Wogs and Dings—Enemies of the State

I still remember the first day I turned up for school in Perth, Australia. Coolbinia Primary School, a public school in a leafy part of town, with large parks and plenty of sunshine. It was a place of great beauty and tranquility, poles apart from the rough metropolis of Karachi, Pakistan, where I was born and bred.

The peace and tranquility were the main draw cards of Coolbinia Primary School, but it was also one of its major pitfalls. They bred comfort—the type which people get possessive about. The possessiveness results in the ostracising of those who don’t fall within the narrow definition of what you call ‘comfortable’. I was definitely one of the major outliers, more than just a couple of standard deviations away from ‘normal’.

Perth was a small city of a couple of million at that time. Since colonisation, there had been swathes of migrants—the first being the Europeans. The usual suspects were Italians, Greeks and Macedonians, who were referred to sweepingly as ‘Wogs’ and ‘Dings’, stinging pejoratives which came from a place of deep seated insecurity. But at least they were mostly Caucasian—Aryans tracing themselves back to Alexander (apparently that was their saving grace). After the phase of European migrants, there came a large quantum of Asian immigrants. Many were fleeing war (such as the Vietnamese), and others just came for a better life (such as the Chinese ethnic minorities of Malaysia and Indonesia). Not only did they sound different (like the Europeans), but they looked different as well. By the time I entered Coolbinia Primary School though, they had strength in numbers, with a steady stream of Asian immigrant children dotting the landscape during lunchtime. The Asian community, even though ostracised greatly, picked up a reputation for working hard and diligently, which moved them along the food chain for acceptance as ‘Australian’. South Asians were one of the later groups to immigrate to Australia. The only South Asian group that had migrated to Australia early on, was from Afghanistan, coming in the mid 19th Century, bringing camels with them to explore inland Australia. Though small, they had ‘integrated’ into Australian life—taking Christian names and leaving their norms far behind. For me, however, this wasn’t an option. Not only did I look and sound different, but ‘my people’ didn’t have the greatest global reputation at the time. I had moved during the time just after the twin towers attacks on September 11, and even though Perth was the last place news would spread, that was too big to be missed.

I was fortunate though—people in my class were young, and they only passed on comments they heard at home. Even though it wasn’t pretty, I knew it came from a place of ignorance and insecurity. Racial comments were made, but that was the only real extent to which they could engage. They hadn’t gone to the malicious point of constructing half-baked theories and passing on hearsay about Pakistanis and South Asians, as a whole. I also understood very early on, that in Australia I had to earn my stripes. Being fortunate enough to have private schooling in Australia, I was fluent in English (I spoke British English—the quizzical looks I got when I spoke though made me question whether the British really colonised Australia), and I was a good sportsman. I got away scot-free on many occasions, and even though the racial comments hurt, I was generally relieved. Years later one of my Australian friends of Italian heritage even jokingly thanked me for taking the heat. The mantle of ‘immigrant alien’ had been passed onto me, and we were the new ‘Wogs’ and ‘Dings’. I soon understood the reality that a revolving door of immigrant aliens was very much the case, with the inflow of African immigrants, along with those at offshore detention centres, becoming the new enemies of the state.

This wasn’t just a phenomenon of the Global North. In my native Pakistan, after moving back, I noticed the structured racism that existed in a very tacit manner. The major institutions (bureaucracy, army, and other such stakeholders) were run predominantly by Punjabis, the ethnic majority and the most developed province in the country. After partition from India, Punjab had gotten a head-start on the rest of the country, getting the most fertile land, which allowed agriculture to flourish there, as opposed to the comparatively arid and desolate landscapes of the others. On the back of agriculture, industry was setup in Punjab, and they become judge, jury, and executioner on all major national issues. Sometimes this racism was put more diplomatically, and other times, it was downright crude.

Nonetheless, both countries have started tackling racism in their own ways. In Australia there are positive role models from each immigrant community, who are showing the average Australian (still ignorant to a certain extent), that one’s race doesn’t dictate their values and character. There are also local initiatives run by everyday Australians to help new immigrants feel the shared humanity that we have. It’s as simple as sharing a meal or having a conversation.

In Pakistan, the youth bulge has created lots of demographic changes, a major one being interracial marriages and greater dialogue between races, Pan-Pakistan. Change is slow, but is taking root and effecting all institutions, including the bureaucracy, army, and the other major culprits of the initial rot.

Sadly, racism is still a prominent part of the world, and even though it may not be eradicated in my lifetime, as a TCK I can share my story with those around me to show how badly we need to see the back of it.