In typical fashion, Andrew Bolt through his blog at the Herald Sun mounted a defence of Ross Cameron’s sacking from Sky News Australia. Instead of recognising its racist connotations directed towards Chinese people (and people of Chinese origin for that matter) Bolt went on by saying Ross Cameron’s intentions, while recognising his poor choice of words, was to defend China. What the defenders of Ross Cameron need to understand is that, despite his pro-China intentions, it does not justify his ignorance and the right to be racist.
What was concerning after I heard the recording was how natural the comments rolled off Cameron’s tongue. Describing Chinese people as “black haired, slanty eyed and yellow skinned” is not mocking racist stereotypes as Bolt claims. All it does is reinforce a race superiority complex that was a dominant norm and way of thinking in the Western world during imperial and colonial times. While the majority of Australians support and embrace multiculturalism, we have witnessed a rise of race supremacy, race-baiting and racial politicking. Like politicians, media commentators wield incredible influence on the issues of the day and their perspectives do shape people’s mindsets, perceptions and actions. And by bringing up such old and inappropriate racial stereotyping only gives license to some who may believe labelling Chinese people and those of Chinese origin as such is legitimate and justified.
I am not sure whether Cameron and Bolt realise, but the description used is also deeply offensive to people of Chinese origin like Chinese-Australians and to a certain extent Asian-Australians. I for one was chastised on a regular basis for having ‘slanty eyes’ in primary and secondary school. Let me tell Ross Cameron, Andrew Bolt and others who seek to defend them that those words were not used to describe my features in a positive way. They were used to point out my difference in an attempt to marginalise and exclude me. And from my ‘slanty eyes’ I was often at the receiving end of creative taunts such as ‘zipper head’, ‘sharp eyes’ and ‘power point’ by classmates. Words do matter and – yes – they were hurtful because it made me doubt my sense of belonging and self-worth as I was growing up.
Commentators like Andrew Bolt may label me as overly sensitive and wrong for accusing Ross Cameron as racist but what he needs to acknowledge is that terminology such as ‘slanty eyes’ and ‘yellow skinned’ have long been associated with discrimination and exclusion. From race-based legislation with the sole purpose of limiting the so-called ‘yellow peril’ to outward violence such as the infamous Lambing Flat Riots, there has been a history of anti-Chinese sentiment and sinophobia in Australia. Settlers at the time saw the Chinese as competition and from that sought to marginalise and reduce their presence. Unfortunately some of these perceptions still linger within our society today. Just last month Yongbei Tang, a candidate of Chinese-Australian heritage contesting the Hobart City Council elections, had the words “no chinks” sprayed on her election posters.
What journalists and media commentators say in public matters greatly. The CEO of Sky News Australia, Paul Whittaker, was well within his rights to dismiss Ross Cameron. After all this was not the first time Sky News Australia has removed a presenter for inappropriate commentary and defamatory remarks. In 2011 John Mangos was sacked for describing a lottery winner of Chinese origin as “he’s got straight black hair and he’s got squinty eyes and yellow skin”. I commend Sky News Australia for setting a positive example and for upholding inclusiveness by taking a stand against hurtful and offensive commentary.
The concern I have is not just what was said but the audience which comments like this may pander to. Driven by fear, anxiety and uncertainty from the rise of China, we’ve seen racist posters targeting Chinese international students, protests against Chinese foreign investors and, as a result of perceived Chinese foreign influence and interference, politicians and the media accusing Chinese international students and Chinese-Australians as members of a fifth column working with the PRC Government to undermine Australia’s national interest and sovereignty. Due to these underlying tensions, it is not helpful for media commentators to utter racist slurs which have the potential to fuel further hatred and disunity.
While I take no pride and joy in Ross Cameron losing his job, racism is racism and it should be called out. The challenge for a multicultural and diverse country like Australia is to resist what I and many others are seeing as a global rise in racism and anti-immigration sentiment. The only way we can protect our harmonious society is by challenging and calling out racism and discrimination when we see it.
Jieh-Yung Lo is a Chinese-Australian Writer, Researcher and Commentator. He tweets at @jiehyunglo