Volume 8, Issue 9
“I’m just saying! You’re alright man, you’re not a part of them, you’re like a white Asian… but some of these Asians you see around the building, I can’t bloody stand them!”
Spring Social was an incredible night. Granted, the poor bar was completely underprepared for the horde of thirsty law students seeking a drunken escape from reality. But by the end of it, Biggie was pumping, people were dancing, and smiles could be found all around Second Story Studios.
It was great, with the exception of that single statement I heard outside.
“Hey dude, are you alright? That guy was saying some pretty rude things.”
“Yeah… I just didn’t really know what to do or say. I was kind of shocked.”
It’s a little odd being an Asian in Australia, let alone Melbourne Law School. Over the four years that I’ve had the pleasure of being here, I’ve been called many things: ‘gook’, ‘chink’, ‘dog-eater’… and I’m not surprised by it. In fact, I’m relatively less offended by it - anyone dumb or old enough to say those things out loud can’t be of much harm. But like in most cases, it’s the little things that hurt the most: enter ‘casual racism’.
“You’re a curry person right? You know what I’m talking about.”
Casual racism manifests itself in a variety of ways, from the odd joke veiled in subtlety, to the praise of an individual for differentiating themselves from the ethnic group to which they belong (much like the ‘Spring Social statement’ aforementioned). It’s not as explicit as the outspoken insult, but it inflates the undercurrent of racism that sits comfortably at the back of our tongues: the sensation of fear or disgust on sight of someone who doesn’t look like you, the discomfort you feel when someone speaks a different language to you. It’s the little things… and when the little things start to show in Melbourne Law School, a place where significant power is figuratively fed to its students on a warm plate of knowledge, it starts to get a little worrying.
“You’re Japanese right? I can tell! No? You’re Korean! Oh, you’re Chinese? I’m really good at telling Asians apart because I spent six months in Japan!”
It also doesn’t help when it’s exacerbated by the somewhat militant hatred towards the unofficially-dubbed SNAILS (Students Not Actually In Law School). SNAILS, I’m happy to admit, are predominantly Asian - check out Levels G-5 in the building, anyone can see that. But one can’t help but make the connection between this fact and the Spring Social statement. Why would anyone be talking about the reasons why they hate Asians if they weren’t being bothered by SNAILS? SNAILS take up the seats, space, and smell in your own building, how dare they! This is exactly the problem: when disparaging comments are made about SNAILS, the monster that is casual racism grows even more, because those comments - though not directly about race - are connected to the abhorrence towards us. The negative feelings towards SNAILS subconsciously translates into negative feelings towards Asians.
Of course, I’m not defending the act of illegitimately infiltrating the Level 3 ‘Law Students Only’ Area. That’s something they’re not allowed to do, I can’t condone that. This behaviour is wrong and should be stopped. But the inevitability of the connection between SNAILS and Asians is problematic. There is hardly a material solution we can commit ourselves to because of structural issues, but what we can do is control our reaction, attitude and behaviour - it all comes down to us as individuals. The blanket statements we make on any group of people strips them of their individuality, their stories, their experiences, reducing them into some homogenising, reductive and cruel acronym. Before you make that judgment that stereotypes and excludes, think: Is this really what I think? Do I dislike the person or their actions? And if I make this call, will it hurt?
“I hope my kids will never have to go through what I’ve been through.”
It’s 2015 now. Let’s pick it up.
JJ Kim is a first year JD student and one of the incoming Equality Officers in the LSS