I was eleven when the Cronulla riots happened, and I probably don’t remember it as clearly as many others who were older at the time. I also wonder if I would have different memories of it if I had lived in New South Wales at the time. Nonetheless, I remember listening to the news on the way to school, and hearing that people in Cronulla (somewhere in NSW) had been attacked based on their race. I heard that many people were seriously injured, and that they called it a riot for many days afterwards.

I was in grade eight, and I was at that age where things that happened out there in the world started to have more of an impact on how I thought about myself and my place in the world. Racism wasn’t really something that crossed my mind very often then – honestly, at the time, I was more afraid of tall poppy syndrome, but that’s another matter completely. I had come across the normal ‘oh because you’re Asian you must be good at maths’ stereotype, to which I really didn’t have an answer to because I was good at maths, but there wasn’t anything more serious beyond those kinds of generalisations.

Looking back at the events in Cronulla, I can’t even imagine what it would have felt like to have been there. Herd mentality is a powerful thing, and I hope to never have to fear for my life because my skin colour is different and my name doesn’t sound Anglicised enough. Ten years later, and I don’t know that much has really changed. I understand that some people may be afraid of what they don’t understand, but the way forward is not to ostracise these people – it’s to learn from them, to ask them about themselves and their culture.

My parents studied here during the 1980s, where racism against anyone of Asian descent was still rife. It’s one of the reasons my father hates John Howard with a passion. It’s better now, but I don’t know if that’s because the tide has now turned with a vengeance against what seems to be the entirety of Islam. Now, I’ve not read the Qur’an, but I’ve read the Bible three times from cover to cover (once in Chinese), and pretty horrific things happen in there too.

I’m a firm believer that the root of racism comes from ignorance – and this can be either passive, or active. In some instances, a multitude of logical fallacies come into play to completely cloud one’s judgement. I’d like to believe that people like good ol’ Tones and Donald (Duck) Trump can be persuaded to change their views with a generous amount of coaxing (and onions?), but that’s the optimistic side of me having its time in the sun. I think there is a way to turn the tide back around, but it’s going to require a tremendous amount of patience, and a way to try and make those who shout the loudest shut up for a bit.

I woke up this morning to Justin Trudeau, and indeed, many Canadian volunteers and school children welcoming the first of many Syrian refugees into their country. I’ve seen many reports of that story all day, and every time I read a headline, I want to be Canadian, and I also feel a twinge of embarrassment that my government isn’t doing the exact same thing. I feel embarrassed that people felt the need to have a barbeque to ‘celebrate’ the Cronulla riots today. Contrary to popular belief, I am Australian, and these sorts of occasions make me ashamed to call myself a citizen of this country.

So it’s time to pull out heads out of our asses. It’s time to rise to our status as one of the luckier countries around the world, and to pull our weight. It’s time for Australia to take a good, hard look at itself.

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