Brunei-born University of WA Professor Farida Fozdar, who moved to Australia when she was seven, said she was shocked by the national reaction to her study which also spread as far India and the United States.
“Some emails have been quite polite and I’ve been able to reply and we’ve actually had quite a positive interaction out of it which, I really really value,” Professor Fozdar said.
“But some are straight out lots of swear words and suggesting that I should go back to where I came from.
“I’ve also had a couple of emails from people implying that I’m the Grinch that killed Christmas and that now nobody is going to fly a flag because they think it shows that they’re racist.”
Professor Fozdar, a sociologist and anthropologist, said that although the study was reported “relatively accurately” in the media, some people have misinterpreted its findings.
“What has struck me most is that the media has reported the research relatively accurately in most cases, perhaps apart from some headlines, but people have taken it up in the wrong way,” Professor Fozdar said.
“People have taken it as though I was saying that anyone who flies a flag on their car for Australia Day is racist and that flying the flag generally is a racist thing to do and that certainly wasn’t what I was saying.”
Professor Fozdar said the study revealed flag-flyers were significantly less positive about Australia’s ethnic diversity than “non-flag flyers” but that the attitude is not shared by all Australians.
“The fact that there were significant differences doesn’t mean that everybody who flys the flag feel negative towards minorities but it means that a larger proportion of them did compared with people that weren’t flying flags,” she said.
Professor Fozdar said many people ignored her findings that the majority of both flag-flyers and non-flag flyers, interviewed by her research team, felt positive about Australia’s ethnic diversity.
“But that’s not what gets picked up by people,” she said.
“That statistic was there, in a lot of media reports, but people took out of it that I’m saying they shouldn’t fly a flag for Australia Day because it’s racist and that we shouldn’t celebrate Australia Day.
“That was just nowhere in the research and so that is what has surprised me.”
Professor Fozdar said that in light of the media attention, she was amused to notice some vehicles sporting unusually large flags on Australia Day.
“And I couldn’t help but take it as a message,” she laughed.