I’ll ride with you

After living in Sydney for 3 years, I was gutted to hear about yesterday’s siege at the Lindt in Martin Place. Martin Place was the one cityrail stop between the office (at Town Hall), and the closest station to my apartment (Kings Cross). Martin Place housed many of my firm’s clients, one major one in particular, which I worked on. Many of our employees and our clients’ employees work in that vicinity of the Lindt café.

My teams would ask around in afternoons or late mornings and do coffee runs to the Lindt, because they swore by the chocolate in their mock-a’s (not to be confused with how American’s pronounce mocha as moh-ka.) It could have been anyone on my team I sent down there with my order and orders for the whole team, and they could have been held hostage in that café. Sydney is a café culture – they’re all about their coffee, and if it wasn’t Lindt my team was after, it was the Little Vienna coffee shop on the way to MLC centre.

I’ve been following the story since the first newsflash came across my Facebook feed from a lesbian friend who lives down there. I was then glued to the news sources on my laptop as the story unfolded. I hesitated to write this post, not that I feel I have anything controversial to really say. I hesitated because words can be taken out of context. I do not condone the actions of the sole extremist who held these innocent people hostage. It’s not for me to. There will be one judge, and that judge is not me. Whether you believe in God, or that only you can judge yourself, you are entitled to your opinion as I’m entitled to mine.

In America, we love our guns. I don’t, by any means. I don’t own one, and I don’t think I need to. We have a right to bear arms in my country, and many people maintain that right. Australians aren’t really gun-toting people though, at least from the impression I got while living there.

In America, there are crazies who shoot up high schools and elementary schools; they bomb abortion clinics, or who try to terrorize our citizens from the inside. I want to wrap all of Australia in a big sister hug and tell them, from a citizen of a country where this kind of stuff is more commonplace than I’d like it to be, that it’s not their fault. It is going to be okay. It’s hard right now, because they’ve not been terrorized on their home turf, to my knowledge. It will take time, but you will get over this and be stronger because of it.

I want to tell them having some religious extremists who kill in God’s name doesn’t mean that God really wanted any of that to happen in His (or Her) name. Australia has just been through a traumatizing event – something you wouldn’t wish on the worst of your foes. I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to be comfortable with this kind of thing happening more frequently.

My first experience with terror on home turf was on 9/11. I didn’t live in New York, but please don’t assume I was impervious to its tsunami of impacts. I wouldn’t want for anyone to go through that, directly or indirectly. But, perhaps that experience desensitized me.

If I am to be truthful, I formed an opinion of Australians that I admit does generically cover a wide variety of people, almost creating a stereotype in my mind. I am sure I have a small sample size, and I’ve not documented my study, so yes it is all based on here say. Just my experience while there.

Unlike Americans, when students graduate from the equivalent of high school, they continue living with parents, and go to university while living at home. It’s a more common American experience to venture out of the nest, and to launch into an independent life in a new city, on your own, studying.

Unlike Americans, Australians have never seen a depression or a recession. Their markets have seen 25 years of positive returns (equity markets that is). The real estate market in coastal cities is booming. Prices just seem to keep going up. They didn’t have a dot com boom, and the effects of the GFC (global financial crisis), while felt there, were indirectly so. Australia itself did not have material exposure to the subprime mortgages and thus, didn’t have the real loss of a retirement nest egg.

Unlike Americans, Australians didn’t have Bernie Madoff; they didn’t have 9/11. I’m sorry to say it but the image of Australian youths I formed in my head was that they were spoiled, self-entitled, shielded babies.

They never had interns, hungry and biting at their heels, willing to step in and do their job for less or even free, just to have a function in society. In America, if you don’t like your job, or if you don’t do a good job, an ambitious person 10 years younger willing to do the same work for twice as long at half the pay will gladly step in. So you learn in America, you don’t complain. You work hard. You’re not owed anything. You work for it. That mentality probably has desensitized me, now that I really think through it.

Perhaps though, it’s not Sydney’s fault. As my friend who’s still living in Sydney now said to me, “Shit happens.” We’re all a product of our upbringing. Yesterday’s siege is a rite of passage for Australians, in a way. It shows them what the world is really like on their home turf, and it shows them that when the time comes, they can be strong.

One person was said to have started a movement yesterday, out of sheer kindness. “When Rachael Jacobs noticed the [Muslim] woman sitting next to her on the train silently removing her hijab, she told her to keep it on—”I’ll ride with you.” Australians are rising in solidarity, against the racism that leaks everywhere in events like this. Suddenly, the groupthink takes over and what is an isolated event by an extremist suddenly becomes a whole religion against Australia. It happened in America in the wake of 9/11 – an anti-Muslim sentiment rocked the nation. Even my finance professor, who’s a class under his supervision, watched on in stunned silence as he insulted an Afghani woman in my classes because he was an ignorant, racist prick.

I’m so fucking proud of you, Australia. You just earned your stripes, in my opinion. But like a teabag, we didn’t know your strength till you were immersed in hot water. Job well done. Or as my Aussie mates say, “GOOD EGG!”

Just like not all Americas voted for George W. Bush (and he has never represented me personally in any way), not all Islamists are bad. Freedom of religion is one of the many things we enjoy here in America, and to each, his or her own. We’ve learned that lesson in our own hard ways. The important thing is to rise against the racism, and kill it where it stands. That is the real enemy.

Seeing the hashtag movement of #IllRideWithYou warmed my heart. America could take a page from Australia’s book in this regard. But I will still hold that Australians are just as racist as Americans, in general, if not more. But what I liked and respected about Australia was how they did treat certain communities. Lebanese and Muslim communities really thrived in Sydney. They found suburbs where they felt safe and rose up. They are Australians. While travelling throughout Sydney, I would see more women with hijabs or burqas more often than I ever did in the US. After 9/11, Americans would see these women dressed differently and behave completely inappropriately, or quickly rush away in fear. Don’t believe me? Just sit in an American airport and watch someone dressed in traditionally Muslim garb sit down in the gate area. Watch the looks go to and fro. But in Australia, people managed to rise above that. So for the record, in case you question my allegiances, #IllRideWithYou. And I mean it.

I watched the documentary Dumb, Drunk, and Racist, about people from India who travel the far reaches of Australia to see for themselves the good, the bad, and the ugly of humanity on that continent. Aboriginals are formally recognized when a meeting gathers on original lands, and the elders are respected and thanked. That’s more than Americans ever do to acknowledge the sacrifices my Native American ancestors made. But suburbs within Sydney with high Aboriginal population still fall prey to the second/third class treatment all the time. I would argue in some circles, Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders are hardly treated equally, even today. Australians are very racist against Indians (watch the documentary – it’s worth it) and Asians. I’ve witnessed this racism first-hand. I’ve seen profiles on my flat mate’s Grindr app where guys have flat out put out there that people of Asian descent should not even waste their time reaching out to meet up.

Racism is socio-economic driven – people are racist against those who compete with them for jobs. When operations get offshored to India, or call centers are sent to the Philippines, people see jobs being taken away. When global companies create hubs and back office operations in Singapore or China, people see those as more jobs going away too. The globalization of the world, as a megatrend, forces us to deal with the real threat that certain jobs can be done anywhere in the world. Some people will do it for less than others, so in a market where differentiation is nearly nonexistent, then cost will drive where the labor goes.

I’ve also watched enough episodes in the first 3 seasons of Lie to Me to know that this hostage situation did not end as well as we would have liked. Ideally, no hostages should be injured, let alone killed. We never know how we will react in the face of danger until we are there, ourselves. So, please note I explicitly do not pass judgment. But like anybody, I’m skeptical and have questions.

I do think, however, that some things could have been handled differently, but I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same things if I were there. I watched video feed of two men who were being held hostage, one older, and one younger, race away from the café first. Then 3 more are said to have fled. I have no idea what they were going through, or what circumstances led them to do what they did when they did. But I can only speculate that someone had to have known that the man with the gun would be pretty pissed off if some people got away, and may take it out on remaining hostages. Did those fleeing early set those who were still being held inside up for ultimate danger? Is it cowardly? I don’t know. If given the chance were I in the same situation, I might have run without looking back and without regard for my fellow hostages, too.

Who in the police force was doing the negotiating, too? I don’t know all the protocols, but it sounds like this was being treated both as a terrorist threat and a hostage situation. If Australia is like the US, they do not negotiate with terrorists, and this gets far outside the scope of my knowledge, being a lowly CPA. But somehow, I feel that perhaps the lives of those hostages lost could have been saved somehow? What’s done is done though, and I must applaud the police for keeping Sydney as safe as possible and responding. It’s not an easy job. I don’t know if I could do it.

This week, we should all shine a little more light, and be kind. Whenever tragedies like this happen, it’s hard not to ask questions like why, and speculate as to better ways to handle the situation. At least now it’s over, and people can pick up the pieces and move on.

You’re growing up, Australia. Good on you. Big hugs from your big sister.

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4 comments on “I’ll ride with you

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