A possie in Aussie

March 22, 2010

Are police racist? A Sudanese view

Filed under: race relations,racism — Nayano @ 7:26 am
Tags: , ,

Just as we don’t see our own racism, we don’t see our own culture, and so we learn about these things if at all. (See South Australians know ‘they’ are racist: Racism Survey.)

I have been working with Sudanese for four years, and slowly slowly learn more.

In recent conversations with police and Sudanese new settlers in meetings together I have learnt:

In the Southern Sudanese traditional culture from which the people I know come (there is of course more than one cultural group in South Sudan) there are no institutions such as police and courts and prisons, and order depends on interpersonal respect.

Everyone in a group must show respect to the elder, and when given an order, carry it out. This extends down the hierarchy to individual families.  Respect is also vital between peers, and if someone disrespects another, they will be ostracised.

We protect our police and justice system from politics and to a varying extent from the media, and are expected to show respect to the police and judiciary by obeying their directions and symbolically through silence in court, and obeying the protocols. We do this because they are vital for us to be able to live together.

‘Respect’ has the same place in Sudanese society. So much so that one man told me that it is less offensive to physically attack someone than to verbally abuse them.

So, imagine that a car driven by a Sudanese young man is stopped by the police.

The police officer has been trained to be polite, but also to be on guard. Politeness will not be at the top of their agenda, and will disappear under even a small stress.

The cop expects respect because they are the police. The Sudanese man expects respect, because he has learnt from birth onwards that it is of the utmost importance between all people.

The cop may feel uneasy because this guy is an unknown quantity, and may have fallen for the media beatups that (wrongly) portray Sudanese as gang members.

Add to this mix that fact that the Sudanese accent is very difficult for a native-born Australian to understand.

The mix is explosive. The result confirms things the officer has heard about Sudanese youth. The Sudanese man loses respect for the police force.

Is this racism?



  1. I think in most instances (there’s a elements of racism in the police force BUT I do feel that it is minor), it’s a lack understanding of the different “cultures” and miscommunication between both sides. The police needs a more targeted ethno-cultural training and new migrants need to be fast tracked in their knowledge of the law and justice in Australia. Solution: Police and the Sudanese could work together….. Police should have a Sudanese liaison officer working in the force and the police should hold regular events highlighting what they do in the community.

    Comment by Raj — March 22, 2010 @ 12:24 pm | Reply

  2. Hi!!
    I agree completely.
    There is at least one Sudanese liaison officer in SA.
    And the SA police do cultural training. But I wonder how effective it is?

    Comment by nayano — March 22, 2010 @ 12:28 pm | Reply

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