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The Relational Toxicity of Prejudice

Thursday, 11 August 2022  | Lindsay Tanner

My father was a chartered accountant in a small country town in the far east of Victoria. When I was about eleven years old a young Hong Kong Chinese man named Michael came to work for him for a couple of years to gain experience. I became quite friendly with Michael, and he gave me some early lessons in economics. 

As this was 1960s Australia, the White Australia policy was still in place, and racial prejudice against, and fear of, Asians was widespread. 

Many years later, my mother told me stories of the appalling treatment Michael experienced as a Chinese man in country Victoria. A devout Christian, he would apparently sit alone in church saying to himself: “God, why did you make me yellow?” such was the impact of constant discrimination and humiliation. 

About thirty years later, Michael visited Australia and we were able to enjoy a family dinner together. He was by this stage a very wealthy businessman. Yet when I talked to him, the first thing he wanted to talk about was the humiliations he had experienced living in Australia in the 1960s. 

However, I took some pride in being able to tell him that the Lord Mayor of Melbourne was Chinese, and that as a Member of Parliament all my communications with my electors were published in several languages including Chinese. I was able to assure Michael that modern Australia had changed, and that the near-universal racism of earlier times had diminished substantially.

The relational significance of this story is very clear: when our relationships with our fellow human beings are overlaid with mindless prejudice, the outcomes are toxic. Enormous emotional, psychological and often physical harm results, and the character of the purveyors of prejudice is greatly diminished. The starting point for relational living is to treat all other people with respect, care and decency. 


Lindsay Tanner writes from Melbourne, Australia. He was MP for Melbourne from 1993 to 2010 and is a former Australian Minister for Finance.

This article was first published at Republished with permission from the author and publisher.

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