Exploring casual racism through racial stereotyping

By Samantha Jones
Comfort Zone

Comfort Zone | Lindsay Tanner | Scribe

Stories are powerful tools that can be used to communicate messages that either reinforce or challenge social barriers, such as casual racism and racial stereotyping.

Comfort Zone, by former Federal Labor MP Lindsay Tanner, attempts to explore these barriers through the story of Jack Van Duyn, a bigoted cab driver from Melbourne who becomes infatuated with a Somali woman after breaking up a fight involving her son. Following the fight Jack finds himself in a web of manipulation involving drug-dealing, ASIO intrigue, international piracy and criminal violence, while also rapidly developing tolerance and compassion.

Coming from a background in politics he believed he had the knowledge to discuss the topic of multiculturalism; however, the book has the depth of an outsider looking in.

Tanner’s first novel is intended to be a tale of humanity rising out of bigotry, however it isn’t constructive at all to the discussion on racism within Australia, or the racial stereotyping experienced by the Somali community within Australia.

When it comes down to it, Tanner is writing from a position of privilege. Coming from a background in politics he believed he had the knowledge to discuss the topic of multiculturalism; however, the book has the depth of an outsider looking in. He has presented and amplified negative stereotypes and prejudices.

Aside from the messaging, the story is burdened by cliché oversimplified narrative and prescriptive clunky flow. But not all is lost. One thing Tanner does do well is present a lively insight into Melbourne inner city north lifestyle, characters and community, whilst also providing commentary on the gentrification of the area. It is almost visceral.

Comfort Zone means well, and is ultimately a book about change and how moments in our lives make us reflect on who we are and who we want to be. However, it is as much about seeking change, as it is about being given the opportunity to change. Through a forced act of humanity, Jack was able to see himself in a different light, and in doing so he was able to rise above his previous limitations and grow into a more community-minded character. It shows that in order to change we have to rethink the labels we have for ourselves and for others.

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