Discrimination, prejudice and racial profiling are alive and well. Discrimination in the workplace, gender and religious discrimination, and discrimination based on sexual preference; as if that is anyone else's business!
Migrating to the United States from Australia was an easy transition though. Coming from an English speaking country which is predominantly white, my efforts to blend into society went relatively unnoticed. There were some minor lifestyle changes I needed to make though; I had to consider the dietary differences, as well as becoming accustomed to traveling on the right hand side of the road!
I noticed that employment opportunities were many and varied, although my lack of advanced education played a role in the choices I could make, so I returned to school to broaden my options of entering the field of my choice. Meanwhile, I took a job as a kitchen hand to make ends meet and make some new friends.
Australia, like the United States, has a vast array of immigrants from many countries around the world. Per head of population, Australia has a higher number of foreign born residents than the United States, with a staggering 25% of the population being born elsewhere. This is more than double the number of foreign born residents in the U.S. which is estimated to be 12% (Schaefer, 2006). Aside from the large Hispanic population in the United States, the origins of most immigrants in both countries appear to be the similar.
There has been no mass immigration or colonization by Australians to the United States. In fact, early settlers to Australia came from the United Kingdom, as did many of the early settlers in the United States. From a personal perspective, I believe that settling into mainstream society in the United States has been easy because I am not physically different in appearance to the so-called dominant white society in America. I have not been subjected to any incidences of prejudice or discrimination. Until I speak, nobody has any idea I was born outside my state of residence, let alone a country in another hemisphere.
Some others I have met since arriving in America have not been so fortunate when it comes to being discriminated against. I had once been the subject of a five hour interrogation when I arrived in Chicago because authorities wondered why I wanted to enter the United States, and I thought it was simply "because I can" but I quickly learned was the wrong assumption.
A Vietnamese friend I had met on the plane, and who was also an Australian Citizen, was not so fortunate. She was deported just four hours after arriving in America. After returning to Australia, I contacted my her to see what had happened, and to ask why she was deported immediately; her response was, "they told me that we don't need any more of your kind in our country."
Slap me now, I think I fell asleep in an airport somewhere and woke up in the 18th century.
Others I have met are Asian and speak English well, some with very little accent, and yet they seem to have ongoing issues blending into their new communities. They have had problems securing decent jobs relevant to their skills, and some have taken positions which pay very little so they can meet their financial commitments. Others have even been refused menial positions due to a presumed inability to communicate in English, despite the fact they would only be cleaning bathrooms in supermarkets.
It is apparent to me that racism is certainly still hard at work, no matter where one chooses to be, and those who look different to the majority of the population must be prepared to fight prejudice and discrimination in every aspect of their lives. Even though large numbers of Asians have come to America in the years since President Lyndon B. Johnston signed the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act, it seems that remnants of the national origin system from the 1920s still linger. "People from northern Europe were encouraged to enter, whereas other Europeans and Asians encountered long delays" (Schaefer, 2006).
As an Australian, I have not encountered any institutional discrimination, glass ceilings or dual labor market incidences, and for this I count myself as fortunate. It is infuriating to think that we, collectively, who claim to be civilized, have progressed as far as this 21st century only to see people succumb to antiquated laws and segregation because of their appearance or place of birth. Has the toil of civil libertarians before us been in vain? No, but much still needs to be done to close the gap between mainstream society and the oppressed. Australia is the same, and I expect many other countries have citizens who treat new immigrants like second class beings too.
Ironically, I find myself in the interesting position of being treated well when I reveal my place of birth. People in the United States in particular seem to have a fascination with all things Australian, and at times I have been left wondering how I could use my nationality to my advantage. Perhaps I could get a job using my voice to advertise a certain Australian themed restaurant....I am open to suggestion.
Schaefer, R. T. (2006). Racial and Ethnic Groups, Tenth Edition. Prentice-Hall by Pearson Education, Inc.