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Was John Laws being racist?

August 19th, 2007 at 03:54am

A lot has been said in the last few days about the comments made by John Laws on Friday morning about Chinese drivers, and in particular, a Chinese lady by the name of Helen who had driven through the Cross City Tunnel multiple times without ever noticing the prominent signage saying that it uses electronic tolling. Helen was calling because she is shocked that she has to pay for driving through the tunnel.

Anyway, as I was saying, a lot has been said about John Laws’ comments, but it would appear to me that the majority of people who have commented did not hear the entire segment, and instead heard (or read quotes) various bits of the segment which make up less than 30 seconds, and were therefore used out of context, at least to some extent. I have been asked for my views on the matter a number of times now, and I will outline it below, but first, I would like you take take six minutes and listen to the segment, and then make up your own mind.

I believe, and I’m sure ACMA (the Australian Communications and Media Authority) would agree, that you can only come to a reasonable conclusion if you have heard the entire segment. For your convenience I have included it below.

Download Audio

So, were John Laws’ comments racist? I don’t think so. I think he was generalising and I disagree with most of what he said, but the bottom line is that it was his opinion and based on his own observations. I personally think that there are a lot of very good Chinese drivers, and some pretty poor ones (like the one I met one night who was driving a taxi and thought that the lane markers were supposed to go through the middle of the car), and the same can be said for pretty much any other race.

If you do think John Laws was being racist, then please let me know, and tell me where you draw the line on racism. For example, if I were to witness fifteen robberies in the space of a year and 11 of them were done by people of a certain race, would it be racist of me to be a bit more wary of people of that race than people of another race? And would it be racist of me to come to the conclusion that people of that race were more likely to commit robberies?

As I said, I disagree with Lawsie’s generalisation, and to be perfectly honest I usually have better things to do than take notice of the race or age of the people driving cars in a manner that annoys me (I do notice the vehicle though, which is much easier to get a good look at than the occupants), but what he said was based on his observations, so I don’t think he was being racist.

And for what it’s worth, his caller, Helen, really shouldn’t be driving if she managed to miss all of the rather prominent signage about the Cross City Tunnel being electronically tolled on multiple occasions, and now wants to complain that she has been charged an administration fee for the time that various staff have spent reviewing footage, tracking down her number plate, putting together the list of fees for her number plate, and sending her an invoice, and the time they will have to spend processing her payment or chasing it up.

The Cross City Tunnel even has signs which say something along the lines of “Did you pay your toll? If not call (phone number)”. I don’t expect her to remember the phone number, but surely that would be enough of a reminder to find out who to ring. Helen, please read the signs or get off the road.

Back to Lawsie’s comments for a moment. I heard the comments when they went to air and it was instantly obvious to me that they were going to generate a lot of controversy. Personally I think Lawsie is taking advantage of the fact that he will retire soon in an effort to get some of his more controversial pet peeves off his chest, in which case his final few months should make for some very interesting and very provocative listening.

It is also interesting to note that it only took a few moments after Lawsie made the comments on Friday for people who didn’t even hear the comments to start berating him. If I had written the exact same things here as an editorial I would probably have received an angry email and a handful of angry comments, but it certainly wouldn’t have started a national debate. This, to me at least, proves that John Laws is still one of the most influential people in the country.


Entry Filed under: Samuel's Editorials,TV/Radio/Media

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  • 1. Pen 15  |  August 19th, 2007 at 6:05 pm

    “So, were John Laws’ comments racist? I don’t think so. I think he was generalising…”

    Uh, making generalisations about someone based on their race is racism, Sam. So therefore John Laws is racist.

    As for your examples, Sam, theres far too many variables which youre not taking into consideration. Especially as this example is far too over the top. If you really saw 15 robberies in one year, I’d suggest moving house!

    Have you ever heard of Sam Newman, Sam? He is a boofhead who appears on the Victorian Footy Show. Once, he covered himself in black body paint whilst he pretended to be an aboriginal. Unsurprisingly, he received a flood of immediate complaints for his unacceptable, racist behaviour. While he is on a fairly high-rating TV show, no-one would consider him to be an influential person; rather everyone thinks he is a digusting, bigoted wanker. I think you’ll find most people think the same of Lawsie. Just becasuse youre exposed to a lot of people doesnt make you influential, Sam.

  • 2. Samuel  |  August 19th, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    Pen, racism is different to some other forms of discrimination in that it is always used as a negative term, and for that reason, merely generalising does not make a person a racist.

    Laws obviously believes that what he said is the truth, based on his own experiences. His experiences with Chinese drivers are different to mine, and I disagree with what he said, however I have received emails from people who live in areas near where Laws lives, and a lot of them agree with him. Perhaps it has something to do with the particular group of Chinese drivers in that area.

    I suppose you could argue that making any sort of comment based on someones race is racist, in which case a lot of documents produced by the Bureau of Statistics could be considered racist, for example, when in fact the documents are showing factual statistics about the racial mix in various parts of the country. The usage of this definition for “racism” is therefore flawed as people conceive “racism” as a negative word.

    Suggesting that I move house if I see 15 robberies in a year is irrelevant. I didn’t say in the example that they were in my house, or even in the area that I live, merely that I would have witnessed them. The point is that if Laws, for example, saw 15 dangerous acts committed by drivers, and 11 of them were performed by drivers of a certain race, it would be a reasonable conclusion that drivers of that race are more likely to do something dangerous on the road.

    In relation to Sam Newman’s stupid act on the Footy Show. That was short enough to be seen in a news report, and could even be described accurately in print. I agree that what he did was racist, and in his case there was some intended malice. Laws’ comments on the other hand went for nearly six minutes, and one or two lines of it do not summarise it properly. My point there was that many people had commented on Laws’ comments without hearing the full extent of them. In Sam Newman’s case, it was much easier for the media to describe the act accurately, and people were therefore in a better position to judge.

    Anyway, I disagree with you Pen, but I trust that you listened to the comments in their entirety and have therefore come to an informed conclusion, and I therefore respect your right to your opinion.

  • 3. Clayton Northcutt  |  August 21st, 2007 at 6:36 pm

    “Factual statistics”

    There’s no such thing as a neutral fact Samuel. Everything has some connotation, reasoning or bias.

    And I don’t particular see what you’re getting at with racism being a negative word. A word is a word, and has no concrete definition attachment. What it represents is a state of mind that isn’t desirable among society, and, therefore, not a desirable course of action by standards applicable to us.

    “The point is that if Laws, for example, saw 15 dangerous acts committed by drivers …”

    That is the most gross generalisation I’ve seen here Samuel. I’m quite disappointed in your logic here, when you’ve previously exercised well-founded smarts before.

  • 4. Pen 15  |  August 21st, 2007 at 7:40 pm

    I don’t quite get what youre trying to say here, Sam:

    “Pen, racism is different to some other forms of discrimination in that it is always used as a negative term, and for that reason, merely generalising does not make a person a racist.”

    Racism isnt always negative, Sam. If I understand your argument correctly, the phrase “All black men smell bad” would be considered racist because its negative, but the phrase “All black men have large penises” would be not be considered racist becasue its not negative? Am i understanding your argument correctly?

    Your argument about witnessing 15 robberies is fundamentally flawed. On my way to work this morning, 4 white middle-aged businessmen in suits tried to cut in front of my car at different points in my journey. Does this mean white guys are the worst drivers on the road?

    Of course not. When you factor in that most drivers on the road at that time, statistically speaking, I am more likely to get in an incident with one.

  • 5. Pen 15  |  August 21st, 2007 at 8:20 pm

    That last paragraph should read:

    “Of course not. When you factor in that more middle-aged, white businessmen are travelling at that time, statistically speaking, I am more likely to be involved in an incident with one. It doesnt mean that this group of people drive any better or worse than another”

    Don’cha love hitting the “submit” button when youre in the middle of making a point? Way to ruin the flow of your argument, Pen 15!

  • 6. Tony  |  August 21st, 2007 at 10:13 pm

    what ‘s all this talk about lawsy being racist for just saying what all of us think about foreign drivers.
    Well done John, you said what should have been said years ago.
    Only thing racist in this country is people from overseas trying to change the Australian way.
    How would I go in China demanding equal rights for women?
    Another thing that annoys me is now they want us to change the way we celebrate Christmas in this country, a guest to a country should honour the countries ways or in simple english terms, if you don’t like it there are always boats or planes going back to countries you are used to.

  • 7. Clayton Northcutt  |  August 23rd, 2007 at 10:55 pm

    Some people can’t go ‘back’ to the country they came from to be fair.

  • 8. Tony  |  August 24th, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    That may be true and for those that fled their country Australia’s heart goes out to them.
    I was talking about those who come here to just milk the country for all it’s worth and cry discrimination every time their motives are questioned.
    Australia is a good country but keep pushing for changes and you’ll find it no better than the countries you fled.
    What warm greeting would we get from your countries if the situation were reveresed?
    I feel a bullet grazing my skull I’m afraid.

  • 9. Tony  |  August 25th, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    Never mind about reversing anything (I take that back) because when you come to think of it, when you live in another country doesn’t that make you automatically a citizen, so everyone living here on a full time basis is Australian.
    I truly believe the Australian government is the cause for all the unrest amongst all races here by not giving people any kind of education on how to fit in here and for giving some special treatment over others they have created that wall that keeps some resentful to others.
    Don’t you see people while we fight amongst ourselves it takes the heat off the government.
    The government loves the unrest because it makes them pretend to care and makes them seem valid.
    We need our laws updated to fit the times and to unite us as a single country not a country with many splinters.
    Now if any party could do that, they would get my vote.

  • 10. Clayton Northcutt  |  August 27th, 2007 at 8:29 pm

    I was born in Australia buddy. Way to assume I wasn’t, because, of course, anyone sticking up for the ‘refugees’ couldn’t *possibly* be Australian, right?

  • 11. Tony  |  August 27th, 2007 at 11:45 pm

    I could comment but he just doesn’t get it and is looking for a fight.

  • 12. Clayton Northcutt  |  August 28th, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    You did comment.


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