TUMBY BAY - In most open societies public discourse still has certain taboos, things that people are not expected to talk about. These taboos are often backed up by the law.
Libertarians, who profess to believe in free speech, are often annoyed by these laws. They maintain that everyone has a right to a point of view and should be able to express it.
A politician in Australia once defined this as the right to be a bigot, someone who is intolerant of other people’s views and opinions.
Of particular interest to these sorts of people are various ‘isms’ - racism, sexism, anarchism, fatalism and so on - things people often abhor and seek to constrain. Here’s a list of 234 of them.
Beliefs like racism can take many forms and can be blatant and overt as well as subtle and nuanced. What offends one person may not necessarily offend another.
These –isms can be powerful political weapons.
In Australia a few years ago a number of conservative commentators got into all sorts of trouble by questioning the Aboriginality of people who appeared to them to be white.
The government, in support of these commentators, tried to change the Racial Discrimination Act but were unsuccessful.
This scepticism about people who outwardly appeared to be European but claimed Aboriginality by descent is one of the deepest ingrained and unsaid sentiments of the Australian people.
Public figures, like the respected journalist Stan Grant, make a point of identifying as being a person of both European and Aboriginal descent. Stan’s father was a Wiradjuri man and his mother was part Aboriginal and part European.
Fortunately, the issue of dual or multiple racial descent doesn’t seem to be a big problem in Papua New Guinea.
Just think of all the politicians, starting with the prime minister, who are descended from mixed marriages and relationships.
However such tolerance wasn’t always the case.
In the years before independence, the differences between races were defined sharply.
There were Papua New Guineans, Australians, Chinese and, at the bottom of many people’s barrels, those who were referred to as half castes or ‘ol hapkas’ in Tok Pisin.
Prime minister Julius Chan had a mother from New Ireland and a Chinese father. While working as a public servant before entering politics he was asked to leave the Konedobu Club even though he was a guest of an Australian club member.
Percy Chatterton, a prominent church minister and politician, got to hear about this and publicised the incident. It triggered one of the earliest public debates about racial discrimination in Papua New Guinea.
But Chan’s experience wasn’t unusual back then. And it wasn’t just Europeans discriminating against people of mixed race. Papua New Guineans could be equally disparaging of these people.
Hapkas was often used as an insult and even as an expletive. Half castes were incorrectly perceived as too smart for their own good, crafty, cunning and untrustworthy.
For their part, people of mixed race occupied a middle position in the social order of the time. At the top were Australians then came people of mixed race and at the bottom were Papua New Guineans.
There were sub-sets of this last category, the educated elite at the top and the ol bus kanaka at the bottom.
Thankfully those discriminatory days are largely (although not completely) gone in Papua New Guinea.
In fact, it could be observed that, when it comes to racial tolerance, Papua New Guinea seems to have done a much better job than Australia.