Cronulla Riots 2005 Essay
This essay will be reflecting upon how culture can influence individuals by the analysis of the Cronulla riots of 2005. It will touch on and emphasise how differing perspectives, thoughts, ideals and values are determined by a variety of cultural backgrounds and how in essence this defines each individual from the next. The experiences mentioned in this essay are of my own along with those of friends and family members that witnessed the cultural clash on December 11th 2005.
The Cronulla riots began when allegedly a group of men with Middle Eastern backgrounds assaulted or attacked the Cronulla life guards on patrol. In the week following this incident, particularly on the 11th of December Cronulla’s residents saw a gathering of 4000-5000 people (some local residents and many outsiders from other beachside areas) rallying to protect their Australian beaches and protesting against these assaults. The media portrayed a great deal of negativity towards many of the Middle Eastern individuals that were defending their name and their identity for the many weeks to come after the incident.
The local residents and individuals of Anglo descent were also condemned for the inappropriate racial slurs that were being chanted amongst the crowd such as “No more Lebs”(Sydney Morning Herald ‘Mob Violence Envelops Cronulla 2005), just to name a few. Coming from a mixed background of Pakistani, Indian and Burmese just to name a few, I don’t look like your average blue eyed, blonde Australian. However I was born in Nowra, and have been brought up in the Sutherland Shire.
Growing up in an area that was predominantly Anglo Australians did prove to be a bit of a challenge. Integrating into the “aussie” culture wasn’t as easy when you have dark skin and dark hair and are surrounded by much fairer people. The physical appearances wasn’t the only thing that distinguished me greatly amongst the other kids, the food I ate, the rules I lived by as a child were quite different to those of my fellow peers. I have lived in the Sutherland Shire now bordering on fifteen years.
And in those fifteen years I had never once had anyone direct any racial comments towards me purposefully with the intent on making me uncomfortable or condemning me because I was different. That however changed after the Cronulla Riots incident. Do recall I was 15-16 at the time, and I was forbidden to travel to Cronulla to go to the beach, enjoy time with my friends or even take a stroll down the open mall. Why? Because, I look Middle Eastern. The affects of those riots were felt even after the chaos died down months later.
An incident that can demonstrate this is the situation where a gentleman of White Anglo decent asked my mother what her background was. When she did tell him she was from Pakistan he promptly informed her that she could not say that anymore as it might cause trouble for her. Fortunately there were only a few cases such as these but they were still apparent. How can such a multicultural society suddenly turn upon its fellow neighbours and friends that have been of different cultural backgrounds the entire time? Before the Cronulla riots even took place?
But before we begin to analyse the cultural aspects experienced we must ask an important question, what exactly is culture? How can we define it? Sinnl and Brocke (2011) state that culture is a broad and blurry concept, because it is associated differently depending on the context. In other words no one definition can be applied to culture as it changes with circumstance and condition. According to Hofstede (cited by Cindy Nguyen) culture can be classified as a sort of system that allows for the collectiveness of shared values.
This in turn distinguishes individuals from one another. But where did our cultural sensitivity (Christopher & Deresky 2008) disappear to, our awareness and caring for other peoples cultures when we as Australians were condemning individuals of Middle Eastern background to be nothing but “grubs”? (Alan Jones, 2005, 2GB Radio). The kind of behaviour that was being displayed by the local residents of the Sutherland Shire and others that attended the riot/protest can be closely correlated with that of parochialism.
According to Christopher & Deresky (2008) parochialism is when native-born citizens of any country expect heavily that the immigrant population of that country behave as they behave. To further this argument, research conducted by Dr Kevin Dunn (Christopher & Deresky 2008) exemplified how ‘marginalised’ the minority of Australian Muslims and people of Middle Eastern origin are in the Australian society. Australians are thought to be of the opinion that people with these cultural and religious backgrounds are the least likely to be able to fit into the culture of Australians (Christopher & Deresky, 2008).
The underlying issues demonstrated in the Cronulla riots is that, the assumptions and outlook each culture has on the other are obviously being tainted by cultural noises (Christopher & Deresky, 2008), heavy stereotyping, and the inability to understand the different cultural variables in each culture and how they affect individuals. Bringing the analysis directly back to the Cronulla riots, Middle Eastern individuals tend to have a concept of ‘lose of face’ (Christopher & Deresky, 2008).
From my perspective the moment the lifeguards were assaulted, was determined by a mixture of cultural differences, such as the middle eastern men losing face in front of their fellow peers. The perceptions that are held about middle eastern, or otherwise classified as high context countries are that they are untrustworthy and secretive. This type of behaviour could have also lead to the instigated assaults. According to Hofstede (Christopher & Deresky, 2008), Australians have a low power distance, allowing them to distribute mutual respect amongst individuals equally.
For Middle eastern individuals however in the majority of cases this isn’t what occurs. They have quite a high power distance and normally operate in caste systems. Also Australians have a high rating of Individualism (Christopher & Deresky, 2008) which could also explain why Australians don’t adapt well when Middle eastern individuals are always in groups and are quite family oriented. A big issue I found whilst analysing the Cronulla riots is that of the communication flow between different cultures. It is extremely important to be able to decode the message without any cultural noise.
A messaged encoded and then transmitted from an Anglo Australian, will be decoded by a Middle Eastern individual quite differently (Christopher & Deresky, 2008). Christopher & Deresky state that the cultural variables affect not only attitudes, but change and individualism as well. Not just in a work setting but in a personal setting as well, they can shape the motivations, expectations and outcomes that are experienced or put forward by an individual. Coming from a Pakistani background, but also being brought up in Australia my concepts of cultural differences and communication are quite varied.
In a sense I have the best of both worlds. In regards to the Cronulla riots, I was shocked and ashamed that the culture I had grown up in didn’t respect the culture that I have come from. This experience taught me that having awareness is extremely important especially when dealing with people from other cultures. There have been psychological variables that have been indentified by Samovar et al (Christopher & Deresky, 2008) which include things like thought patterns, perception, stereotyping, attitude and perception. Looking at these different aspects ll can be applied to the Cronulla riots and why individuals whether they participated in the riot or not, still had the opinion that Middle Eastern individuals were not to be trusted, they were secretive and unjust and that they meant harm by “taking over” their beaches. Being able to have two cultural influences, that of an Australian culture and also a south-asian/ middle eastern culture it is easier to understand and decipher the differences in each culture and why such incidents such as the Cronulla riots did occur, and can occur in the future.
Instilling awareness and cultural sensitivity (Christopher & Deresky, 2008) is imperative in order for cross-cultural communication to become truly effective. Reducing cultural noise and increasing the ability to help individuals understand the differences between cultures would enable us to avoid situations like that of the Cronulla riots. It is extremely important to reinforce to the larger community that nobody should assume that other people will have the same thought patterns they do.