A couple of months ago, Sol Trujillo, the ousted American CEO of the Australian equivalent of AT&T, said that he believed that Australians were racist; citing his own experience as a stereotyped "Mexican" even though he was born in the U.S. and speaks English without a Spanish accent. Well…. the Australian press pitched a hissy fit. The Australian equivalent of the New York Times ran a major op-ed piece in the nation's defense. Amazingly, the cartoon accompanying the piece showed Trujillo with a bulbous nose, wearing a sombrero and riding a burro.
I, of course, was feeling quite self-righteous at the time with our brand new Black president and all. The Henry Gates incident reminded me of what a sensitive topic race continues to be in the U.S. - Obama or no Obama. Interestingly, Cambridge, Mass., has a Black mayor; yet a highly educated Black man in a predominately White neighborhood still does not get the benefit of the doubt.
A writer in the Washington Post recently observed that while political integration has occurred across the U.S., races are as segregated as they've ever been socially. I know for me, personally, that's true. Without my African brother-in-law, my social life would be devoid of people of color.
Clearly, Americans of color have achieved substantial parity in the political arena. That cannot be said for Australia where virtually all elected officials – in the entire country – are White (and predominately male).
My very brown colleague, Javier Lopez, who has lived in both the U.S. and Australia, says Americans are more racist but are better at hiding it. I tend to agree with him. The U.S. press stopped running racial and ethnic stereotyped caricatures years ago, but that doesn't mean those caricatures don't still run in people's heads.
Jeff Tryens is the former executive director of the Oregon Progress Board. For the past four years he has divided his time between Portland and Adelaide, South Australia. He is currently working as a consultant to the government of South Australia.