Racial Violence

Melbourne is in the midst of an epidemic of racial violence.  Maybe.

In recent times, a number of Indian people have been attacked. Last week Nitin Garg, a 21-year-old Indian man was killed in Yarraville.

I’ll admit it.  Australia is racist.  Let’s go back to Cronulla beach and the southern cross supermen. There’s enough racism in the city and suburbs to provide for a racially motivated attack.

The circumstantial evidence is circling this event like a pack of ravenous sharks.  Are we going to let the narrative of racial hatred consume this latest event? or does logic demand that we see if we can wrest it from its jaws?

** warning –  the following logical analysis of highly emotive issues makes your correspondent seem to have a heart of stone.**

Even if Indians are attacked more, it may not constitute racial violence.

  • Maybe they travel alone at night more, perhaps because they have smaller social networks, work late night jobs, live far away or all three.
  • Maybe they are perceived to be likely to be carrying valuables.
  • Maybe they are perceived to be unlikely to be carrying a knife, or to be poor at defending themselves.

All of these could constitute reasons why they are attacked more.  Even if some gangs are targeting Indians, that wouldn’t necessarily require racial hate – it could just be heuristic used to pick targets that are more vulnerable.

Why am I making this seemingly academic distinction between race-motivated and racism-motivated violence?  The point is that while Indian people living in Melbourne can’t change their ethnicity, they could change behaviours to make the rate of violence against them equal to the rest of the community.  If it is the former, then we can help make them safer.

If there is a chance racial violence is involved, then the focus shouldn’t be on the victims at all, but on the perpetrators.  Action should be taken.

Unfortunately, we can’t expect anyone to be perfectly safe from violence. There were 181 homicides in Victoria in 2008-09.  (Although most murders are by people you know, not strangers in a park.)

There were also 1152 recorded assaults on Public Transport every year.  That’s about 20 a week.  Of these, most will be outside peak hour.  Most will not be on the leafy Sandrigham and Glen Waverley lines. Most will be on the lines where Indian students tend to live, and at hours when they tend to travel.

If you’ve ever ridden the Watergardens line after 9pm, you would know that people of subcontinental appearance* constitute a significant proportion of passengers. If a certain proportion of attacks are merely opportunistic, then it is likely that Indians will be the target of some of them.

*(I first wrote ‘Indian’ but what I mean is ‘Indian-looking’ (i.e. they may indeed be Australian by nationality, or Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, American, Pakistani, Kiwi or Canadian for all I know). Anyway, I hope the above formulation makes me sound less offensive. Writing about race is fraught).

Quote from Gulf News :

The attacks on some Indian students in Melbourne (and to a lesser extent, Sydney) are real. But did the attacks stem from ethnicity or race alone? In my view, the answer is no.

Were Indian students who didn’t live in far-flung, rougher neighbourhoods attacked? No. Were all attackers white Australians? No. Is there a law and order problem in Melbourne that goes beyond racial issues? Yes.

Tim Colebatch writes in The Age, criticising the Indian media for their remarks about racially motivated violence. He delves into the statistics to find that India’s rate of homicide is double Australia’s, and lectures them about people who live in glass houses. I’m not sure that’s relevant. The fact is that Indians choose Australia as a refuge from some of the downsides of their homeland. Their country is mired in corruption, violence, misgovernment and poverty. We should hope they hold us to a higher standard.

So, it’s important to be aware that these could be racially motivated attacks, but jumping to conclusions isn’t helpful. If Indians are being targeted disproportionately, but racism is not a motivator, then education in how to minimise risks could be the answer. If racism is a cause, then we have a much bigger problem.


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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

One thought on “Racial Violence”

  1. This is a media driven campaign so you have to wade through a sewer of platitudes before you can get to any reasonable analysis of the issue.

    All other motivations aside, many/most of us will tend to equate ‘raciallly motivated violence’ with ‘white person physically assaulting a black/coloured person’. It’s clear-cut, simple and gives great copy. Especially for an insatiable Indian tabloid media that would make Fleet Street appear positively angelic.

    There is no country on the planet that is innocent of being racist. But to label the attacks on Indian students as racially motivated is incorrect for three reasons.

    One, it elevates the supremacy of crimes against Indian students above others, downplaying the rise in glassings, stabbings, bashings and other violent crime in Melbourne that do not involve Indian students.

    Two, in most cases of assault and violence, we (the public) do not know the race of the perpetrators, they could be from any number of national backgrounds, they could be of Indian descent themselves. There is no evidence to suggest (at least none that I am aware of) that one race in particular is deliberately targeting Indians as a race.

    Three, it oversimplifies a very complex problem and ultimately, leads to the erroneous conclusion that if Australia stops being racist then violent assaults against Indians will cease.


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