Really Fuck’d Up Dumb, Drunk and Racist Exposed Australian intolerance
LET’S face it, Australia has a pretty complex relationship with other races and nationalities, with our attitudes constantly shifting between loving and loathing, tolerance and acceptance.
One nation Australia has a very complicated, conflicted relationship with is India. To our shame, Indian students attending schools and universities in this country have been targets of violence, some even dying as a result.
Plus Indian call-centre employees frequently cop vile verbal abuse from Australians they contact.
So irreverent journalist and commentator Joe Hildebrand took it upon himself to escort four everyday Indian citizens around Australia to show them what this country and its people are really like, for better or worse.
The result is the new six-part ABC documentary Dumb, Drunk and Racist, its incendiary title a reflection of the way some Indians have come to view us.
Q. WHAT WAS THE IDEA BEHIND THIS SHOW, JOE?
A. It’s a bit like a bookend to Go Back to Where You Came From, this massively unexpected hit where a bunch of hand-wringing inner-city lefties said, “I always thought we were horribly intolerant and now this proves it”. But it also turned around a bunch of “We grew here, you flew here” types who were seeing the whole picture for the first time. The same production company came up with the idea for Dumb, Drunk and Racist – or, as I like to call it, “Stay Where You Are” – based on a news item that ran a year or so ago about how Indian call-centre workers were trained to expect Australians to be stupid or intoxicated or out-and-out racist bastards. So they had the idea, and then all they needed was someone who was deeply offensive and idiotic to host. Which is where I came in.
Q. THE RECORDINGS YOU FEATURE OF AUSTRALIANS UNLOADING THIS UTTER VITRIOL ON THESE CALL-CENTRE WORKERS IS KIND OF STAGGERING, I HAVE TO SAY.
A. These are all real recordings. We actually went to a different call centre and we got all these different recordings the employees had made – it’s pretty horrible for them to hear those things about themselves. But I think it’s part of this age we’re in where so many things are remote and disconnected, and people feel they can say whatever they like without consequences. People feel so far removed from the person they’re addressing, they feel like they can just open up, and what emerges is this absolute nastiness.
Q. TELL ME A BIT ABOUT THE FOUR INDIANS YOU TAKE AROUND AUSTRALIA. I IMAGINE YOU WANTED A DIVERSE CROSS-SECTION OF PEOPLE.
A. We certainly did. In a perfect world, you’d have a perfectly representative group of people – someone lower-caste, some upper-caste, someone from here, someone from there – but we had to make do with who we could find. Don’t forget the premise is Indians are increasingly afraid to come to Australia, and we’re saying, “Hey, come to Australia!” We wanted people at the forefront of thinking Australia was a drunken, racist backwater, and thankfully they weren’t hard to find. We have a student whose family was worried about sending him here because they thought it was violent, a newsreader on this 24-hour news channel who was privy to plenty of anti-Australian stuff, an education consultant who flat-out tells students not to come to Australia because it’s unsafe – I believe her daughter had been subjected to wolf-whistles or some inappropriate comments when they were out here – and of course a call-centre worker who had experienced some Australian bad behaviour firsthand.
Q. IS IT JUST AUSTRALIANS WHO ARE ACTING THIS WAY OR IS WESTERN SOCIETY IN GENERAL NOT REPRESENTING ITSELF WELL TO INDIA?
A. Indian society is very westernised in many ways but it’s also quite conservative. And our behaviour, well, we might call it rambunctious or devil may care, our larrikin streak, perhaps. Look, we shouldn’t generalise about a country of over a billion people but let’s do it anyway: India has a very strict hierarchical social structure and class system, with a great deal of importance placed on etiquette and decorum. You take a bunch of people from that society to a B&S Ball, there’s going to be some culture shock.
Q. WHAT DO YOU THINK EVERYONE TOOK AWAY FROM THE DUMB, DRUNK AND RACIST ROAD TRIP, JOE?
A. It’s kind of a weird one. We wanted these people to think, “Hey, Australia’s not that bad”, but at the same time we also kind of wanted to shock them by saying, “You thought that was bad? You ain’t seen nothing yet!” But then again, we wanted to say, “Look, we’re actually really not that bad – that guy you see doing the Nazi salute is just crazy!” Everything we tried to show them, we inadvertently showed them the opposite, good and bad. Speaking for myself, I learned two things: one is that Australia is pretty racist, the other is Australia isn’t that racist.