In case you thought Asian-Australians were safe from vilification (with Lebanese and Sudanese copping the brunt of it recently), up pops John Laws to remind us of that "old Australia" hasn't quite accepted us yet. Laws, a broadcasting veteran of 55 years and known as "Golden Tonsils", launched into a racist diatribe directed at Asian drivers.
You can listen to his rant here.
As the Courier Mail (17/8/07) reports, it all started when a Chinese-Australian woman named Helen rang his morning show, complaining that she felt unfairly fined for travel on the new electronic tollway. She had not known of the existence of tolls, as "I never travel to east".
Laws then chimed in with "Sounds like you travelled from the east," signalling the direction the call would then take. "Obviously you're Asian are you?
When Helen replied she was from China, Laws unleashed the stereotypes.
"I understand that Chinese drivers are probably the worst drivers on the face of the earth. You probably fall into that category along with the rest of them."
"I'll give you even money that sweet Helen's little, too. She's about 4ft 8. I can see it. They look out between the steering wheel and the top of the dashboard.
"Now I'm going to be screamed at for saying that I'm being racist. I'm not being racist. I'm telling you the truth."
So is it racist? Or is he simply stating what he claims is commonly known fact, that Asians are bad drivers?
Regardless of whether you think the stereotype is true, Laws' rant was ugly and racist. Had Helen spoke with an "Aussie" accent, Laws would likely have put it down to bad signage. Yet as she was identifiably Asian, Laws made a raft of assumptions about her and all Asian people; for example, his implication that Helen, and most other Asians, are 4ft 8 in height. Has he ever met one of us, I wonder?
He assumes some kind of genetic/cultural link between how Chinese in China drive and how Chinese Australians drive. And despite Helen's fairly good English indicating she has probably spent many years in Australia, Laws seems to assume she is fresh off the boat:
"And they have (toll roads) all over China, so I'm sure Helen's used to them."
To me, the assumption is clear - Asians may live in Australia, but clearly they are not Australian.
Laws has some history in labelling minorities, having referred to gays as "pillow biters" and "grubby poofs". Fortunately, he has only 3 months until his retirement, and it won't be a moment too soon.
Actually, we suck at this driving caper! But don't tell anyone, all right?
But hang on, I hear you say: might Laws actually be right? Are Asians really bad drivers? Actually, as I think plenty of Asian-Australians will admit quietly, we are hardly the best of drivers. I myself hate to admit it. Whenever I see someone driving at 60km/h in the right-hand lane of an 80 zone, or doing something else in a daft or clueless way, I take a look as I drive past and pray, "Please, don't let the stereotype be true, please don't be Asian." Unfortunately they frequently are, although that probably says something about the places I frequent (such as Glen Waverley and Springvale, aka "Chen Waverley" and "Chingvale" to some). That said, it seems to be mostly middle-aged and elderly Asians, and overseas student types, who are most guilty of this. I don't think its so noticeable amongst Asians who have grown up here and are more familiar with the cultural norms of driving here.
Now for some home truths - in some ways, my Mum fits the stereotype of the Asian driver, being short of stature, fond of driving at a leisurely pace and known to rack up a demerit point or two. But to my knowledge, she's never caused an accident in several decades of driving here. My Dad is guilty of some of this stuff too... but hang on, he ain't Asian! As for me, a half-caste, well, I like to think of myself as being a superior and safe driver, although the numerous people I've crashed into over the years may tend to disagree...
My buddy Carps (who is Vietnamese by the way) reports that he always spots middle-aged Asian women driving while picking their nose. Can't confirm or deny this one but I just thought I'd throw that in.
So how can it be racist to point out something that may actually be true? Well, my answer is that it depends on the manner in which it is done. John Laws' rant was less a discussion of a sociological phenomenon than an excuse to promote ignorant stereotypes, by someone who seems to have virtually no knowledge of Asians and seemingly little regard for them. So to you Mr Laws, I say "pok gai!"
And just to let you know that Asians aren't the only ones likely to be bad drivers, I could add the following groups: elderly people, Sudanese and other recent migrants, women wearing hijabs, young hoons in hotted up cars, Indians driving taxis, and anyone driving a sports utility vehicle. Actually, add to that young people, middle-aged people, white people, black people, brown people, male people and female people. Bottom line - when I'm on the road, I hate all of you, whoever you are, so stay the hell out of my way.