The attitude of Australians towards asylum seekers was the focus of national discussion last week as SBS aired the documentary series Go Back To Where You Came From.
The show took six Australians to experience and ‘confront the reality of a refugee journey’, living as refugees do in Africa, Jordan, and Malaysia.
Split over three nights, the series was watched by hundreds of thousands of Australians and became SBS’s highest rating program of the year.
The show earned widespread praise, including from Sandi Logan from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) who said SBS had done “a fantastic job”.
Unfortunately for Logan, and more broadly for DIAC, the program drew into focus the consequences of the institutionalised racism promoted by our immigration policy.
One of the program’s participants, and the focus of an onslaught of cruel criticism, was Raquel, a 21 year old women who dropped out of school at 14, is currently unemployed, and lives in Sydney’s western suburbs with her partner and their dogs.
She admitted to being racist. Then provided moment after moment of proof.
On the first night she told viewers, “I just don’t like Africans”, before sharing her displeasure at the population of the Sydney suburb of Blacktown, which she says really is “black town”.
And that’s just the start. It is challenging to hear this sort of blatant racism. But what was more challenging was watching Twitter light up with hateful commentary aimed squarely at Raquel, as if the solution to knocking the racism out of the Raquel’s of the world is to shout them down with harsh condemnation.
Criticising Raquel provided a distraction from the far more worrying racist element exhibited in the SBS program.
Because people aren’t born with attitudes like that of Raquel. People learn this behaviour. So where does it come from?
We need only look to our government’s handling of asylum seekers.
When an asylum seeker arrives from say Iraq or Afghanistan, instead of questioning why they might be fleeing (like, perhaps, the war we helped wage in their country), we throw them into detention for an unspecified period of time and listen while our politicians call for tighter borders to ‘stop the boats’.
The media through its repetition of terms such as ‘illegal’ (they aren’t) and ‘boat people’ (I arrived here via womb, am I a ‘womb person’?), reinforces bad government policy by critiquing asylum seekers, rather than questioning if the problem might actually be in the policy we use against them.
Despite the fact that none of us born in Australia did anything to be granted the good fortune of being born here, we have the audacity to suggest we have more right to be here than anyone else.
We say ‘they’ don’t belong. ‘They’ just want to come and take our jobs. ‘They’ are not our problem. ‘They’ should just go back to where they came from.
That logic of fear is created. And it can be uncreated.
In a world where we have been taught to condemn and fear each other on the mere basis of race, Go Back To Where You Came From is an important first step in rehumanising humans.
Now we just need to channel our harsh critique of Raquel into a critique of the system that created her.