Santorini, Greece. Flickr MarcelGermain
I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of a certain group of Anglo-Australians saying, “You’re a dirty wog” immediately followed by “ha ha, just kidding.” Why is that comment worse than a direct insult? Because while the first part is straightforwardly offensive, it is then reframed as “just a joke.” This means that the person who said it gets away with saying it, and then the person to whom it’s directed have no right to be angry, because, after all, it’s “just a joke”.
It’s ugly, underhanded racism, where the person calling out the abuse simply doesn’t have the guts to stand by their racial slur and the potential angry reaction, so they quickly say it’s a joke as a wimpy, gutless way of escaping the consequences. What is most sad about this, is that we as Greek-Australians grow up hearing this over and over again and internalize its inference – that we are beneath them, that we are inferior, and that there is something somehow wrong with us.
Think about it – how many of us have changed our first names because some of these buffoons find it too culturally challenging to pronounce something as simple as Ilias (I for one had my first grade teacher tell me that, “We don’t like Greek names in this country thank you very much! I’m going to call you Louie from now on.) How many of us have cringed and felt embarrassed by our parents speaking Greek to us in public? God forbid! Like it is our dirty secret and we should hide it? Why?? We are a country of more than 100 nationalities, so why is English the only acceptable language to be heard in public?
Of course it goes far beyond that, anything that we or our parents brought to this country which was different was immediately judged as inferior and judged as “wog-this” or “wog-that.” Moussaka for lunch was judged as inferior to two pieces of bread with something sprinkled inside (apparently feeding your children rubbish makes you a better parent), teenage boys that talked openly about sex were judged as “disgusting, dirty wogs” (thank you Puritanical, soulless Catholic church), and, irony of ironies, football, despite being invented by Anglo-Saxon England, became “wog-ball”.
Movies like The Wog Boy make the situation worse. The movie buys into and promotes the narrative that as a group of people we are uneducated village idiots. The movie is almost saying, “Yes we are inferior, but isn’t it funny?” In a way it’s sad because it’s as if the only way some of us were or are able to deal with this humiliation and pain is by turning it into a joke and acting as the caricature we are told we are. At least that way we get some sort of approval, right? While some of us try to deal with it using humor, unfortunately the joke is still on us, and at the end of the movie we are still the ones who have been portrayed as uneducated village idiots with no sophistication.
Up until my trips to the US and Europe a few years ago, I also had (and probably to some extent still have) internalized this underhanded racist garbage. It was not until I visited Greek-Americans and Greek-Germans that I realized that these people were not at all ashamed of their Greek background. Shame didn’t seem to even occur to them.There was no such thing as the word “wog” or equivalent in either of these countries (the U.S. Democratic party even nominated Greek-American Michael Dukakis to run for President in 1988.
When I told an Anglo-American friend of mine about the racial slur and the pressure to change our names, he looked at me as if we were some un-evolved white-trash redneck nation stuck in a time-warp of the 1950’s! He told me that far from being judged in that way, having a Greek background in the US means you are associated with ancient Greek history and “some island called Santorini”.
This put things in perspective for me and made me question my experiences and my cultural identity as a Greek-Australian. Right now I can’t imagine a Greek-Australian in the near future being nominated to lead an Australian political party (3o years after the Americans did it) or, god forbid, even being seen as culturally equal.
I discussed this with a friend of mine who is a therapist and has had clients from all over the world including Greek-Australians, Greek-Americans, and Greek-Germans. She says that by far, the Greek-Australians seem to be the ones who are most rejecting and ashamed of their Greek heritage. Is this a coincidence?
IT’S NOT FUNNY
Why, generally speaking, do we ignore them when they call us that racial slur and then tell us it’s a joke? Why don’t we call them out on it? Would black people these days in the U.S. put up with whites calling them “N——” and then saying “haha just joking!”?
They used to in the past. Thankfully however, they found their voice, their dignity, and their self respect and they realized that they were equals and they damn well demanded to be treated that way. This is not to say that we face anything near as bad as the racism that they did, but the fact remains that it is completely inappropriate in American society to use the “N” word in public, even amongst a group of only whites. How long until the racial slur Wog is treated the same way in Australian society?
My belief is that until we challenge the key Conservative narrative that the Anglo-Australians are the only “real Australians” (espoused especially by people like Andrew Bolt, the Liberal party and its supporters), we will never be seen as equals. Until we as a country, like America (“Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”) have an inclusive cultural narrative that genuinely acknowledges that Australia is a country of immigrants, and that apart from the Aborigines, we are all immigrants to this land, we will never be seen as people with unique gifts to bring to this country, but as “dirty wogs”.
It is the responsibility of all of us who are labeled with this racial slur, (regardless of whether our background is Greek, Italian, or Turkish) to not continue sweeping it under the carpet and pretend like it doesn’t hurt. We need to speak up the moment it happens, otherwise we are consenting to it, and enablers of it, and it is no one’s fault except our own. What do you think?
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