Problem Nannas

20 February 2017

My Nan is great. I love her to pieces; we catch up about once a fortnight. But she’s 65 and, frankly, has always been a little racist.

A couple of weeks ago, we got lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant in Footscray. Afterwards, we proceeded to walk down Nicholson Street, observing all the people of different nationalities and restaurants with non-English names.

“It’s nice to see that these migrants are really having a go and making a life for themselves here,” she said as we peered through the window of an Ethiopian restaurant.

In this atmosphere, surrounded by so much culture and diversity, I felt as if Nan might have abandoned her ethnocentric tendencies for the time being. I ventured to discuss the topic of Pauline Hanson’s maiden speech, which had drawn considerable controversy for a number of reasons. One of these was her labelling of diversity as a “disruption”. Another was her denigration of the Muslim community as a folk-devil responsible for all this terrorism nonsense keeping good true-blue Aussies from feeling safe at night.

As I endeavoured to bring up the subject with Nan, I was aware of a need to tread carefully. “So did you see Pauline Hanson’s speech?” I asked, trying not to slip into my self-important Gen Y voice. I’d picked a strategic moment to pose the question: we were walking past a gaggle of young Muslim girls donning bright hijabs. As she lowered her voice, I knew her answer wouldn’t be good.

“I think that Pauline represents a voice of my generation that isn’t being heard anymore,” Nan said once the Muslim girls were out of earshot. “She has said some silly things but I think she makes some good points. So many schools have too many non-Australian kids who can’t assimilate and Pauline’s opinions on Australian values being diminished are very true. If we have too much immigration, our values of being kind to each other, and helping one another won’t be valued anymore.”

I took my time to digest this, wondering why my Nan considered those particular values to be uniquely Australian, as well as why, mere moments before, she had applauded Footscray’s diversity. But her statement highlights something I’ve noticed about her generation.

There is a certain double standard held by her and others with regards to people of different cultures. They are happy to eat at an Ethiopian restaurant, or view a documentary about asylum seekers in order to make a token effort at cultural relativism; however, if a Somali man or a Tongan woman gets on the same train carriage, they quickly clutch their bag on instinct.

Of course we shouldn’t generalise – but a significant number of baby boomers do behave in this way, and it’s important to think about why this is the case.

The baby boomers were raised in a period of Australian history during which the last vestiges of the White Australia Policy still remained, multiculturalism was much less widespread, and many ethnic groups were not yet present in our country.

My Nan was raised in a small country town and has never been to university. I think about how there are so many members of her generation who are just like her. How the ideas of diversity and immigration may seem to people of this generation who often still covet the ‘Australian Dream’ and can’t help but perceive migrants as a threat to that ideal. How many Gen Y-ers get frustrated with their elders over their outdated beliefs, instead of attempting to understand that they have been brought up in a completely different world.

I think about how many of my peers are quick to pass judgement, and chastise their elders for these seemingly-archaic ways of thinking. But in attacking those who hold different views to us, we are not spreading the values of tolerance and understanding we so handily preach. So instead of attacking her, I will listen to my Nan talk about her perspective. I will try to practise tolerance and understanding rather than disapprobation and righteousness. I will look for common ground and build from there.


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