The generation of racists I grew up with are the ones who grew into the generation who delivered the Northern Territory Intervention, who destroyed the hopes that Mabo’s Native Title win offered, who failed to establish the long overdue conversation in this country that we needed on racism and the ways forward and instead we had to soak up the Cronulla Riots, Islamophobia, every imaginable xenophobia, the turning back boats of asylum seekers, and the degeneration of immigration detention centres into dungeons where children, mothers and fathers are cruelly punished because they sought out a better tomorrow.
I have met many of Australia’s parliamentarians and I have heard first-hand their racism. We have witnessed it with either their inactions or through cruel policies, divisive policies. Racism has been with me since I was a little kid, since as a child when I was made to feel that I am not an Australian, when my family and their ‘community’ were referred to as ‘you people’. I’ve spent my life arguing the ways forward, and not to keep people – perpetrators and victims – hostage to racism as far too many on all sides indeed do. My academic work has been dedicated to a better understanding of the ways forward, two Masters and PhD research in racism.
There are some good parliamentarians who do some good work, some of whom I have worked with, however in general when it comes to the racism stakes they are a significant part of the problem. The school yard racism that I grew up within, pernicious racism, its veils and layers in the neighbourhood of my childhood continues. The racism of my childhood, my generation, well that’s the generation that is in our parliaments today. They may claim they were not racists, well that is a lie. They may claim they have learned. They have learned little. The origins-of-thinking that fuelled the generation of my youth, fuels the critical thinking of the generation in parliament. There are 226 federal parliamentarians, with only 13 who can claim to be non-White. The demography of the nation is not reflected in our parliaments. The demography of the nation is not reflected in discussions about racism. White guilt – that is what little of it there is – coupled with the dominant White pride covets parliaments, covets the political discourse, corrals controls, who influences what, when and where. Because of White pride, even when it is disguised when talking multiculturalism and when the descendants of the First Peoples of this continent are factored into discussions, prevails cultural separateness. White pride in having to deal with multiculturalism entertains it only where it can commodify multiculturalism. White pride commodifies cultures into compartmentalisations. White pride is fighting all along the journey some hoped would lead to equality. It fights to remain dominant and multiculturalism remains nothing more than a tag, a label and only inasmuch as it does not dilute the perceived cultural settings that protect the citadels of the dominant White oppressor.
White guilt refers to ‘privilege’ and laments what racism has delivered but White guilt does nothing to end privilege and instead dish out equality. Talk is cheap.
The only political and media gigs non-White ‘Australians’ score are for those who have served their dues to the oppressor. They must assimilate, not add to the discourse. Without lip service non-Whites have no chance of entering parliament. Since the violent thinking and practices of the White Australia Policy and a racialised Constitution (the same authors) continue on in veils and layers in promoting White pride, in ruthlessly keeping dominant the oppressor.
The oppressed are not the problem. The oppressor is the problem. But non-Whites who seek the highest offices in Australia must play by White terms of reference only. Un-Australian is where you step outside of White terms of reference. Political aspirants and media propped social commentators are predominately White but where Brown and Black sneak in, well they have not snuck in, they have done a substantive indoctrination for White Australia and demonstrated again and again their compromises before being allowed to move up the ranks. That is the only ‘equality’ White Australia allows, the oppressor never ceases. You can be Brown, Black, whomever and you can climb up the ranks, you can snout from the trough, but only if you deliver yourself in White terms of reference.
Television shows such as Neighbours, Home and Away, just about all television programs and formats are unashamedly and biasedly White pride. Media panels shamelessly examine racism from a White vantage, still from the oppressor vantage. Other cultures, particularly First Nations are only to be understood historically, not contemporarily, celebrated only in tags and labels, engaged with only if they integrate into White terms of reference. This is why Australia turned boats back. Because Australia is an utterly racist nation bent on White pride, steeped in racism. Australia will not risk allowing onto this vast continent tens of thousands of refugees, other cultures, despite that they are vulnerable. Australia’s racism fears it does not have enough time to secure their indoctrination in White terms of reference.
Australia viciously denies cultural equality to the descendants of the First Peoples of this continent. Instead many languish in third-world-akin poverty. Where are the outcries about the horrific disparities, the abominable racialised poverty? Australians may gather in tens of thousands and march presumably alongside with this continent’s First Peoples but once again only where it is about White terms of reference – for constitutional reforms. Native Title is a debacle destroyed by White terms of reference. It fails to respect cultural integrity and equality. Australia is the world’s 12th largest economy but it turns a blind eye to the horrific poverty that so many First Peoples endure all over this continent. Why do they turn a blind eye? Because White terms of reference will not countenance the high cultural content of these people. It is assimilate or die.
Australia has a vicious history in relentlessly smashing in indoctrination of First Nations people – generations of indoctrination. Those who resisted were corralled. Apartheid practices that saw removal of children, indenture of peoples, missions and reserves, forbidding their languages, thrashing White terms of reference on them, dishing out curfews and laws to control every aspect of their lives. It mattered more to White pride to maintain White terms of reference than the horror show of real time narratives of human suffering and misery they inflicted.
The citadel of White pride, federal parliament, strings us along that they are about equality, that they want a multicultural Australia. They claim a “tolerant society” but the say “you” fit in. They tolerate ‘multiculturalism’ only to the extent it is understood “behave” as we want you to “or go back, leave”. If you are the child of migrants, born and bred here, and you don’t ‘fit in’, you haven’t assimilated, then you will be ostracised. The impacts of not doing as you’re told are marginalisation and the rise of underclasses. Look at what the descendants of the First Peoples of this continent – Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders – go through at the hands of a White pride dominated society. Unless they compromise to White terms of reference they are dished out ostracisation, marginalisation, shanty towns. If someone will not assimilate they will be dished out disadvantage, classism, sexism, racism, the whole lot. White pride will do the hatchet jobs, do the propaganda, use every instrument its racist state has to offend, diminish, reduce and exclude. Multiculturalism and First Nations cultures are treated as token. The Racial Discrimination Act is token, the Native Title Act is token – there is no cultural plurality.
We have to shift the research from the oppressed to the oppressor. It is the oppressor who is the problem. The oppressor has always been the problem and the oppressor remains the problem. Indoctrination of peoples continues. Those who dissent are marginalised.
When I was in Year 10, in the late 1970s, there were these bullies at school who bashed students whenever they felt like it. I went to a predominately White school. Each year of the 1970’s slowly bringing forward more students to our school who had been born overseas, who were newly arrived. Many of them had not yet mastered the English language. One newly arrived student who often sat next me was a Cambodian. He dragged his left leg, a landmine victim. Our Personal Health class teacher was always late and in that stretch the bullies picked out a student to bully. The victim had to repeat whatever the bullies wanted said, and if they did they would only be punched a few times instead of bashed. They picked out the Cambodian lad. I could see the fear in his eyes. I could also see everyone in our class huddling around for the humiliation and beating – an attempt at indoctrination. He refused to repeat what they wanted him to. He’d been through enough with the Khmer Rouge. He had no chance of holding his own in a fight. “Leave him alone,” I said,
“What has he ever done to you?”
Then a fight broke out between me and the lead bully (racist). The classroom chanted fight, fight, fight. I did not want to fight but I did. We were dragged to the principal’s office. We were both caned. In the gang of hoodlums were two who were Brown like me. One of them had been a friend during primary school. But he did the White terms of reference instead and joined these hoodlums because it was the only way for him to score his gig, and to be in with the ‘crowd’. This is lateral violence, where your peers turn on you rather than on the system. Like siblings who turn on each other rather than see clearly and call in dysfunctional parenting. This behaviour is playing out today with some non-White Australians, of those born overseas, who want the spoils and are prepared to be terrified of truth, who will compromise for the shekels and the limelight. They are the least who shine the light.
That was my generation. Those of my generation are now in our parliaments. There will be those White and non-White affronted by this article, or who will displace anger because of their cruelties or their betrayals. I am not anti-White, I never have been. I am about everyone. My child is the daughter of a beautiful White person. Oppression is the problem. There should be no place for it. But it is everywhere, not just limited to the least which is the structural and institutional racism that disavows anything non-White. Racisms are the stricture of White terms of reference. Multiculturalism in Australia is a sham, a charade. What do you expect when at first ‘multiculturalism’ in every jurisdiction, all its offices, in the beginning employed White executives and officers. This occurred so the White pride blueprint would be ingrained, that expectations would be assimilation.
Native Title in Australia is a debacle. Equality, it is not here, there is a long, very long way, to go. If equality was here there would be none of these hundreds of downtrodden town camps and corrals of marginalised impoverishment of the descendants of the First Peoples right throughout this continent. White pride has no time for the high cultural content of others. White pride will never allow a multicultural Australia, will never end ‘Indigenous’ disadvantage. It is still, you become White or you die.
– The writer of this article, Gerry Georgatos, is a prolific writer on racism, anti-racism and with PhD research in unveiling racism and in understanding the ways forward and Masters in Philosophy, Social Justice Advocacy and Human Rights Education. He is a thirty year plus refugee rights advocate and with longstanding work in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. He is with the Institute of Social Justice and Human Rights.
Other articles on racism in Australia by Gerry Georgatos
We are indeed equal, no-one is more or less than anyone else. I banked on this reasoning since a kid, since the tumult of racism I experienced day in day out and that was dished out to my parents. I stored hope in that in time societies would unfold to such understanding. We have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 that reason procured, which is a document of moral understandings. In time maybe we will get there, so I hoped.
When my father left his mortal coil Good Friday last year, my head lay on his chest, I was bereft. I had been by his side 21 days in vigil. My mind raced with memories, many of them were of my childhood, with some of these memories of the racism we had felt from far too many around us. In fact, I would grow up to understand that we had lived in constant fear of racism. It is a corralling of people. Racism, is haunting, a shadow that follows you.
– “The White man articulated one justification after another; their Courts enabled law after law, to justify racism, to turn human beings into chattel. To this very day and long into the future, we feel the effects. Generations to come will still not be free of racism.”
– Australia is an oppressively White dominated society – White dominated economy, White dominated parliaments, White dominated media. For anyone Black, Brown, Yellow to score a gig in White dominated Australia, if I may write (and say), you have to do a lot of quickstepping, kowtowing, backslapping, and arse licking – you have to dance to the White man’s song, and you have to buy into their racism.”
– “Certain emotional experiences, certain situational traumas drown the psyche, crippling psychosocially the self.”
– “Please do not speak to me about racism as if you are an expert on racism if you have never endured racism, because when you do, you reduce racism to something that was never brutal, never oppressive. When you have not lived racism and you speak to racism as if you know it then you reduce racism to something that was surmountable. Racism is insurmountable. You cannot beat racism, you can only survive it. Many of us become resilient but we do not become free of it.”
– “Australia’s conservatism and racism can be found not only in an examination of The White Australia Policy, in the first half a dozen decades of our Federal Parliaments, and in much of the media of the day, but it can also be seen in any examination of our Prime Ministers, Premiers, and legislation during the last several decades. Johannes Bjelke-Petersen who was Queensland’s Premier from 1968 to 1987 typified the dominant Anglosphere, working only its exclusive interests. He typified Australian racism even in the face of modernity.”
– “More than a quarter of Australia’s population was born overseas. More than an eighth of Australians were born in Asia. More than half of Australia has a parent who was born overseas. Australia does not reflect any of this in its Federal Parliaments. Therefore our Parliaments do not reflect Australia but instead of a particular section of Australia – and this layer remains the Anglosphere. Till Australia’s political parties and our Governments remedy this predicament our Parliaments in effect discriminate.”
The bloodshed of colonialism continues in other forms – in narratives of human misery and suffering, in a climate of death; in the suicides and in the premature and unnatural deaths. The descendants of the invaders are now established as the governments, ruthlessly gripping power. Modalities such as institutional racism continue the one-sided deliverance. Marginalisation appears entrenched. It is impossible to be without marginalisation when there is oppression unless it is eliminated by genocide. In my making these statements, the soldiers and advocates of the neoliberal colonialist regimes argue we are perpetuating trauma and that we maintain the oppressed as the victim. They argue that we need to move on. But move on from what and to where? How?
Racism in general is a convenient excuse – manufactured consent – for the economic exploitation and deprivation of peoples.
The problem is never the oppressed despite what many racists would like us to think, despite what far too many in the media write, despite what some historians want us to think, despite the prejudices and stereotypes the majority of parliamentarians wallow within, despite the industry of researchers and so-called experts, of whom many are shameless profiteers. The problem is always the oppressor. The problem cannot be and should never be the victim.