Do theories of racism explain crimes against international students?

Victoria University has published a lengthy research paper on the ‘community safety’ of international students.

Their survey of international and domestic students at Victorian universities and private providers finds that international students are at greater risk than domestic students of various adverse incidents. But this greater risk is in the context of a more general incivility and crime problem:

Compared with domestic students, international students were significantly more likely to feel unsafe at work (10% vs 5%), to report being verbally abused (58% vs 44%) to report being physically attacked (11% vs 7.5%) and to report being robbed (10% vs 5%). ‘Physical intimidation’ was the only safety threat experienced reported slightly more often by domestic students compared with international students (25% vs 20%).

While the researchers surveyed students and interviewed various ‘stakeholders’, the most important people in understanding the causes of these problems – the perpetrators, or even people from the youth subcultures they come from – don’t get a voice. Instead the report gives us pages of academic theories about racism, little of which seems to me to be helpful in understanding Melbourne’s particular recent issues.

For example, talk of racism as being to do with ‘domination and subordination’ or ‘privilege or oppression’ hardly fits with what little we do know about the perpetrators, except perhaps for the few minutes during which their numbers and physical strength let them take advantage of a vulnerable international student:

most stakeholders interviewed …believed that perpetrators of crime are alienated uneducated young men

One of the few actual reports of a perpetrator (most of the court cases have been in the Children’s Court, which limits identifying detail) showed just how sad a case he was:

The court heard he [Zakarie Hussein] had migrated to Australia from Somalia, aged about six, with his older brother and mother, who were both later diagnosed with bipolar disorder. His younger sister had died from malaria shortly before the family left Africa where they spent time in a refugee camp in Kenya.The court heard Hussein had experienced a difficult childhood and by his final year of school was drinking and taking drugs daily.

In the overall scheme of things, there is no reason to regard the perpetrators as ‘dominant’ or ‘privileged’. In any other context of academic inquiry, they would be the ‘victims’.

I don’t want to be too critical of this report. They have gathered some interesting information on an important issue, and there is a useful synthesis of events to date. But as is too often the case, academic theories are the round holes into which the square pegs of empirical reality do not fit.

12 Responses to “Do theories of racism explain crimes against international students?

  • 1
    conrad
    February 18th, 2010 04:13

    I imagine a big problem is that we don’t know about the empirical reality. It’s not like low IQ males with poor verbal ability and addled with alcohol and drugs can either express themselves particularly well or even have the ability to introspect accurately why they do some things a lot time. This is why people use theory to explain behavior — because a lot of behavior and things people do is hard to understand without theory. Things like anger, for example, cause people to do things irrationally, and so the reasons people are doing things might not be because they’ve thought about them in any deep and meaningful way, and indeed the only way you will understand what is going on and why is based on theories that link characteristics of people to their behaviors — asking the individual about it may be pointless in some circumstances.
    .
    “In the overall scheme of things, there is no reason to regard the perpetrators as ‘dominant’ or ‘privileged’. In any other context of academic inquiry, they would be the ‘victims’.”
    .
    Says who? It’s quite possible to be the victim in one sense but the perpetrator in another. Personally, I work with a whole lot of hard left people, that do work in low SES areas and on topics that pertain to some of those groups, and none of them have called the perpetrators victims. I imagine that’s quite a minority point of view.

  • 2
    Andrew Norton
    February 18th, 2010 06:00

    Conrad – I did not say that theory was never useful; obviously we all use theories constantly to help structure our thinking. But the academic theories in the paper do not obviously relate to the circumstances at hand; they read more like the theories academics use to explain why certain ethnic minorities persistently do badly despite living in otherwise reasonably well-functioning societies (Indigenous Australians, for example).

    The paper is critical of ‘racism denial’. But it is still possible – on the current level of evidence – that race is a very incidental part of these crimes, that the appearance and behaviour of international students made them noticeable and easy victims for at best (as you suggest) semi-rational people, who do not otherwise hold any particular views on people of Indian, Chinese etc background.

    A Somali refugee is surely a gold-star, top-of-the-range victim in the inverted status world of the hard left. Even I am willing to concede that Hussein has a pretty compelling sob story.

  • 3
    john malpas
    February 18th, 2010 06:05

    Is not all this just a reflection of the australian habit of attacking strangers.

  • 4
    Anon
    February 19th, 2010 06:12

    I am a member of Victoria Police and as such I am not permitted to make public comment on such matters however I feel you are on the right track when you observe that the whole focus is on the victim and not the offender. Andrew Bolt has a bit to say about these things and in general he is right. Racism is not a major factor in these assaults, however the race of the offenders is rarely made public. Major exception yesterdays Herald Sun, but that is the type of offender that the media like to promote. Look to other recent arrivals and ethnic based gangs and you will be getting closer to the source of the problem.

  • 5
    Baz (the ordinary Aussie)
    February 19th, 2010 08:20

    Anon has hit the nail on the head. I can’t say it much better than him, so i won’t even try.

    Another interesting observation, as a former university employee, is the declining academic standards upon the increase of alien students.

    Examinations have been made easier, both in terms of questions and the requirement to pass. As a consequence, our universities are by and larger, degree factories, losing their store of value. Interestingly, non unversity qualifications, such as the CFA program for the finance sector, are beginning to fill the void.

    So yes, the rise in alien enrollment has brought in additional dollars to the country, but are we really any better off? I doubt it!

  • 6
    conrad
    February 19th, 2010 10:36

    An interesting observation I find is that, as a university employee, how small minded fools love to blame overseas students for all of the woes of the university sector, despite obviously having no real idea of the effect that overseas students have (who are, incidentally, generally unknown to the staff in many courses). In addition, most these people have no real idea of how the job market works either, because if they had, they would have looked at the ABS job creation statistics and found out that almost all new job creation in states like NSW and Victoria is for jobs requiring a degree. Oh well.

  • 7
    Baz (the ordinary Aussie)
    February 19th, 2010 11:26

    Alien students are easy to identify. They’re typically the ones with, how do you say it, poor communication skills.

    And of course most of the recent employment creation is for positions requiring a degree. That’s the whole point, they’re far too common. Indeed, you need a degree just to cut someone’s hair these days.

    The real question, is what do you need for a stella job. An Australian university degree, a masters, a PHD – what about one in urban ecology? I would say no, no, no and no.

    Professional qualifications or US-based university qualifications far outrank any of the above….Unless of course, you plan to be cutting someone’s hair!

    Good work Concrap, please keep trying!

  • 8
    conrad
    February 19th, 2010 11:39

    Baz,
    .
    Maybe you’re not aware of this but (a) many OS students come from English speaking countries; and (b) many Australian students are hardly very literate after year 12.
    .
    Also, I recommend that you go and argue with employers about who they pick then. Blaming universities for training the population up to a level that employers demand is hardly very sensible (in fact it’s lower — which is probably why we need such a high immigration rate for doctors, engineers etc.).
    .
    Finally, despite your name, I might point out that almost no-one uses the word alien for immigrant in Australia, which makes you a rather un-ordinary Aussie, a troll, or an American.

  • 9
    Baz (the ordinary Aussie)
    February 19th, 2010 12:24

    no need to get personal conrad

  • 10
    Trish
    February 19th, 2010 16:58

    I saw an interesting article on Andrew Bolt’s blog. It was about how ‘skips’ (read aussies), are victimised more than the indians. And as Anon said, who are the perpetrators? By keeping silent, the authorities would have us believe that it is the skips doing all the bashing. But everyone on the ground knows that its the ethnic gangs.

    So I toast the Indians for raising this issue. And it is racism. But not by the skips, but by the skinnies.

  • 11
    Jeremy
    February 19th, 2010 18:00

    Baz it’s hardly the fault of the foreign students that university standards are falling.

    It’s the fault of the universities, who, as Andrew has pointed out countless times, with matchless strategic ineptitude have manouevered themselves into a position where they are heavily dependent on foreign students for a good part of their income.

    If they lower their standards, it’s in order to maintain their income.

    The foreign students that I’ve met in my travels are very decent, hard working people who do their level best to keep up, are sociable and wouldn’t say boo to a goose. They are great people to have around.

    What is happening at the universities is a calamity. But the blame doesn’t lie with the students, wherever they’re from.

  • 12
    Andrew Norton » Blog Archive » Are academic standards declining?
    February 19th, 2010 19:42

    […] – Commenter ‘Baz’, 19 February […]