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Wog – why whisper it?

I am a wog, and I’m proud of it. I don’t call myself an aussie and I was born in Australia. This may be difficult for some to digest, but that’s how I feel, and I’m not alone is saying it either.

A few weeks ago, I emailed a review of the George Michael concert to the Overland editor, and was politely asked to remove the line ‘every wog and his brother was there’. I thought the editor’s concern that it may offend was understandable, even though I meant it endearingly, so I removed the line without complaint, but it got me thinking about the word ‘wog’ and whether it’s appropriate to use it today. Are the words ‘aussie’ and ‘wog’ just terms my parents tackled back in the 70s and 80s where immigrants from southern Europe were arriving in their droves? Is it a non-issue today, or is it still there but that nobody talks about it? Is it okay to say the word ‘wog’?

It was only a few years ago, in 2005, that Sydney saw an uproar in racial tensions betweens wogs and aussies with the Cronulla Beach riots. Redneck Australians were draped in the Australian flag chanting ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie … Oi, Oi, Oi’, and demanding the Lebanese go home, when, in fact, Australia is their home. I remember being stunned by the racism – I thought Australia was past all this, yet here was a community completely segregated.

What perplexed me more was how I didn’t see it coming, and it had me wondering if our society isn’t just a little bit ignorant. Would we rather live in denial than interrupt the flow our daily lives? Do we have a tendency to bury our problems until they’ve reach boiling point?

I can only speak for life in Melbourne today and am in no way insinuating that we have the same problems we had in Cronulla, but I do believe we are still a long stretch, as a society, from embracing multiculturalism. All you have to do is look at what mainstream television is broadcasting: Neighbours, Blue Heelers, Home and Away, and other shows with predominantly Anglo-Saxon characters and drama. The latest Underbelly is surprisingly refreshing in its portrayal of Lebanese characters in Sydney’s Kings Cross, but it doesn’t go far enough. We are shown the family lives of Anglo characters but the family life of the main Lebanese characters is hidden – why?

Travelling back a decade or so, television gave us Heartbreak High, which included characters from different multicultural backgrounds, and before that Acropolis Now, which made fun of Greek culture rather than exploring what is means to be Greek in Australia. Apart from that, there hasn’t been much else. Where are our multicultural shows depicting multicultural Australia? Where are the wogs?

And it isn’t just television, it’s film and books, none of which represent a true, multicultural Australia. Why is this the case? Is It is because there aren’t enough writers from different backgrounds writing our stories? Or is there a reluctance by editors, TV producers and film producers to allow this new voice to come through? Is it fear, racism, or something else?

All I know is that if I was told I couldn’t use the word ‘wog’ to describe myself, it would literally be like someone ripping my identity from me. I use the word endearingly, and if it is said endearingly to me, I don’t mind. Some Anglos may refrain from using the word, but it takes a lot more than not using the word ‘wog’ to be open to other cultures and to truly embrace multicultural Australia.

For anyone into poetry, a poem on my blog on the topic.

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Koraly is a widely published Cypriot-Australian writer and performer. She is the author of the controversial Love and F**k Poems. Koraly received an Australia Council ArtStart grant. She presents on 3CR radio and has a residency at Brunswick Street Bookstore. Her 2013 La Mama show is Exonerating The Body. She is mentored by Christos Tsiolkas.

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  1. Growing up in Ringwood in the ’70s, my mum would’ve threatened me with the wooden spoon if I’d used the word ‘wog’ – so I never did, and grew up thinking all such ‘slights’ were ‘unpleasant, unnecessary and derogatory’. We were poms. Poms, wogs … funny little words. Words have power because we give them power – old insults are connected to fresh wounds.

  2. I’m half-Indian, but I identify as being Australian. I’m proud of a lot of things about Australia, I was born and raised in Australia and I can’t imagine leaving this country to go anywhere else. But I have a huge issue with the way in which racist Australians distort having pride in your country into racism. I think racism permeates our society in the same way that sexism does, and since, you know, we’ve got equal pay now, a lot of people like to pretend these aren’t issues anymore, even though they clearly are.

    Even though Indian culture isn’t a part of my life, I live in an area where everyone is of English and Dutch descent, and when people insult me, they tend to use racial slurs (which is bizarre, because I’ve been accused of being everything from a wog to a Muslim). I think people should be able to identify as being both Australian and wog/Indian/whatever country they’ve descended from, without having to feel shame. And everyone who is an Australian citizen should be allowed to identify as Australian regardless of their customs or religion or race.

    I think compared to the way Australia was 40 years ago (you know, when Indigenous Australians were counted as Flora and Fauna), we’ve come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go, because the societal attitudes from that time are still held by a lot of people.

  3. I have mixed feelings about these tags, but I think it partly depends on context and the intent of the speaker.

    A blue-eyed, blonde haired colleague once responded to our office teasing (can’t remember what about now) by saying ‘Jesus, can’t a nigger get a chance around here?’, which was hilarious for obvious reasons. A fellow worker complained to management on the grounds that it might have offended ME, which was weird because I almost myself laughing at the time, then I was called in and asked whether it offended me (rather than management making a decision on whether or not the word was offensive themselves).

    On the other hand a black acquaintance (who I wasn’t particularly fond of) once passed me with ”Sup nigger?’ as a greeting and I felt like dismembering him.

    Besides context, it’s also about reclaiming words. The ‘n’ word has not been claimed by people of colour in Australia – probably because of the inequalities that still exist, and our status as a more substantial minority that in, say, the US or UK.

    I think I commented once before on a thread here about giving a present I’d made to a queer ( a term which has, of course, been reclaimed) friend, and everyone there remarking how ‘gay’ the present was (gay being a substitution for awesome, rather than meaning ‘camp’). “Oh my god, did you make that? WOW! It is sooo GAY. I want one!”

    Similarly, amongst some of my mates neutral terms are subverted to make mainstream/majority characteristics into insults. For example ‘white’, though a neutral term, is used as the ultimate insult. ‘Why would you say that? Yuck, that was such a WHITE thing to say.’ Or even ‘God, why is this train so late? I hate waiting for trains, waiting for trains so fucking HETERO’…

  4. Well put Maxine.

    It is about context, but also awareness of language. Knowing the etymology of the word is important: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wog . The use of the term in Australia has certainly added further meanings to it, but it originated from racist practices. When it’s used it generally introduces a politics of difference, or power, or a notion of how much another person belongs to a dominant culture.

    I’m often concerned to hear people wanting to normalize such language and reuse it as though the original meanings of the word weren’t present. Then again, my friends and I often say quite terrible things to each, in a private context, to make each other laugh.

    But mostly I think the fact that you’re pointing out a difference between being “Aussie” and a “wog” relates to the problem of how the word is used. It’s a term which picks sides, and I think Australia needs less of them.

    Quite rushed, but wanted to post something in response to your post. It was good that you raised the issue.

  5. Also, if this topic is of interest, people should read Ghassan Hage’s ‘White Nation’ – it’s brilliant and discusses the intricacies of such identity difference.

  6. I must confess to also have mixed feelings about this. Like I said to you at the time, Koraly, I understand there has been a reclamation of this term, but I’m not sure it’s okay for people outside certain communities to use it.

    Which is not to say that one can’t ever use it. In the context of identity, it’s a very powerful word to use, but it did seem [to me] out of context in the post at the time. Which is why I suggested exploring the topic on the blog because it is something we need to continue to examine.

    • Jacinda, I do understand your position, but asking me to not use the word wog to describe myself and people within my culture is like asking me not to call myself a human. Maybe if you yourself wrote the article it would be inappropriate because you are not a wog, but I am, and when I write reviews, I write them from a personal standpoint and reflect on how the book/concert/film made ME feel, what I saw, what I liked, because a review is subjective.

      Regarding the other points made above, I agree that it does depend on the context it is used in, just like any other word. Eg there is a big difference between someone calling you an Aussie, in an endearing way, and someone calling you a ‘bloody Aussie’. Yes, we shouldn’t ignore the politics behind the word ‘wog’ but because I am second-generation and was brought up in times where the word ‘wog’ was used a lot, and I did feel segregated, it’s hard to erase all that, especially when I look at my television and literature and film and see us, our stories, or culture, missing or misrepresented. When we start seeing a true multicultural Australia reflected in these areas, maybe then I’ll feel more Australian and, maybe, one day, identify with being Australian, but until then, until change, I can’t and I won’t.

      • I think you misunderstand me, Koraly. I’m not asking you not to refer yourself in this way and I’m certainly not advocating any kind of embracement of national identity.

  7. My high school was 50/50 wogs/skips.
    I was a skip, though no Anglo-Aussies I know actually self-identified as such – that was what the wogs called us :)
    Our wogs were made of up Serbs, Croats and Macos… I think identifying as wogs in the 1990s made it easier for those of Bosnian descent to stay mates with kids who descended from the other side of the conflict.
    I think nothing of using the word wog – it was every day nomenclature throughout my adolescence, then for 6 years of my teaching career – my peers and my students identify that way, and, so long as I didn’t preface it with an adjective like “greasy” or “filthy”, then they had no problem with it. Since leaving that area, however, I’ve been given some horrified looks (generally by Anglos) in response to me saying it – usually in what I consider to be non-offensive contexts such as “My new school is so mono-cultural… Teaching ‘changing communities’ is so much easier when the class is half full of wogs.”
    I see ‘wog’ as a similar word to ‘queer’ – when used in a friendly context, it’s a safe way to identify… It’s only when it’s screamed across the street at someone, prefaced with “you fucking ~” (or some other, non friendly context) that it’s an issue, no?

  8. I thought the word was okay in a reclaimed kind of way – in context as Maxine suggests – but I have to say that several Greek and Italian friends beg to differ so I’ve stopped using it. (Yes,I can see it might have sounded try hard coming from me).

  9. I feel the same way as Jacinda, really. It isn’t a word I would ever use myself. Just as I would never say “nigger”, or “curry”, even though I have friends who use those terms affectionately to describe themselves and their heritage. Even if “ownership” has changed… Well, I’m not the new owner.

    Outside of the context of immediate friends, I think using those terms, even as a form of self-identifcation, is to enter a minefield. And I’m not entirely sure whether they disarm or detonate.

    Having said that, however… Those mines need to be cleared somehow and I absolutely LOVED your poem “Wog” when I read it the other day.

  10. Using the word ‘wog’ is encouraging segregation and also sending out the message to all races that it is okay to stereotype people from certain backgrounds. If it is an identity issue then you should feel comfortable in calling yourself ‘Greek’ rather than wog, as the word ‘wog’ is a derogatory term that is grouped together with words such as “nigger”, “curry” etc. If certain races are not “allowed” to use the word ‘wog’, then ‘wogs’ (as you’ve defined it) should not throw it around either. People learn by example, you cannot put terms and conditions on using certain words. How would you explain to a child that it’s okay to use some derogatory terms but not others depending on circumstance? Or if you use such words in your household how will you explain to your kids not to throw these words around in the outside world?

  11. Koraly

    We should not confuse the purpose of a pointed multicultural critique of the lack of cultural representation of cultural diversity in the mass media/media industries/media texts with the justification for calling oneself a ‘wog’.

    The purpose of the multicultural critique is about breadth and inclusiveness and about the breakdown of hegemonic or monolithic narratives about what it means to be Australian.

    The use of the term wog is about an exclusive and specific identity experience which claims the superiority of that experience over all others. It is empowerment through exclusion.

    It is about claiming a particular experience and emphasising points of difference while ignoring that ‘wog’ means nothing and embraces no values or characteristics which make ‘wognesss’ distinctive.If Greeks are wogs what are our Italian peers, our Vietnamese peers, our Ethiopian peers, our Chinese peers or our German peers?

    Why can’t they claim wogness? Or can they?

    Nor does it account or cover your own peers completely different trajectories in terms of identity politics. For example, can fourth and fifth generation Australian Greeks of Kastellorizian descent in Perth claim wogness in the same way as a second generation 30 something in Melbourne?

    My fear is ‘wogness’ is claimed by those people, who under the mantle of multiculturalism, used terms like wog as a means of claiming the primacy and the importance their particular experience,as if the subjective experience of wogness bonds all wogs together.

    Wogness is just as relevant as the Greek boys who love dressing up as Spartans and walk up and down Lonsdale Street during the Lonsdale Street Glendi, claiming their connection to the ancient Greeks.

    To be true multicultural subjects we need to acknowledge the Australianess of our experience and how that exacerbation of the experience of the particular (greek australian, italo-australia, vietnamese australian, anglo australian) emerges from a shared experience of migration and a shared anxiety about our position in this place at this time.

    I am an Australian of Greek descent and proud of it. I speak Greek, I read Greek, I listen to Greek music, I follow news from Greece but above all, I am a proud Australian.

    The anxiety I talk about above is what makes the experience interesting because it works like the old Marxist idea of the dialect, where through tension and contradiction new and interesting things emerge.

    So lets strike against the wog and lets get back to some old school leftie 80s postioning and reclaim ourselves as great australian multicultural subjects whose very lives as they are lived given expression to the critique of the hegemonic/primary discourses.

  12. Great post Koraly – especially because of the discussion it’s opened up, so cheers to you and to you too Jacinda. And I really like your response Ross K.

    My own experience makes me acutely conflicted about all this – well, not conflicted so much as confused. As a first generation Australian with an English father my upbringing felt just as torn between the old country and the new one but I don’t celebrate the old one with the joy with which you seem to celebrate your Greek heritage. Anglo culture is shameful in Australia (to me anyway) and I have no plans to reclaim that word. The British were the colonisers – and brought the language and forms which dominate the Australian literary landscape and drown out other voices. Or did drown them out. Growing up my best friends and neighbours were second generation Aussie kids whose grandparents had emigrated from Greece and Ireland. My next door neighbours were a wonderful Greek couple who fed me olives from an enormous barrel. I guess we knew the word wog but we never used it.

    Australia is a heady multicultural brew and I agree with you Ross that the tension of being ‘something’ and Australian is a fertile mix (and something most of us share) and does work like Marxist dialectic. And produces extraordinary things like Christos Tsiolkas’s ‘Dead Europe’.

  13. Thanks everyone for your comments, which are great to read, because that’s what I wanted from this post, to talk about this word, and what it means for Australia today.

    Anonymous, I’m fascinated by the fact that you don’t reveal your identity or cultural background. You say ‘using the word ‘wog’ is encouraging segregation and also sending out the message to all races that it is okay to stereotype people from certain backgrounds’. The point of my article is that it takes a lot more than not using the word ‘wog’ to embrace multicultural Australia. Some people think ‘if I don’t use the word ‘wog’ well, I’m not racist. I embrace other cultures, I don’t segregate.’ It takes a hell of a lot more than that. I DO use the word, endearingly, and suddenly I am accused of segregating, yet I believe that I do embrace other cultures. The reason I say this is that I am convinced that we are a racist country. I have had people, in my presence say things like ‘Oh, I bet the driver in front of me is Chinese because he drives badly’ or ‘they’re aussie – what do you expect from aussie’. We DO stereotype in Australia based on class, religion, background etc. It’s disgusting, and it goes a lot further than using the word ‘wog’

    Basically, what I’m saying, is it depends on the context the word ‘wog’ is used in, and this is where Ross had an excellent point where he said ‘Wogness is just as relevant as the Greek boys who love dressing up as Spartans and walk up and down Lonsdale Street during the Lonsdale Street Glendi, claiming their connection to the ancient Greeks.’ To me, when I use the word wog what I’m really talking about is ethnicity and ethnic roots. I call my daughter a little wog sometimes when she comes home from her grandparent’s house and starts talking Greek to me. Striking the word out, like you say, Ross, feels wrong, like I am striking against myself, and I think some people feel the wog thing more than others – I think it depends on when your parents immigrated to Australia and the experiences you had growing up.

    But I believe people use the word ‘wog’ to describe themselves because if everything outside your ‘wog’ circle doesn’t isn’t very welcoming, or you feel excluded, you probably feel comforted to call yourself a wog and feel like you are part of a circle. And I think this is my point: until Australia is united, and embracing multiculturalism, there will be a tendency for people to call themselves wogs. That’s’ where television, film etc does have a lot to do with all this, because it doesn’t reflect a multicultural Australia. Maybe if the public were exposed to the multicultural voice through books, film, etc, they would be less inclined to be racist and segregate, because they would UNDERSTAND. What television shows me is a segregated Australia, and maybe that’s why I tend to use the word wog to describe myself, because the Australia I see outside of my wog circle, rarely includes voices like mine.

  14. With its roots firmly grounded in division, hate and the ongoing pushing of ‘otherness’ of Greek Australians, I really dislike the word wog. And I think it is naive to think that by using it ourselves, some claim it will thereby remove it of all its hateful power. But that is absolute crap.

    Case in point: A blonde anglo Australian girl who is pretty with big tits makes up a story in the Cross where she uses the text “and the fat wog says to the skinny wog”… she seeks out a camera and reporter to tell this lie, and is made a celebrity, gets a celebrity title and is given a TV show. How on earth is that helping the cause of people like me, who work in theatre, tv and film to finally belong to this wasteland of a cultural landscape called Australia? Why wasn’t her appalling behaviour dismissed as a pathetic attempt at instant celebrity. Our society rewarded this woman, because she was a pretty, racist liar.

    Why? because we have begun to bandy around terms like wog enough so that the wider community now thinks it’s acceptable and cool. It doesn’t erase the hurt that word has caused generations of people, like my Great-grandfather, Grandfather, Father, Mother, brother and me. My family have been here for over 100 years and I’m still having to wear the assumption that I “come from somewhere else” more so than the woman who lives next door to me who is fair skinned and immigrated from the UK 25 years ago. She is considered more Australian than me. Pisses me off.

    So come on, let’s get over thinking there’s no harm in the word ‘wog’. There is. Don’t buy the propaganda. It’s a shit word that reduces us to the smallest unit of distain. Don’t do it.

    • It’s racists that attach that hateful power to an otherwise endearing word. I have many aussie friends, and they joke with me and call me wog sometimes just like I can them aussie when they can’t relate to my cultural pressures. I think the word wog is great, I love that it unites European migrants that share similar experiences, traditions and cultures. Just yesterday, a friend of mine(Italian) and I read our poetry at a gig and another poet(Australian background) came up to us and congratulated us on our poetry and called us ‘the angry wog chicks’, which I took as a compliment, because it was said with praise and admiration. Any word can be said in an angry, derogatory way eg bloody Greek, bloody Italian – I don’t think it’s the word ‘wog’ that’s derogatory, it’s the emotion and attached to it. Having other migrant cultures that understand and relate to my cultural pressures, particularly women from migrant cultures(because we have a lot of pressure to conform) helps immensely. We understand each other, and we’re wogs.

  15. Like you Koraly I use the term wog with friends who are wogs. It makes me feel fuzzy and inclusive because it’s a shorthand term to encompass our loud voices, exuberance and way of life. But I don’t feel comfortable using it around Anglo’s because I do worry about it being appropriated for ugly use.

    I lived in Sydney during the Cronulla riots and it was a really ugly feeling to hear it used in a derogatory term and with the adage ‘go home wogs.’ Because we haven’t experienced the racism associated with the term we can appropriate and feel good about it. But I can see how those of previous generations don’t feel the same.

    I also have the same ambivalence about the word nigger. I can see how black people want to take back the word and re appropriate it, but it doesn’t take away the decades of its use in a derogatory way.

    While I don’t have a problem with a friend of ethnic background calling me a wog, I think I would if a friend of Anglo background did. I don’t feel like they have a right to the word.

  16. wog is a totally relevant word to use to describe yourself, if you like to use words that mean entirely different things to different people.

    I would suggest you try to find a few more words to help define your “humanity” or “culture”. Saying you are left or right handed would give people more of an insight into your character.

      • well, research doesn’t appear to be your strong point, so if you are (for example), cumfy with most of the UK assuming you are Pakistani, then go with that.

        • Chris, I am well aware that the word ‘wog’ means
          something completely different in the UK. I’m sure that most
          people in Australia know what I mean when I use it. I
          am sorry, but I’m not going to let a bunch of racist
          red-neck aussies strip me of my identity.

  17. I agree with Koraly that media portrayal of people from any ethnic background is in need of an overhaul. As we know, media is such a powerful, repetitive force that it often damages our country (any country really) when it is unbalanced.

    What I’d like to ask, Koraly & anyone else reading (if you don’t mind me jumping off into a slight tanjent) whether you think an absence of ethnic people and culture in mass media is more harmful than a negative portrayal?

    In that, does an absence create a silence and kill discussion and progress? Although, I suspect as terrible as that is, constant negative representations may be more dangerous, and certainly more hurtful.

    • Hi Ashley, if we look at mainstream news, most representations of ethnic backgrounds are usually in response to acts of racism. If we look at mainstream television shows eg neighbours, home and away etc, any ethnic characters are portrayed stereotypically, and their home lives, customs etc are absent like in the example I used of underbelly. The only example i can think of is heart break high in the 90s. This absence is a real problem, because we don’t see multicultural Australia on television, and I do believe that’s why ‘wogs’ do, in some way, stay within their own circles, because outside the wog circle we feel misunderstood, or unrepresented.

      Like Amra, I feel some comfort when I talk to other wogs in the arts, because we are a rare breed and I feel, we have a huge responsibility to get our stories out into mainstream television etc so Australians from all backgrounds can see the diversity we have here in Australia and embrace it. Until then, we are hindered, I believe, from progressing as a nation.

      • Yes, I agree, Koraly, it’s as if the ‘bad news sells’ maxim is carried out to massive extremes, and constantly, in regards to ethnicity, by modern media.

          • Yes, they tease us with possible multicultural
            characters and then take them away, or portray them
            as flat stereotypes. I just wonder if it’s
            because they(media) think the austrlian public don’t
            find multicultal characters interesting, because
            I know I do.

  18. Nice discussion starter.

    I agree that context is key regarding to “wog” or not to “wog”.

    Although some of us are ready to reclaim the word, its racist roots are still pretty firmly planted in Australian culture (as per Cronulla etc). So I guess it’s natural that many people aren’t ready to embrace the word as a term of endearment.

    I used to be caught right in the middle of the “wogs” and the “skips” at my high school. I was like a bizarro school yard diplomat at times, speaking the right language to calm either group down whenever conflicts arose. I was more Aussie than the other Middle-Easters/European kids and more “exotic” than any of my Aussie friends.

    As for media representations of other cultures within Australia, and in relation to your question, Ashley Capes… I think a realistic portrayal of other cultures in Australian media is severely lacking. Why does it need to be distinctly negative or nothing at all?

    • I agree, Tara Mokhtari, and as I said above, media representations are certainly in need of an overhaul. You may have mis-read my post, or I am now misreading your last paragraph, and sorry if I am, but I didn’t suggest that it needs to be ‘distinctly negative or nothing at all’ only wondered what was worse. Again, sorry if I mis-read you.

      Anyway, why indeed? It’s as if our news and entertainment culture cannot handle anything in the way of balanced representation when it comes to ethnicity. As if ethnicity doesn’t sell unless it’s a negative? Same way religion is talked about in the media – but only when something is sour. As Koraly points out, and I remember watching, Heart Break High did ok – I wonder what show is close to that now?

      • I read you right, Ashley Capes, the question you posed depressed me so I cheered myself up by negating a ‘lesser of two evils’ debate in favour of an optimal solution.

        If I’m to go back to depressing myself, and answer your question more directly, I’d say… At least a negative representation would inspire a backlash against racism, maybe, but then we’d have to deal with all the b.s associated with it from folks who either can’t see the problem or use it as fuel for their fire. Think Hey Hey It’s Saturday. And no representations of other cultures suspends the country in its current blissful state of utter denial.

        • Sorry! Just me being defensive then!

          Yeah, that’s what I feared, and you’re right, very depressing indeed. But if it does open debate that’s something at least. Hey Hey is a good example. And that suspension is hard to break I bet – like voter apathy?

          And if we try and change the content of mass media and television especially, are we trying, hopelessly, to change the very nature of tv? Because it is a beast of ‘now’ and lives by, runs on, scandal and eliciting ‘shameful-joy’ from viewers.

          And if that’s true, anything fair, balanced and rational couldn’t be tv, could it? That’d be literature!

  19. WOG, WOGS, WOGGY FOOD, THE WOGS, THE OAKLEIGH WOGS – now there is a doco I would love to make – I am talking about the eighties ‘gang’.

    Just want to share some of my life experience growing up in Melbourni. I went to a community shool is East St. Kilda for the first three years of high and this is what was usually graffitied everywhere SKIPS RULE WOGS PULL or WOGS RULE SKIPS PULL and IF YOU CAN’T GET A GIRL GET A DOG. IF YOU CAN’T GET A DOG GET A FAT GREASY WOG.

    For me it has mixed feelings and it also depends on who uses the word. Context is sooo important.

    Oh and by the way I call myself Greek and the usually refer to my parents’ generation as THE WOGS. Tomorrow though I might choose to call myself Australian and the next day i migh be a FAT GREASY WOG.

    • Hi Jim, yes we do need a doco like that. :) I experienced the aussie vs wog racism growing up a lot more then I do these days. Maybe it was more prevalent back then because the wogs were the ‘new kids on the block’, so we got picked on a lot. When the Chinese began to immigrate to racism shifted to them and now it seems to be more towards Indians. Is it my imagination or do Australians always need someone to pick on and discriminate against?

      When people ask me what my background is I say Greek-Cypriot, but if someone asked me if I was Australian I’d probably say no, even though I was born here, because it doesn’t sit well inside me. Australia has a serious identity problem, and I think that’s why I feel comfort in using the word wog, because I feel like I belong more than I do if I say that I’m Australian.

  20. My father was a Greek born and bred in the then multicultural Alexandria of Egypt. When he started his family in the late forties, he made a point of assimilating in the country he chose to live in, whilst still retaining his cultural Greek heritage. His knowledge of five languages also enhanced this decision.
    We lived in a middle class neighbourhood, we did not choose a ‘Greek’ area. At school there were enough children to have an \International Day\, to celebrate our diverse cultures. ( approx 1965 )
    If we were ever taunted by other children as being ‘wogs’, we would reply that our ancestors were invited, not brought out in chains to Australia.
    So, International Kid / vs Aus. Kid, 1 all….No Big Deal.
    We got on with it, used our intelligence and education to get a standing in life. We enriched our lives by opening our minds to and embracing all the diverse cultures.
    (thankyou Don Dunstan)
    So please, stop wallowing in the connotations of the \w\ word and prove to yourself and others that you are a proud OZ with an equally proud ‘x’ cultural background…..
    and that coming from a proud OZ living in Greece.

    Acoumina Karavis.

  21. Oh yeah wogs! I have real issue with this word because when I was a kid at school wogs – the Pezzimentis, the Russos – were detested. Dad’s were stereotyped as concreters and fruiterers, wog kids ate smelly salami rolls and even more unforgiveable, kicked around round footballs. I just wonder if using the word wog by wogs, while affectionate and inclusive, also shows that in the end the dominant culture, whether more or less tolerant, frames language and acceptance. Maybe in a generation towel-heads will be seen as an affectionate term for Moslems

  22. Acoumina, thanks for your comments and sharing your story. Unfortunately I can’t say that I’m proud to be an Australian, because I find Australians racist and ignorant, and maybe that’s why I am clinging to the word ‘wog’, because at least when I use that word I feel like I’m understood and belong. Yes, you are a proud oz living in Greece. It’s easy to be a proud oz when you’re not living in it.

    In terms of context and how the word is used, Trish, I’m not sure your commentary gels with me. What exactly do you mean by the ‘dominate culture’? I’m guessing you mean, anglos, which in that case, just proves my point. Why should anglos be the dominant culture? We are a MULTIcultural society, and frankly, I’m sure some will find your last sentence and the use of the word ‘towel-heads’ rather offensive. When I say I embrace the word ‘wog’, I am certainly not saying I embrace the derogatory connotations certain racist anglos may put on it. I am saying that I embarce it as a way of life, a cultural European mentality. And I’m not sure what you mean by ‘frames language and acceptance’ either.

    • Nobody can impose their personal cultural identity on somebody else. I despised listening to kids at school tell me what nationality I should identify with, when their experience is completely different from mine. I’m getting pangs of deja vous reading through some of these comments that suggest a person SHOULD be a proud Whateverian. Where’s pride ever gotten anybody, anyway?

  23. Koraly

    I am surprised you take an us vs them position.

    You are Australian.

    In showing pride in your own achievements, you are sharing in the pride that all Australians share in their achievements.

    What makes you ‘not Australian’ and how is that different from other ‘not Australians’ who are different sort of ‘not Australian’ from you.

    I feel it is sad that you need to use the word wog to feel a sense of belonging.

    of

  24. Koraly, I’m not saying anglos should be the dominant culture but acknowledging the reality that they are. You also misunderstand the point I make about referring to Moslems as towel-heads, words I find deeply offensive. However, if used long enough and often enough they may become as acceptable as the word wog is today.

    • I reckon I could almost guarantee that no Muslim will ever refer to themselves as ‘towel-heads’. Whereas the word ‘wog’ is used vaguely and inclusively to refer to so many different cultural groups depending on where and when it’s used, ‘towel-head’ describes specifically fundamentalist Muslims but is used as a racial insult against anybody of Islamic faith, dark skin, Middle-Eastern decent regardless of their moderate or liberal views. So many Muslims in the west are trying incredibly hard to show there is a huge distinction between fundamentalists, Islamists, and liberal Muslims. To turn around and start calling themselves ‘towel-heads’ would be utterly perverse.

  25. Acoumina Karavis, I don’t take an us vs them position, in fact, more than a few of my closest friends are aussie, but they will never fully understand my culture and what it was like to grow up as a second generation migrant just like i’ll never understand what their experiences were growing up. For me, there a difference between using the word ‘aussie’ and using the word ‘Australian’. I was born in Australia, so technically I’m Australian, but I am not an aussie. The term aussie, to me, describes an Australian from anglo decent. The term wog describes someone of European descent. I love living in Australia, there is no place I’d rather live. So when I use the word ‘wog’ I use it more to describe a way of life. Yes, there are some aussies out there that are racist, and maybe there is an unconscious reluctance by some aussies to see wogs succeed(eg this is my country and you’ve come here and taken our jobs), but overall, in my everyday life, I rarely encounter racism.

    I think what this discussion is showing me is that Australia has an identity problem, and maybe that’s because we are only 200 years old. Technically I should be able to say the word aussie and feel that I am part of that identity, but I don’t. And maybe that’s why it agitates me when I hear people call anglos the ‘dominant culture’, Trish, the word dominate means(from the macquarie):

    ruling; governing; controlling; most influential.

    Australia in multicultural and maybe when aussies stop believing they are the dominant culture then maybe us wogs won’t feel insufficient, segregated, and we will stop calling ourselves wogs and start calling ourselves aussies.

    • Just as ‘more than a few of’ your ‘closest friends’ are aussie, Koraly, more than a few of my closest friends are Greek. And like your aussie friends, most of my Greek friends will never understand what it was like to grow up as a first generation migrant, as I did, because they are third and fourth generation migrants (just as I’ll never understand their experience). And like you, my parentage is European – in my case, from London. Does that make me a wog, ‘someone of European descent’, as you define it?

      I don’t like to be put into any box, racial or otherwise, and characterised/caricatured.

      I think the fact that we ‘will never fully understand’ each other’s culture or experience – or each other – is one of the things that drives people to make art, including literature. I can only speak for literature – but I think Australian literature now reaches well beyond the anglo and ‘aussie’ as you define it. Christos Tsiolkas, Nam Lee, Alice Pung, Alexis Wright, Tara June Winch – some of the best and most successful writers in Australia.

      • Jane, the term wog was used to describe migrants from southern Europe and differentiate them from northern Europe immigrants(have a look at wiki), so no, your not a wog. I am not saying it is a bad thing that my aussie friends don’t fully understand my culture – it makes our relationhsip interesting. And I don’t feel like I am putting myself in a box by identifying with the word wog, because I don’t feel
        I am very woggy and in the last few years I have been trying
        hard to mix with different people from different backgrounds
        instead of keeping to my parents’ insular way of bringing
        me up in Australia.

        • Koraly, I was only asking if I was a wog because you defined ‘wog’ as (quote) ‘The term wog describes someone of European descent.’ (which I am) and I wanted to play with your definitions, not because I thought you’d say I was a wog.

          As I said, I don’t like being defined and put in boxes of any sort – I was talking about myself, not suggesting you were putting yourself in a box. You can call yourself whatever you’re comfortable with. But by your definition I’m an ‘aussie’ – quote: ‘The term aussie, to me, describes an Australian from anglo descent’ – and I feel very uncomfortable in that box. That word does not define me.

  26. I’m confused by this argument.

    There is obviously racism in Australia, as evidenced by the NT Intervention, the suspension of processing of people seeking asylum from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, basically all the policies of the Labor and Liberal Parties, the fact that 80% of the prison population of the NT are Indigenous [while judges declare the imprisonment of 5 white men whom beat an Indigenous man to death as a ‘tragedy’ merely caused by a ‘few seconds of drunken, aggressive and violent behaviour’] – to name only a few examples.

    ‘Dominant culture’ refers to the prevailing culture, to those politically and economically privileged through the suppression of ‘other’ values, ethnicities, positions and language. So who are these ‘aussies’ you refer to – this homogenised group of [ostensibly?] white people who profit from the oppression, incarceration, misery and subjugation of non-‘aussies’?

    I think what you might be referring to is ruling class culture – those who do genuinely benefit from a culture of racism, division and fear. Think Rupert Murdoch, think Therese Rein, think Bruno Grollo, think Malcolm Turnbull.

    I have two other main issues here.

    One is the Choice of language. The use of this ‘endearing term’ is clearly contentious. People (and I’m including all people here, despite their backgrounds) find certain words offensive because they have a history, and a present. This term was used as a venomous, racist slur to reduce others to Other. The word is not reinvented simply because you remove it from its historical context.

    The other is Choice of identification. Is the argument: if you are of a migrant background, you have more in common with everyone else from that background to the exclusion of all other factors of identity?

    The ‘multicultural identity’ forces everyone to assume an ethnicity to identify ourselves, while still aspiring to the ultimate ‘Australian’ identity, which apparently means something inclusive and democratic and profound to some people. Where does this solidarity – as Australians, as ‘aussies’, as non-‘aussies’, as Other – lead?

    What about other kinds of identities people have that are erased when all that we identify with is nationalism? How many of us have anything in common with the Therese Reins and the Bruno Grollos?

    • I agree with this, I think it is largely an issue of ruling class culture.

      You make a good point about ‘reducing others to Other’, but I think this is precisely the attraction of the word. To reclaim ‘Otherness’, in a sense. To acknowlege that, in fact, cultural differences exist and that they are something to be embraced and cherished – they aren’t grounds for abuse.

    • Sorry, Jacinda, I meant I don’t personally encounter racism towards me, not that racism doesn’t exist in Australia. When I say aussies I mean, anglos, and yes, there are many that do believe they are they dominant culture, and we can use the example of television that yes, the ‘other’ is being suppressed. We all like to think we are multicultural, but at the same time everyone has their place.

      I do not find the word word racist unless it is said in a derogatory way, just like any word can be said in a nice way or an offensive way.

      I am not saying I have more in common with a wog than an aussie, like I said, many of my closest friends are aussie, and in a way I detest the rules and cultural pressures put on me by wogs. But I know what I am talking to a wog, that they understand these pressures, and I don’t have to explain, because they can relate.

      In terms of nationalism, don’t you think we have to identify with Australia in order to call ourselves Australian? There is no way I would want anyone to erase their identity.

  27. It seems to me that, as Koraly said earlier, these things go in cycles. Each time a new ethnic group of migrants arrive, there is suspicion and cultural discomfort and outright racism, and often that group will settle close to each other because familiarity and shared culture is very necessary in a strange and hostile place. But then the second generations bridge the gap a little, and “Australians” become a little more comfortable with the differences. And then the cycle starts again with some other group of migrants. Always someone new to hate.

    You can pretty much trace who the dominant culture is most uncomfortable with at any time, I reckon, by which ethnic youths are being described in the media as “gangs”. We seem to have gone through several groups in my lifetime. I believe we’re up to the “Sudanese” at the moment.

    What concerns me, is that my experience of Melbourne as a multicultural city was that it used to be a wonderfully inclusive place. (Not perfect, but still largely good.) It seems to me now that even with those cultures we have been accustomed to for decades, there is regression to suspicion and disrespect and our idea of what is “Australian” is shrinking. Perhaps this impression is false, and merely a result of me moving to the suburbs where there are more “Anglos” and less of the diversity that I am used to, but the narrative I see in the media tells me I should worry and that something is being lost.

    Incidentally, by your definition, Koraly, I would be a “wog” but I highly doubt you would consider me one. For some of us, our heritage is invisible. We don’t have the luxury of large communities and our “way of life” is pretty much contained by the walls of our homes.

    I agree with Tara that the attraction is being able to reclaim that “otherness” – I hang on to mine by a thread. And while my only direct experience of racism is that of reverse discrimination I don’t actually “qualify” for, I feel similarly about the term “Aussie”. I am happily Australian, but “Aussie” just doesn’t seem to include me.

    That seems to be a word the powers-that-be own completely, and its application seems to be narrowing.

    I am so on the fence about this issue.

  28. Thank to all who have commented, this has been a great discussion, and what I’ve learned I think is that this issue isn’t black and white. Sure I refer to myself as a wog sometimes, sometimes I say I’m Cypriot, but I never call myself an aussie yet I’m Australian. At the same time, I detest it if anyone says I am ‘woggy’, because being woggy is about a way of thinking, an old school, migrant mentality, and in that sense I guess as I’m getting older my way of thinking is becoming more ‘aussie’, and I like that. I love living in Australia, there is no place I’d rather live, but I do believe I have struck some nerve here, and will be exploring it further as I finish the eighth draft of my novel over the next few months. Thanks everyone!

  29. Massively late to this thread. But I pretty much agree with the argument about context and the self-definition of the oppressed group. A very similar argument took place about the use of the term ‘queer’ instead of ‘gay’.
    But it’s also important to remember that, at the end of the day, debates about language only get you so far. I’m old enough to remember the retreat of the academic Left into a preoccupation with terminology and discourse, in place of any actual political engagement. In the end, cultures are changed by mass struggles rather than nomenclature. And those struggles can often take place using quite unexpected terminologies.

  30. I am astounded about a facebook page I’ve just found on facebook with 8000 members called ‘Dear boat people, Australia says Fuck off, We’re Full’ Here is the link. http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=106932116009538&v=wall&ref=search

    Some of the comments on this page have literally left me feeling ill. One person wrote on the page: ‘Australia is a massive country; you’ve got plenty of room’ to which someone replied:

    ‘You leftie hippies just cant take the truth can u?! R u farkin blind? If we keep letting these savages in2 Aus it spells doom for countries future,and the next generation!!! I notice all the pro immigrant hippies are not even Aussie 4 fuk sake!!! You idiots! Fuck off!!! Not fucking welcome!! We dont love you! We dont …care about how bad u got it!! Fix ur own fucking countries,for ur own children,or do u have no pride 4 ur own country? No love? No honour??? I put it too u hippy fucks?’

    Another facebook page was then created in retaliation called ‘I am Australian and I would rather Immigrants living here than racists’. At least there are some decent people out there.

    • Oh Koraly, this leftie hippy can’t take the truth … the truth that such a site exists. How horrible – and our kids are clicking on that, reading that stuff, maybe. It makes me think of ‘Hitler Youth’ for some reason. ‘We don’t care about how bad u got it’ – what barren souls.

  31. it’s good to see people still connecting and commenting on this post since i wrote it such a long time ago. thanks for your comment. i will be releasing a short film of my poem ‘wog’ later this year. it was funded by my australia council artstart grant.

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