When the Dog-Whistle Sounds, We All Get Bitten

Politicians who use fear and division for point scoring in the hope that it will get them re-elected would do well to remember that they have a migrant story too. For when the dog-whistle sounds, we all get bitten.

Growing up in a suburban seaside town just north of Brisbane I was no stranger to occasional racist remarks and ignorant statements.

My father was born in Fiji (of Indian descent) and migrated to Australia for study and work, and my Mum was born in Australia (of English-Irish descent). I was a skinny, bare-footed brown kid kicking around suburban Redcliffe.

Primarily because of the color of my skin and then because of my name, Aleem Ali, people would often ask what country I was from. Which would begin a lengthy set of questions and responses because I would reply, “Australia.” Because, well, that’s where I was from. If they didn’t ask which country I was from but left it a bit more open-ended, I would reply “Redcliffe.” Which again would spark a laborious Q&A. What they wanted to know was ‘how come I was brown?’ They were just too polite to phrase it that way.

A minority of people were less polite and more aggressive. I would sometimes be the target of racist taunts or names and occasionally get told to “go back to where I came from.” To which my reply was, “Redcliffe? You want me to go back to Redcliffe?” This response tended to result in more insults and increased levels of rage. Usually, I could outrun them…

My experience growing up in suburban Redcliffe was that the more apparently white, ocker and parochial people were the more entitled they seemed to be. Especially when it came to determining who is or isn’t Australian and who should or shouldn’t be allowed to enter or remain here.

The racist taunt of “go back to where you came from” is based on fundamental ignorance of a few simple truths.

The fact is that almost half of the current Australian population either weren’t born in Australia or have at least one parent who wasn’t born in Australia. Further, when European settlers or invaders (depending on which side of history you stand) came to this country, it was inhabited by more than 250 nations and language groups. These were the First People’s and Nations. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were the original inhabitants and owners of the land.

Unless you are an Indigenous Australian, and 97% of our population are not, then you have a migrant story. The majority of our population has a migrant story. The people who were telling me to “go back to where I came from” weren’t originally from Australia either. The people who now benefit from the hard work and sacrifice of migrants have no right or legitimate basis from which to vilify new migrants coming to our shores. Politicians who use fear and division for point scoring in the hope that it will get them re-elected would do well to remember that they have a migrant story too. For when the dog-whistle sounds, we all get bitten.

What’s your migrant story? Who are your ancestors? How did they get here and why? What was their contribution? How has their contribution shaped this country? How has it impacted your life and the opportunities that you have now?

If you don’t know, find out.

My intention in telling people that I came from Redcliffe was to confound them. However, the reality is that my ancestors came across the seas. Most likely as yours did. And guess what, we’ve still got boundless plains to share.

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