember during on job interview… the HR manager asked if I am Italian and I replied, no I am Arabic. He replied straight away with you’re not a mad bomber are you?” he said.
“Generally rationalise it [the graffiti] as a minority of people who lack critical thinking skills or just people looking for attention,” he continues, “but it’s hard. I once tried to grow a beard like a hipster because I think beards are bad ass…other people asked me if I was joining ISIS.”
Mr Qamar says over time, the slurs have lead him to “Aussiefy” himself in an attempt to blend into society without these negative comments.
“For the most part it has worked, unfortunately I have forgotten how to function around other Middle Eastern people which worries me because I feel like I am forgetting my heritage.”
His feelings are experienced by special needs teacher’s aid, Nicola Barker, who recalls being a student growing up with these prejudices in society.
“I am Aboriginal, my Dad made sure when my brother’s and sister and I knew what racism was and how we should deal with it if we were ever targeted or a spectator,” Miss Barker said.
“I remember being followed around shops when I was in high school. I was with my sisters [who are not aboriginal] and they we’re not followed. We exited, and I was stopped to show my bags…the attended told them they didn’t need to. This played on my mind a lot,” she said.
“From my olive skin, people assume I am Italian. My hairdresser asked me just this weekend what my culture was, and I said Aboriginal. She asked what I was mixed with and I said nothing, just Aboriginal. It was incredibly offensive, but she didn’t even think twice about it.”
Police Officer Anke Vermuelin in Sydney’s west says even for Police officers, it’s very hard not to “form an opinion about certain pockets of society where crime is a love more severe than in other area’s like Rose Bay.”
After a recent placement in Bondi, she was exposed to “a heightened awareness of the Jewish population” as they formed a strong relationship with police and worked together for “training and education days … to talk about white supremacists and threats on synagogues.”
Officer Vermuelin says that the police is actively working on increasing awareness, tolerance and education on relevant religions and cultures in the area, but believes more needs to be done at a community level to combat growing instances of racial abuse.
She says the attacks breed a culture of distrust and paranoia, further separating the different cultures, a sentiment agreed by both Mr Qamar and Miss Barker.
Miss Barker believes she was “the token aboriginal at school,” and many of her peers made jokes without realising they were racist, a trend she sees continuing now working at schools.
“We live in a multicultural society, but casual racism is everywhere – just look at Pauline Hanson. It’s exhausting to continuously pull someone up for being racist … [it] will be around for generations to come,” she says.
Mr Qamar agrees, and believes the rise of social media is making these racial comments more visible and spreading harmful abuse in the form of an internet meme.
He further believes the media has responsibilities on ethical reporting that they are not upholding.
“I have noticed that every violent crime committed by a person of ‘middle-eastern appearance’ is assumed to be a terrorist. Yet, a non-Arab looking person commits a similar crime, it’s often put to mental illness or another excuse.”
While people remain uneducated about different cultures and continues to be a discrepancy in media reporting, Mr Qamar believes this hatred will continue to exist in society.