Wednesday, December 21, 2005

What is racism - 101, or ‘how can a man open a floodgate of racist vitriol and get away with it?’

After the white racist violence erupted at Cronulla in Sydney, John Howard told us that he did not believe there was an undercurrent of racism in Australia. He rejected the argument that Australia is a fundamentally racist society, insisting instead that Australians are decent people at heart.

There is one thing that John Howard is very good at: making white Australia feel very good about itself and convincing the ‘nation’ that everything is all-right, and that if things have gone wrong then it is just a hiccup in the great scheme of things. Alternatively, if things ARE wrong, then it is the fault of the rest of us/‘others’: migrants who’ve refused to assimilate, refugees, asylum seekers, Arabs, terrorists, Aboriginals, women (especially mothers) who work – but not white men.

This man is the consummate smoke-and-mirrors operator of Australian politics.

Just as the yob mob draped themselves in the Australian flag and painted their faces and bodies with the Southern Cross at Cronulla, so Howard pulls the flag over the country’s eyes to blind it with patriotism.

So it was that at the anti-racism rallies in Melbourne (last Friday) and in Sydney (the past weekend) protesters condemned Howard’s apologist crud, and drew connections between, on one hand, Howard’s stand on things like asylum seekers and the souring relationships with Indigenous Australia, and on the other hand, with the recent racist explosion in Sydney. And rightly so.

One speaker at the Melbourne rally pointed out the overwhelming similarity between Howard’s statement from two election campaigns ago (the one with the Tampa crisis etc):
‘We will decide who will come to our country’
with the t-shirts and slogans of the racists at Cronulla:
‘We will decide who comes to our beaches.'

This is Howard’s line in the sand – but not at Christmas Island (where boats of refugees have tried to land over the years seeking asylum) but in suburban Sydney, his heartland.

It is a line that draws young white men closer to him – your working class Tories, if you like – and isolates ‘others’ further away. If anything, this will shore up the government’s push for greater anti-terror laws. What’s a betting that the first time new anti-terror laws that allow police to ‘lock-down’ whole neighbourhoods are used will be in predominantly Arab communities in the wash-up of this continuing saga, than be used against white-power/fascist groups shown to be involved in the actions in Sydney…

But these bovver boys – dangerous as they are – are only the storm troopers of something much larger: the last decade of increasing white Australian hostility towards, and reversal of, so much that has been fought for and built over the past twenty years or so; the dismantling of what could be seen as Australia under Labor’s ‘accord’ with Aboriginal Australia and moves toward Reconciliation, its ‘engagement with Asia’, the move to a republic, the expansion of multiculturalism and its related cultural industries.

Under the cover of endorsing ‘openness’ and encouraging ‘free speech’ – i.e. the freedom to slag-off wogs, gooks, abos, faggots and sheilas openly – Howard dismissed all these gains and initiatives as merely ‘political correctness’ as he came to power in 1996. His language, but more importantly his actions, made it clear that what Howard and the Liberals saw as the ‘special privileges’ of the Labor era were to end. It was the start of what many in Australia call ‘dog whistler’ politics, or in its more overt form, wedge politics.

Howard opened the gates to those with axes to grind, who resented the gains of anti-racist campaigning, the funding for multi-cultural and multi-lingual initiatives, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait land/civil rights movements and the programmes to address Indigenous poverty and disadvantage in rural Australia. It opened the gates to Pauline Hanson and the One Nation phenomenon, which attracted a big range of bigots – from your ‘I’m not a racist but…’ mums and dads to your hard-men White Power and neo-Nazi types.

And just when I thought that the Liberal-National Coalition would be the big casualties of the Hanson floodgates, Howard out-manoeuvred the racist nationalists and won back their concerns to his mainstream agenda. He won back the heartland. The mainstreaming of racism, as some have called it.

Howard has pushed a nationalist agenda that encompasses barricading refugees and asylum seekers in concentration camps in our unforgiving deserts, whilst barricading our island-continent against the rickety boats that try to carry them ashore to freedom and safety; and locking out Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people out of any meaningful national self-determination and chiselling away their few hard-won gains.

More recently, the war on terror and the Iraq war have such racist and xenophobic overtones. While the war has been tragic in Iraq, Guantanamo, and Afghanistan, the last few years in Australia have opened the gaping sore that is White Australia’s legacy. We’ve seen the increasing isolation of the Middle-eastern and Islamic communities in Australia in an increasingly vitriolic climate of xenophobia and hysteria over terrorist attacks (both ‘home-grown’ and imported).

We’ve also seen an older, but now mutating, moral hysteria over young Arab men – they’re either immoral thugs who prey on white women, or they’re zealot, fundamentalist Muslims who will fall into the clutches of the suicide bombers…

I see the clear lineage between Howard’s decade of rule and the expressions of Australian racism in today’s Cronulla, and its ripples.

I really hate seeing him get away with it.

Note: thanks to D who sent me the photo of the placcard at protests condemning the recent racist violence. Could it be in Sydney? Also, I'm unsure if I will leave this long posting here in the blog, or move it to a web page for longe articles and essays of mine. But it will be here until after the new year.


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