Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Denying Racism and Blaming the Victims

It is not just bothersome, but extremely adverse for society when prominent figureheads and state officials deny that racism is a motivating factor in patterned hate crimes. In Melbourne, Australia, there has been a number of violent hate crimes in which Indian students are the targets.

This hasn't been covered much, if at all, in the American media, but Al Jazeera has posted a number of stories on the violent crimes.
Back in the middle of 2009, Indians in Melbourne protested a spate of attacks on Indian college students. From a June 2009 story:

The mainly Indian protesters say a spate of attacks in recent days – one of which left an Indian student with serious injuries after being stabbed with a screwdriver – are racially motivated.

Not surprisingly, Melbourne police argued that the attacks on Indians were not entirely racially motivated, but rather, were also due to Indian students' tendency to walk alone at night with expensive computer equipment:

Police officials say that while there may be a racist element to some attacks, Indian students are often assaulted because they travel alone late at night to part-time jobs and are known to carry valuable items such as laptop computers.

"I think some of the attacks are opportunistic in that they just happen to be Indian students in the wrong place at the wrong time," Simon Overland, the Victorian state police chief, told reporters on Monday.

In effect, by lessening the focus on racism as a motivating factor in the crimes, the Melbourne police are blaming the victims for their own victimization. Indian students are essentially at fault for their own victimization since they are said by police to walk alone at night with laptops.

Today, Al Jezeera has another story covering the murder of an Indian graduate student in Melbourne. This time, governmental officials are denying that racism was a contributing factor in the murder at all

The murder of an Indian student in the Australian city of Melbourne was not racially motivated, the government has said.

Nitin Garg was stabbed to death while walking to work last week.

"What we have to do is to let the investigations take their course, but certainly on the basis of what we're being told so far, by the Victorian authorities, there's no basis for a racial motivation behind this," Simon Crean, the acting foreign minister told local radio on Tuesday.

Garg, 21, was a graduate accounting student at an Australian university.

His killing is the latest in a series of attacks on Indian students in the country.

Media in India have labelled the series of attacks against Indian students in Australia as racist, but police and the Australian government have said the attacks are criminal, not racist.

Police do need to investigate crimes with a level of objectivity. However, when police and governmental officials deny that racism could be a significant factor in the violence after a series of attacks on Indian students, there is a clear case of the state engaging in public relations -- attempting to hide the reality from themselves and the rest of the world that extreme racism exists in their society.

Thus, hate crimes are turned into "crimes of opportunity" that, again, blame the victims for their own victimization, rather than getting at the root of the problem -- racism.

An additional motivation for Australian officials to deny racism's existence is that they get money from international students. From another Al Jazeera story:

Australia's international student sector is the country's third largest export earner, behind coal and iron ore, totalling $11.7bn in 2008.


Australian universities also sought to reassure students and their families that Australia was a safe place to study.

But a recent study forecast a 20 per cent drop in Indian students in 2010 due to the attacks.

Denying racism's significance in these violent crimes will not solve the problem, improve the society, and make Melbourne a welcoming place for international students.

This story coincides with Bijan Bayne's article from TheRoot.com (August 2009), titled, "
But My Best Friend is Black!: Racism is not an either/or proposition. When did the R-word become as offensive as the N-word?" Here, Bayne argues that by denying the possibility that we carry racist values of any level, society fails to address racism at all, thereby facilitating racism's power and existence.

Furthermore, when majority group members continue to deny that they and their society holds elements of racism, minority group members are forced once again to explain and prove racism's significance:

It’s left to African Americans, the offended party, to explain ad nauseum why seemingly innocuous items are offensive. We do it because we want to educate, to stop the offensive language and behavior, not because we are "playing the race card." We are always up for the teachable moment, but it does get exhausting.

For years, black Americans have tried to explain the nuances of racial discrimination in law enforcement, education, health care; racism isn’t the sole province of the Klansman.

And this is exactly what the Indian community is having to do now in Melbourne since the police and government are denying the possibility of racism in multiple attacks on Indian students.

The burden of change is placed on the victimized minorities. They must change their behaviors and avoid their attackers. The majority group attackers don't have to change their racist attitudes, since as the authorities say, racism doesn't exist in their "pristine" society.


Updated (1/9/10): Really, oh really, not racially motivated? "Indian man attacked and set alight in Melbourne" one week after the homicide covered above.

Academics Blogs


  1. http://jewishracism.blogspot.com/2010/01/australias-racist-hatred-act-reductio.html


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  2. Thanks for the links to those stories. The 2nd link has a lot of comments, which are interesting in different ways.

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