: Fear of a brown planet

Fear of a brown planet

Bill Swannie

Fear of a Brown PlanetWritten and performed by Aamer Rahman and Nazeem Hussain
2011; 75 minutes, PG; available on DVD; $24.95 - www.brownplanet.com.au

The Cronulla riots, the White Australia Policy, the Northern Territory Intervention, recent violent attacks on Indian students and taxi drivers, mandatory detention of asylum seekers. Who could deny the strong currents of racism and xenophobia in Australian society and politics? Stand up comedians Aamer Rahman and Nazeem Hussain, collectively known as Fear of a Brown Planet (‘FoaBP’), courageously explore these issues in this performance recorded in Melbourne in April 2011.

Why, asks Nazeem (the younger, more hip half of FoaBP), do Hollywood villains always have foreign accents and a Middle Eastern appearance? Why this fear of the foreign ‘other’? And why are there no Asian or Indian doctors in any of the countless hospital-based TV dramas? Is the absence (or exclusion) of ‘foreigners’ from popular entertainments a cause, or an effect, of discriminatory attitudes?

Of Sri Lankan descent, Nazeem is well placed to satirise Muslim traditions such as the strict rules regarding dating. His self-effacing humour takes the edge off his sharp observations on Australian culture (like the obsession with sport and drinking). His skit on Friday night, after-work drinks is particularly observant.

What, asks Aamer (the older, more serious half of FoaBP) have non-English speaking people contributed to civilization? Just some small things; maths, science and numbers. And what have ‘whiteys’ contributed to world culture? McDonalds, Britney Spears, the Holocaust, apartheid. The point is well made. Aamer seeks to counter what he calls the ‘rampant white nationalist fear propaganda’ in Australian politics and the mainstream media. He’s teaching us about our own history, and calling for a little humility.

Aamer draws the connection between instances of racially motivated violence and popular entertainment such as Border Patrol. Such programs reinforce stereotypes of the ‘foreigner’ as dangerous and criminal, and exaggerate fears of a foreign invasion. The DVD cover features an image of a giant glowing green egg similar to the cover of the Aliens film (which was about humans being invaded and taken over by a life-threatening alien life form).

In the spirit of education, and the belief that racism is learnt and not inherent, Aamer offers the audience a selection of ‘workshops for whitey’. These are the sharpest and most well-known part of his performance. A number are freely available on YouTube. The one titled ‘Don’t compliment me on my English’ focuses on paternalistic attitudes and assumptions of racial superiority. ‘Why do you clutch your handbag (or purse) when you see me?’ satirises the assumed criminality of ‘foreigners’, especially young foreign men. ‘Just because I’m at the petrol station doesn’t mean I work here’ is a clever take on racial stereotypes.

Is it possible, asks Aamer, that Jesus (who was born in the Middle East) was in fact a ‘brown dude’? This certainly contradicts the image of a white Jesus invoked for centuries by white colonists. Cultural dominance is not only the result of violence — though it never hurts to have the most powerful weapons. Humour is also a powerful weapon, as Aamer and Nazeem amply demonstrate in this intelligent and thought-provoking performance.

BILL SWANNIE is senior lawyer at the Tenants Union of Victoria.

(2012) 37(2) AltLJ 145
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