Australia Day 2011, a mere 223 years after the English invasion and occupation of Aboriginal Australia, an invasion in which white ‘Christian’ males brought with them all of the then, as now, prevailing attributes of ‘Christian’ society; racism, misogyny, a misguided sense of white ‘Christian’ superiority materialism, corruption, hypocrisy, environmental vandalism and god forbid the rule of law, that epitome of civilized men, a rule that stipulates that all stand equal before the blind goddess Justice. What bullshit! Like everything else that ‘Christian’ males brought with them to Australia this concept is so tainted with hypocrisy as to be meaningless to all but those white fellas who exploited it to justify the extermination of whole races of ‘lesser’ beings, non-Christian indigenous people that is!
The reason for this belated tirade about Australia Day is that in an article on page 13 of the Sydney Morning Herald of 25 January 2011, Mr Gerard Henderson, Executive Director of the Sydney Institute had the gall, indeed the impudence to suggest that Australians are not racist! Shit, he even went on to argue that racism, when used in the same sentence as Australia, is nothing more than the deluded ranting of the intelligentsia.
Well for the record Mr Henderson, I ain’t part of the intelligentsia. I’m an Aborigine and I have been the victim of the institutionalised racism that is so prevalent in Australian society.
Mr Henderson, of course Australia is racist. Walk into any Magistrates Court in any inner-city suburb or rural town in Australia and see for yourself. While I’m happy to concede that racism is still viewed by mainstream Australia as wrong, all that this means is that it is practised with some guilt and in polite company with circumspection. Hell, a former work colleague wrote to Tattersall’s and withdrew his nomination of me to be a member after meeting my cousin who is very obviously an Aborigine. Yes, the right school, the right university but not the right racial mix to be a member. Sounds just like the public service in Canberra, doesn’t it?
Polite and sometimes not so polite racism is the underbelly of conservative politics and conservative attitudes. Racism weaves its way through Australian sport with varying degrees of official tolerance, but in some codes it has equal billing with misogyny. It was there for all to see with the crude sledging engaged in during the last Australian cricket tour of India.
In not so polite society, racism is blatant. Have you seen the ugly text messages relating to Aborigines, Muslims, Jews, Indians and refugees?
Australians from the dominant Anglo/Celtic culture expect new Australians from other cultural backgrounds to show some respect, perhaps even a small cringe and obsequiousness, forelock tugging, until such time as they know the ropes, cut their cultural ties and enter the mainstream.
Temporary settlers and long term visitors are expected to absorb mainstream culture more quickly and to show a suitable degree of deference. Some individuals and national groups are better at this than others. Maybe Indians have a problem with deference?
Of course racism is a fact of life in Australia. The treatment of Aborigines is the most glaring example and is there for the world to see.
Aborigines are not equal before the law in Australia; they die in the back of prison vans. Whitefellas speak, plan and make decisions on their behalf. Rehabilitation programs in prison are minimal and many prison guards display racial prejudice, including toward visiting relatives. White decision makers are currently in the process of denying outstations to Aborigines.
Since the time of white settlement, racism has been part of the weft and weave of this country.
The first identified threat by white settlers was from thieving of dispossessed Aborigines, who were placed in the same category as Australian fauna; and then Asians, who apparently constituted a threat to the wage structure and racial purity.
The Union Movement and The Bulletin magazine urged maintenance of a white Australia policy and it was not difficult to bring the Squatters and members of the professional middle class along with them. Keeping Australia free for the white man was one of the catch cries for recruitment to the First Australian Imperial Force.
The White Australia Policy officially died with the election of the Labor Whitlam government in 1972, but in reality it didn’t.
Attitudes in the white macho middle class didn’t change. It was a badge of honour among the emotionally and intellectually beleaguered (and challenged) conservatives in the middle class to oppose anything the Whitlam government instituted.
Expecting big things from Malcolm Fraser when he was elected Prime Minister in 1976 they were disappointed, if not shocked with his attitude and policies toward Aborigines, refugees arriving by boat and opposition to Apartheid. He was a class and Party traitor.
Hawke and Keating maintained, and in some areas increased, policies of public decency toward Aborigines, minority groups and refugees. Under both there was even a week-long celebration of the worth and value of refugees known as Refugee Week. It died under Howard.
John Howard brought his class and race warfare to government. He was a champion of the marginalised white middle class. His anger at the direction of policy over the preceding 24 years seethed and festered. WorkChoices and the detention and vilification of refugees were the resulting policies.
Howard’s treatment of refugees arriving by boat was state sponsored and sanctioned racism. It sent a powerful message, not to desperate refugees but to other Australians, some of whom saw it as encouragement to develop and express their own racism.
Mohammed Haneef was a victim. The unwillingness of the AFP to admit mistakes or apologise also sent a powerful message both overseas and to those within this country, who put the AFP on a higher pedestal than they do tolerance and human rights.
The Rudd/Gillard government has kept in place the fundamentals of the Howard government’s intolerant policies toward Aborigines and refugees. As an example to others it leaves much to be desired, as does Rudd’s recent intemperate attack on people smugglers. Does Rudd believe that government policies reinforcing and backing racist actions and attitudes would not have a negative impact at street level?
The Rudd/Gillard government has been gutless in reversing and attempting to heal the damage done by Howard. This government needs to implement a schools and university program promoting human rights and combating racism.
Well Mr Henderson, if you think that Australia’s ain’t racist, let’s you and I take a walk on the dark side.