Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Career in Prejudice

I know it's hard to believe, but research is a major part of my 'portfolio' as a social neuroscientist at the University of Queensland.  In fact, I have spent nearly 30 hours in just the past week writing a manuscript about 'social categoriz(s)ation' and attention, which I really, really want to send away as soon as possible.  Anyway, one of my research themes is the emotional underpinnings of prejudice.  In fact, it would  be fair to say that my career has been built on my attempts to understand prejudice.  When I lived in Atlanta, it was easy to figure out which social groups to look at-- the stormy relationship between Blacks and Whites remains one of the major social problems facing the United States.  Here in Oz, however, finding prejudice in situ to study is a bit trickier.  Of course, the Europeans' horrible treatment of indigenous Australians rivals their treatment of the indigenous people in North America, and there are many, many lingering issues yet to deal with because of that past (in fact, the new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, plans to issue an official apology to the Aboriginal people soon).  Still, the very low number of Aborigines on the UQ campus makes this a difficult group to study in relation to the White population.  I am tempted to examine prejudice towards Asians, as there is a large international student body here.  But, this sleazy story out of New South Wales last week is making me consider a different intergroup dynamic:

Fake Muslim flyer row flares in Australia election
By Rob Taylor


Wednesday, November 21, 2007; 7:36 PM

CANBERRA (Reuters) - A fake letter linking Muslim extremists to Australia's opposition Labor Party and blamed on conservative supporters on Thursday entangled Prime Minister John Howard in a damaging row two days before a national election. The flyer, purporting to come from a non-existent Islamic Australia Federation, was dropped in letterboxes in a key Sydney seat and painted Labor as sympathizers of three men on death row in Indonesia over bombings in the tourist island of Bali in 2002. Howard's Liberal Party said it had suspended two unidentified members over the hoax. Both parties referred it to Australia's electoral commission.
"I condemn it, I dissociate myself from it. It is no part of my campaign and the party has acted promptly to deal with it," Howard told local radio.
The furor follows controversy about small numbers of Islamic extremists in Australia's Muslim community. Far right politician Pauline Hanson, who a decade ago called for an Asian immigration ban, is campaigning this time for a freeze on Muslim migrants.
"My first reaction was 'oh no, not again, not the Muslims again'," Australian Federation of Islamic Councils President Ikebal Patel said.  "At such a late stage in the election process to bring something like this up in a fake flyer going around is really quite despicable," he said, demanding a police investigation.
The minority Australian Democrats accused the government of resorting to "bigotry and fear-mongering" to stave off defeat and peg back a year-long lead by Labor in opinion polls.
"Instead of standing up against prejudice and ignorance, the Liberals have regularly turned a blind eye or given knowing winks to dog-whistling that plays on fear regarding Muslim Australians," Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett said.  The bogus pamphlet applauded Labor for supporting bombers "unjustly" sentenced to death and praised the party for allowing a controversial Muslim sheikh, who compared immodestly dressed women to uncovered meat, to live in Australia.
"We gratefully acknowledge Labors (sic) support to forgive our Muslim brothers who have been unjustly sentenced to death for the Bali bombings. Ala Akba (sic)," or God is Great, it said. The damaging row looked likely to overshadow a televised address to the nation by Howard later on Thursday.  Howard said the flyer was "wrong, unfair and dishonest," and it was "outrageous" to link Labor to the Bali bombers, blamed for the deaths of 88 Australians among 202 victims.
"I knew nothing about this until I was informed that it had occurred and can I say that the Liberal Party organization has acted with lightning speed," he said.
The western Sydney seat is held by retiring conservative MP Jackie Kelly, a former minister and close confidante of Howard, who condemned the flyer and said she knew nothing about it.
"I think its intent is to be a send-up, but it obviously hasn't worked," Kelly told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Note: It turned out that the husband of the Liberal candidate for that electorate was the one behind the flyer.  The Liberals ended up losing the seat, and the candidate and her husband are now separated.



Audra said...

Oooh, I love talking about prejudice! My views on prejudice are are not exactly mainstream, or popular, but I stand by them. We should discuss them over beers (or at least in a less public forum) some time.

That said, I have never encountered so much rdical prejudice (and flat out racism) as I have here among the British and South Africans...and not just against Asians, Indians, and Muslims, but shockingly racist attitudes toward other Europeans and often times against people from the other side of London(and of course, Americans).

The Prof said...

I look forward to that discussion over beers, Audra! Have you got a favourite one here yet?

I am not sure that I agree that racial prejudice is greater here. I think it's more out in the open, as there is far less political correctness in everything (I plan to talk about the dumb blond jokes on 'Sunrise' in my blog soon!). Thus, people seem uninhibited about saying offensive things, whereas in the States (especially when I lived in L.A.), there always seemed to be a seething hatred underlying many interracial interactions, even though everyone was being polite.

Audra said...

Coopers Best Extra Stout - it is rich, complex, and fabulous. Look for it in a bottle with a yellow label. Must be poured into a glass.

There is no blond joke dumb enough to ridicule that simpering Sunrise sycophant. When my mom was here, we made her watch Sunrise and she immediately snapped to attention and said "Oh! I hate that woman! I rarely feel hate, and never so suddenly and assuredly as I do at this moment for that woman."

What I find interesting, and comforting, is that Australia - in it's on going debate with itself over the definition of the national identity - confronts issues of prejudice and racism haed on. I'll wager there has been radical shifts in attitude (public, if not private) over the last few decades, more than the coercive lip service paid to tolerance in the US. I base my conclusion on the following:

I had a friend who lived here ten years ago and warned me of the outrageous pervasiveness of sexism. He said his wife couldn't get the mechanics to even talk to her. I have not encountered anything like that, even from blokes that I would have made prejudicial judgments about (i.e. bogans).

But then, his wife was meek, and I don't take no shit!

The Prof said...

I have become a big Coopers fan, Audra. Our uni Staff Club serves 4-5 different kinds on tap.

Someday I will just have to explain to you the genius behind Mel and Kochie...