If there’s one thing that distinguishes America and Australia, it’s the chocolate. Australian chocolate is absolutely superior to that Hershey trash that people in the United States claim is ‘chocolate.’ I was recently in Australia visiting family over the winter break, and I was fortunately able to bring back some of this rich, divine ambrosia. But chocolate is one of the few things that distinguishes America and Australia nowadays—in fact, these countries have never been as culturally similar as they are presently. In the case of politics, the similarities are both uncanny and distressing.
The story of America’s creation is founded on racism. When British colonists sailed the ocean blue and landed in North America, they set up shop by violently displacing Native Americans and subjugating them to colonial rule. In order to compound their power and dominance, colonial governments instilled an irrational hatred and fear of these native peoples in the colonists, who, despite having different colored skin to the colonists, were humans all the same.
The story of Australia’s creation is much the same. In 1788, British colonists landed in Botany Bay, albeit with many prisoners as well as colonists, and found native people already on the land. Like in America, the British fight for control of the land was brutal and bloody, and a similar irrational hatred, fear, and disregard for the well-being of the Aboriginals, as they are known, was instilled. In both America and Australia, this racism has permeated into modern culture and politics.
On one of my most recent trips to Australia, my sister was told by a stranger, “Watch out, those two boys over there look like they might take your bag.” Although the two Aboriginal kids were merely minding their own business, the color of their skin caused the stranger, who didn’t personally know either of them, to assume that they were criminals, or at least were ill-intentioned. This negative bias towards people of color in Australia has been the basis for much political discussion.
In America, Donald Trump and his politics of racism and xenophobia have risen to the White House. In Australia, the One Nation Party has also become relevant, although fortunately not to the degree of Trump, capturing three seats in the Australian Senate in the most recent election (2016). One Nation espouses the same racist and xenophobic rhetoric that Trump has been so successful with in the United States, arguing for policies like drastically reduced immigration, a ban on the teaching of Islam, and a ban on the building of mosques. Specifically, the immigration concerns stem an influx of asylum seekers in recent years.
Donald Trump’s executive order to prevent refugees from entering the United States is horrifying, but Australians have been seeing similar policies in place for years. These policies are not even under a government led by the One Nation Party, but rather under the government of the run-of-the-mill conservative party, known as the Liberal Party of Australia (akin to the GOP in America). In August 2015, The Guardian reported that in the past 18 months since the article was written, the Australian Navy had turned back 20 asylum seeking boats with a total of 633 asylum seekers. The important question to ask here is that perhaps these people were turned back for logistical reasons, rather than xenophobic ones. Yet, when former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a member of the Liberal Party, was running for election in 2013, one of his widely-used slogans was “stop the boats.” Surely a country similar in size to the United States but with 290 million less people can take in a few thousand refugees?
For both the United States and Australia, politicians have been able to take advantage of irrational and ultimately absurd fears and hatred of people with different skin tones in order to advance their own personal bigotry. In these people with such extreme beliefs, there is a basic insecurity regarding their own well-being. “What happens if a Muslim asylum seeker or refugee comes into my country,” they might ask. “Worst case scenario, they blow me up. Best case, they steal my job from me.” There is a profound ignorance in these people who choose to believe or are raised with racist and xenophobic beliefs and ideologies. They ignore the humanity that exists within everybody. Every single human on this Earth is a person with thoughts and feelings, and when the politicians who run our governments decide to prevent asylum seekers from finding a safe haven based on their skin color, they are reducing these asylum seekers to less than human.
Australia and the United States are not the only countries with racist and xenophobic politicians, but they are at the forefront of a tide right-wing nationalism that is sweeping across the globe, and even reaching Europe, with Marine Le Pen and her National Front in France. I do not think there is a magic or easy solution to all this hate that is finding ears throughout the world, but I do think that we can each give our best attempt to recognize that ultimately, we are all inherently flawed beings. I can only hope that you, individually, are someone who attempts to spread love and happiness rather than hate and hostility. Without this empathy, that Australian chocolate just doesn’t have that same rich taste.
Chester is a member of the Class of 2020