It is mindboggling for the many corralled within the whims of this nation’s miring racism – a knee-deep racism – when the majority of White Australians, and laced with hostility, deny this nation’s vice-like racism. We are living serious-impact national discussions that mire this nation deeper in both institutional and the ugliest forms of racism. A significant proportion of the Australian population is hell-bent on dismantling or diminishing racial vilification laws that had been bundled together to extinguish some of the flames of scourge-like burning racism. Freedom of speech is one thing, but it has nothing to do with a free-for-all in racist slurs and taunts. This is not the type of free speech that Voltaire defended. If Voltaire did intend for this then he would have intended for the vicious melees, the racial divides and the loss of life.
No nation that peddles a dominant culture is free from the ugliest forms of racism. Modernity’s Australian nation was ruthlessly carved out from a once longstanding peacefulness, without an ounce of respect to thousands of generations of polycultural essence, thousands of generations of humanity. The monocultural invader dispossessed, pillaged, disenfranchised but maddeningly worse this monocultural invader sought to wipe out the million or more inhabitants of the continent with the worst acts of apartheid; smashing in eugenics and trying to demolish peoples with genocidal-like systematic ruination. Silences and cheap debates cannot hide what the Australian consciousness knows happened. We know what the colonialists and post-colonialists did. Only the selfish – the small-minded – choose to flout a different tale. The Australian nation could have been so different today if the colonialist and the first few generations of the post-colonialists had chosen to live on this continent with Black brothers and sisters. However they did not believe in equality, they believed in domination. Today, America lives in the demons of its past, penance for the slavery and indenture of peoples, but still the victims continue to be Black and Brown. Hundreds of millions of people in India and tens of millions in South Africa today languish in abject poverty because of the sins of the colonialists and post-colonialists. Today, nearly one in two Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders live below the poverty line. Colonial empires gave rise to racial divides the world over, to the making of poverty the likes never known before on this planet, to deprivations and suffering that no religious based scripture ever imagined, not even in the cobbling of the various apocalypses. Colonialism birthed and gave rise to White privilege.
Colonialism was about accumulating dominion and resources for White privilege. Anything could be and would be done in the name of White privilege. Historians have tried again and again to glorify and justify White privilege, to spin their worldview as if fact. It angers many who are White, particularly the greatest beneficiaries of “unearned assets” when White privilege is called out for its abominable sins on the non-White.
Despite one quarter of the Australian population having been born overseas, White privilege clings to power vice-like. White dominated Australia sold White privilege into its Federation and enshrined it in the Constitution. Federation and the Constitution denied a polycultural nation, keeping migration policies to the new norm, the dominant monocultural White privilege bent. At first it was Whites only and then after various challenges it became, and still is, assimilate or perish.
Perish many did. Perish many do. Assimilation has been a long standing mantra and most Whites believe in or cling to it. Anyone who does not assimilate is the enemy. Parliament is still the bastion of Whites. The political machinery has long been weighted to ensure this outcome. Where the political machinery fail to reflect in their makeup the demography of the nation they fail the nation, they breed hate, divides and terror.
Australian parliamentarians and some of the Australian media have justified a crazed conversation in pursuit of dismantling racial vilification laws, to dismantle protections against others from racial slurs, and somehow this has turned into a freedom of speech debate. One can discuss racism, xenophobia, misoxeny, from whatever vantage without vilifying. Voltaire argued that he defended the right for anyone to say what they believe and even in the face of vehemently disagreeing with their view he would defend to the death their right to their view. He did not defend the right for others to inflict harm on others. Let no mistake be made in what constitutes freedom of speech and what constitutes harm. Yes, maybe anti-vilification laws are being misrepresented and misused but when applied fairly they are about preventing harm – they are not intended as punitive but as preventative and as redemptive. However for these laws to be applied fairly we need a much more educated Australia, one in which we have had many national discussions on what is racism. Every conversation so far on racism has been shallow, feign, weak.
The muddled-mindedness of White anger rages wild, getting in the way of right-minded social progress and getting in the way of a polycultural society. To justify the muddled-mindedness White anger facilitates sophistry while many are prepared to outright lie and to flout the lies. They can do so with relative ease because White privilege is in this nation the most powerful of all types of oppression. Australia’s White privilege is as dominant a force as the classist system is in Saudi Arabia. Australia has still failed to hear the independent and diverse voices of the Black, Brown, Yellow, of the children of migrants, in our parliaments. Yes, there are some Black and Brown and Yellow and children of migrants in our parliaments but their voices are of the White – assimilated. Otherwise they would not be there.
Some describe me as a stirrer, that I fuel racial division. It stirs surprise in me every time I hear or read this, because I have spent a lifetime writing about the ways forward after a childhood where I endured much racism.
Why is it that every time a charter of rights to advance Australia to a polycultural nation is met with derision from influential sections from the White end of town? It took effectively till 1962 to conceptually include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the right to vote but yet a significant proportion are not enrolled to vote, and then it took a national referendum in 1967 to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the Census. It took the 1970s for Australia to reduce some of its inhumanity and increase immigration of Black and Brown brothers and sisters from around the world.
In terms of modernity racism has remained prevalent and pernicious right throughout the world even though it is on the rise again. Privilege in its rawest self is about exploitation but even in its greatest calm it is about selfishness. Much has been made of the economic anxieties around the world, and of the long suffering lowly paid workers, and that the long suffering lowly paid workers have turned on the agents of their suffering – governments. For instance America, the bottom 70 per cent of the working population effectively has not had a wage increase since 1979. But the oppressed of the working classes do not compare to the oppression of the poorest Blacks and Browns. Just about all nations born of the cruellest that colonialisation delivered mandated oppressor and oppressed dichotomies. The colonialists were the biggest slum builders – corralling the local peoples into missions, reserves, where they hoped for them that they would die out, or demonised into no-go zones of urban and regional masses that are now the poorest sections of cities and towns. Today the poorest fill the prisons.
The American story of racial divides and oppression is no different to the Indian story, no different to the South African story, no different to the Colombian story, no different to the Australian story. The colonisers did not seek to include in the brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity the custodians of the lands they invaded, and ever since the struggle to correct the inequalities, to end the carnage, to reduce the narratives of human misery and suffering has been excruciatingly slow. The slowness is evil. We are forever sold the mantra that the road to social justice is one of incremental steps instead of a sprint. That lie will continue to damn hundreds of millions of people rights around the world and hundreds of thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders trapped in the worst of Australia. It will also damn millions of overseas born Australians and hundreds of thousands of their children born as Australians and the children of generations unborn.
Forty per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders live below the poverty line and with a significant proportion dirt-poor. My research has found that nearly 100 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who have taken their lives – suicide – had been living below the poverty line. There are the suicides, the premature and unnatural deaths, the half-lives. The jails are filling with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders – with more than one per cent of the nation’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in prison today. In fact it’s 1.3 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in prison. From that racialised lens, it doesn’t get any higher anywhere else in the nation, nor anywhere else in the world, with the Black and Latino American jailing rates rating just behind Australia’s Black jailing rate.
In 2006 I expanded on an earlier academic paper (2004) and published it as part of one of my Masters. I compared racialised incarceration rates globally and found that Australia not only had the highest rate but also the highest increasing trends, and in terms of historical comparators, Australia had a higher rate of Black incarceration than that of apartheid South Africa. According to my estimations, unless much is done to avert this, Black Australians will comprise more than half the national prison population by 2025 despite comprising less than 3 per cent of the national population.
In 2004, Mulrunji Doomadgee was killed by a White cop, beaten to death in a jail cell within 45 minutes of his arrest. A Black man dead because a White cop had become pissed off with him – the Black man dead, and the White cop remained in his job with the full support of the Queensland police and Queensland government. That is White privilege at work. In America we can look back at what happened in Ferguson, Missouri in the summer of 2014. In Australia we can look back to what happened to Eddie Murray, in Wee Waa, 1981, to John Pat, in Roebourne, 1983, to Mulrunji in Palm Island, 2004, to Mr Ward in 2008, to Ms Dhu in 2014.
There are those who look at the Black outrage but they fail to look at the White privilege that killed. Which is the outbreak? Which ignites what? White privilege tries to sell itself with nobility but there is nothing noble about White privilege – it is an abomination. White privilege is aided and abetted by the criminal justice system, by legislation, by legislators. It will take a crash-through approach to change things.
There is only Black and Brown anger at injustices and indignities, often culminating around the loss of a Black or Brown life – that’s why Black Lives Matter resonates. White anger is everywhere, it rages against any threat. White privilege mothered in White anger as a protective factor. Anyone who denies that there is no oppressor/oppressed dichotomy is part of the problem.