I relate to Dan Christian's views on racism

Updated: 15 September, 2020 07:12 IST | Michael Jeh | Mumbai

What the Australian all-rounder talked about is exactly what I experienced throughout my cricket career Down Under - racism that hides behind jokes, stereotypes and sheer ignorance

Australia all-rounder Dan Christian. Pic/Getty Images
Australia all-rounder Dan Christian. Pic/Getty Images

Michael JehThere has never been a time when Australia has needed India more than right now. Despite the Covid numbers skyrocketing in India, you can rest assured that Cricket Australia will do everything in its powers to ensure the Indians play cricket here this summer. The hypocrisy is breathtaking because many of the State borders remain closed to even people who are facing medical emergencies or to visit dying relatives but when it comes to sport, Australia has no qualms about bending the rules.

The Indian tour comes at a curious time for many Australians who are self-reflecting awkwardly on where they stand with issues like border control, keeping foreigners (and viruses) out but yet having to confront uncomfortable self-truths around inherent racism. These awkward conversations are being played out around the world of course but the Indian tour will force many of those casual bigots to balance their love of cricket with their inbuilt prejudices. India is the hottest ticket in town, the possible saviour of the summer but they are also...let's face it...Indian. And that remains a deep-seated cultural problem; we need the Indians to save the day but is it a temporary romance of convenience?

Swashbuckling all-rounder Dan Christian, opened up recently about the casual racism that he has witnessed throughout his career in Australia. His honesty is refreshing but for anyone who has both ears and eyes open, it is no great surprise. Yorkshire's Azeem Rafiq recently opened up about the culture of racism that he experienced and how close it drove him to suicide. Michael Holding's brilliant interview in England recently also referenced the racism he experienced in Australia, much of it from the baying crowds who use patriotism to cloak their naked prejudices.

But what does this mean for India in 2020? A tour of Australia is now a vastly different experience to even 15 years ago, let alone those awful experiences when they first toured here. I recall accompanying Indian journalists in 2004 at the Gabba when people threw chicken bones at them and called them "coolies". Things have changed since then - not only are the Indians a cricketing powerhouse on the field and in the boardroom but there is no longer anywhere in the world where they cede home ground advantage in terms of supporters. Indian supporters are loud, proud and visible. They often outnumber the locals. In fact, Covid restrictions may bizarrely play to Australia's advantage because if the stadiums are empty, India wont be able to rely on the Swami Army to galvanise them.

What Christian talks about is exactly what I have experienced throughout my cricket career in Australia. Racism that hides behind jokes, stereotypes and sheer ignorance. Structural, institutional racism still exists of course but often that is not what hurts the most. "Friendly fire" is often a lot more dangerous and painful because it hits you from behind, it targets you when you dare to trust, it is masked with a smile. It is the domain of cowards because when it is presented so casually, the racist can hide behind the laughter of the crowd.

I speak from first-hand experience - it is so much more hurtful when you get knifed in the back from within your own trust circle than when it is sledging from an opponent or a moron in the crowd. I have always maintained that the frontal assaults are easier to deal with because they come from a place of hate. The drip, drip, drip method that cowards employ are almost impossible to deal with because the price of speaking out is exclusion, easily disguised as a separate issue relating to form, injury, team balance etc. And when you decide to walk away or speak out, the focus is then on the victim who is clearly not a "team player" or is a disruptive influence or worse still, "can't take a joke".

Want to know what casual racism sounds like today? I asked some former team-mates who they were playing against the next day in a casual game of park cricket. The opposition were described as the Uber Eats XI, a disparaging reference to the stereotype that South Asians, especially Indians are saddled with in Australia. The comment was also made that if any of Kohli's team was quarantined for Covid, they could just call on these blokes who could also deliver lunch on their bicyles at the same time because there would be no taxis (all the taxi drivers would be at the cricket stadium you see). I immediately asked them if they could also be described as the Doctors XI because if you do catch the virus, you are likely to have your life saved by a doctor who hails from these ethnic groups. I also asked them if they knew the opposition was Indian or could they be Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi or any other race. The answer was so so predictable, echoing what so many have already said on this topic..."they're all the same, your lot".

Your lot. It's one of the most common forms of casual racism, delivered so benignly that by the time you process it, the moment has passed. So many cricketers recently have referred to this throwaway line which serves to reduce and traduce a human to the point where they are merely a caricature of a cheap stereotype. In recent years, Indian cricket has turned the world on its head. Indian fast bowlers winning in Australia. Indian batsmen taking on the short ball without fear. Indian captains standing up to bullies. And now, India riding to the rescue of Cricket Australia, their sheer box-office appeal saving a virus-ravaged summer from imploding. At the height of the Monkeygate scandal, when respected journalists were referred to as coolies, who would have thought that "your lot" would save the day?

But if India are unable to tour later this year because of Covid restrictions, Cricket Australia can easily replace them with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or even an Associate Nation like Nepal or Bhutan. After all, they're all the same aren't they? Let's see how that goes down with the great unwashed who are waiting on their Uber Eats delivery from a university student who spends his days working on a vaccine to help all mankind, not just his lot!

Michael Jeh is a Brisbane-based former first-class cricketer

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First Published: 15 September, 2020 07:05 IST

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