Sunday, June 7, 2009

Kamahl weighs in on curry-bashing - and the media twists it

Did you ever wonder why many prominent people from different communities seem reluctant to criticise their own kind? It's something that is common to a great many minorities. Many Muslims may seem reluctant to address what may seem like glaring problems in the Muslim community; African-Americans dislike publicly criticising the African-American community; and so on.

Now sometimes the reason for this is indeed parochial ignorance; some people seem incapable of seeing faults in their own kind.

Yet there is another reason, and that is the mainstream media's uncanny ability to twist such criticisms and use them as a stick to beat that community with.

The phrase that often pops up around this issue is "airing dirty laundry". Within the community, these problems can be raised, debated and discussed frankly. However, the wider world contains many who would leap on such issues as further evidence for whatever xenophobic agenda they may have.

I witnessed a perfect example earlier today on Channel 9 News. Looking for another perspective on the spate of attacks on Indian students in Australia, they tracked down popular veteran crooner Kamahl. The man known to his parents as Kandiah Kamalesvaran was born in Malaysia to parents Sri Lankan Tamil background, who arrived in Adelaide as a student yet became a singer, achieving popularity that was surprising considering the far-from-enlightened prevailing attitudes towards non-whites in 50s and 60s Australia.

The story was also picked up by Sky News. This is how they reported it:

Kamahl angry about Indian attacks.
Renowned entertainer Kamahl has joined the chorus of condemnation, over a series of racially motivated attacks on Indian students in Melbourne.
But the singer also says the Indian community would make itself less of a target, if it tried harder to integrate into Australian society.

Now, let me say that there is nothing untrue about what Kamahl said there. Assimilation into the mainstream will lead to less targeting of Indians; this is true of any community and Indians are no exception. It's not news to anyone as far as I'm concerned.

But this is how Channel 9 portrayed it in an advertisement for its nightly news, in which it was run as the top story:

Kamahl says Indians should try harder to integrate into Australian society.

So suddenly, the key point is not that Kamahl is sickened by the attacks on South Asian people. No, the real story Channel 9 wants to play up is that this respected South Asian man thinks that Indians are not integrating enough. The inference is clear: if Indians are getting attacked, well, they must be doing something to bring it on themselves, right?

Oh come on Eurasian Sensation, I hear you say. They didn't misquote him. You yourself just backed up what he said about the Indian community needing to integrate more. So what's your problem?

My problem is that public opinion is far more strongly influenced by soundbites than "the whole story".

My problem is that there are already plenty of people out there who don't want to accept that racism is a serious problem in Australia. Plenty of people who are looking for ways to blame this on the victims, rather than the perpetrators. Plenty of anti-multiculturalists who are looking to spin anything to serve their own agenda. Plenty of people who are happy for another excuse to bash an Indian.

And Channel 9 News played right into the hands of those people. And I don't think that's what Kamahl had in mind.

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