What’s in a name? Quite a bit when the name is racism…

The roller-coaster ride over the past few weeks regarding racism in Australia, real and imagined, has provided some useful insights into an issue I have thought about more than once, since the ‘fashion’ appeared in recent decades for Australians to be deemed ‘racist’ in substantive terms.

We live in a time where ‘sound-byte’ reactions are a norm and we are seeing the label ‘racist’ or ‘racism’ hurled at people and situations where it does not apply. Of course there is racism in Australia because there is racism in every society, but it remains minimal and is not of the order that many would have us believe in the name of vested agendas.
We have a ridiculous situation where those crying racist are the real racists, because they are demonising Australians, simply because they do not have or do not acknowledge Aboriginal ancestry.

The real racism is in this approach, where an entire group is being attacked and demonised on ‘racial’ grounds. Somehow it is okay to have non-indigenous ‘smacked over the knuckles’ if they make a generalised comment, but it is okay for indigenous Australians to ‘tar all non-indigenous with the same brush’ and hold them responsible for acts committed by strangers or ancestors in the distant past.

The history of Australia has not been particularly racist beyond the White Australia Policy which arose in a very different era and was aimed at Chinese immigration and sourced in fears current for the times, of a Yellow Peril, or Reds under the Beds.

But the policy was never about Aborigines or in fact race per se: it was a fear of Asian immigrant numbers engulfing a small Anglo-European population. And of course the Policy ended without much fuss or bother because Australians were generally pragmatic and not racist anyway.

” The anti-Chinese movements were caused by economic factors rather than racial factors, commencing in the opposition to further transportation of convicts in the 1830s and 1840s.” Takao Fujikawa – Japanese researcher into the White Australia Policy.

Because migrants and the wider Australian community really didn’t have negative views of non-white migrants, the remaining aspects of the Immigration Restriction Act were progressively dismantled by the Liberal Menzies government. In 1958, a revised Migration Act introduced a simpler system of entry permits and abolished the controversial dictation test. Because the revised Act avoided references to questions of race, it allowed well-qualified Asians to migrate.

By 1964, almost all conditions blocking entry of people of non-European stock had been removed and non-traditional migration was being very well recieved by the Australian community. By 1966, there were 101,387 Asian-born migrants in Australia. (ABS 2005).”


So, how did we suddenly, in a decade or so, become racist as some now claim? The simple answer is we didn’t.

What happened was that the definition of racism changed. It has been manipulated in the hands of the politically correct and the multiculturalism mafia and has become so broad that Australians are being called racist simply for speaking frankly?

And often, the cries of racism are aimed at people who are not the least bit racist but are, instead, coming from a place of belief that all Australians should be treated equally, and if someone acts in ways which should be condemned, then condemned they will be, regardless of their race, religion or gender. Simply espousing that Aboriginal aid should be needs-based not race-based, something which many indigenous Australians also support, can have you called a racist when in fact it is the complete opposite because needs-based has everyone treated as equals and race-based is racial discrimination.

In the eyes of the PC ‘police’ this is anathema because one is not meant to hold ‘victims’ accountable and the position is that indigenous Australians, even those with one-thirty-second Aboriginality from an ancestor are victims! The irony is that they are the true racists because they want to hold indigenous Australians, and some immigrant groups for that matter, to lower standards of behaviour. They are in essence patronising them because they refuse to treat them as equals.

This was not how it was for most of Australia’s history and not how it was for creating an environment where we had the children of immigrants quickly intermarrying and assimilating and where we had indigenous Australians moving into the broader community, easily and successfully.

As a child of an immigrant family across many generations, like most Australians, and growing up in the Fifties and Sixties in very mixed communities, I can’t say I ever perceived what could be defined as racism. Where adults criticised it was on the basis of behaviour, not race and it would be the same criticism whether the individual was Aboriginal, English, Greek, Italian or fourth-generation Australian.

My first boyfriend was half Aboriginal. I don’t recall giving it a second thought and neither did my parents, siblings or friends. As a journalist living around Australia, including in country towns where there was a greater indigenous presence, I perceived still, the same basis for criticism as being behaviour from most.

I do believe I was intelligent, educated, informed and experienced enough to understand the meaning of the term racism and to identify it when it appeared. There did not seem to be much racism, and, after many years living and travelling around the world, it seemed to me that racism in Australia was amongst the most minimal.

We had and have a long history as an immigrant nation of generally fast and harmonious integration and assimilation. We have in fact the highest and fastest rate of immigrant intermarriage of any nation although I gather that in recent years where the internet makes sourcing wives overseas easier, and with more immigrants of a fundamentalist religious nature, this has diminished a little, but it still remains high.

We have an even higher rate of indigenous intermarriage and since most indigenous Australians are of very mixed race with more Anglo/European/Asian/African etc., ancestry, it is pretty clear that mixing has been going on for a long time. We have most indigenous Australians in mixed marriages and at even higher rates in some urban areas where you would expect to find more of the racism which is said to exist.

Quote: Most Aboriginal men and women intermarry with non-indigenous Australians, new research has shown. Analysis of the 2006 census reveals that 52% of Aboriginal men and 55% of Aboriginal women were married to non-Aboriginal Australians.

In Australia’s larger east coast cities, the intermarriage rate was well above 70%; in Sydney, as many as nine out of 10 university-educated Aborigines had a non-indigenous partner.

Dr Bob Birrell, who led the research said: “In the US, the social divide between black and white is deep, and intermarriage rates with African Americans is 8%. We don’t see any parallel here”.
How can we have such high rates of intermarriage if Australians are generally racist? One thing I have learned living around the world is that racists do not intermarry because racists do not intermix socially and the borders of social groups are firmly fixed.

It is thirty years next February since I became an expat and while there have been stints spread across eight years during that time, living back in Australia, for most of it I have been ‘outside looking in’ through windows of visits three or four times a year.

I grew up in Adelaide but have lived in Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne, Wagga Wagga, Port Pirie and spent quite a bit of time in Sydney. I have spent time in Darwin and on remote communities in Far North Queensland and the Kimberley, as well as in Hobart, Kunnunurra, Broome, Cairns, Weipa and dozens of other small towns across the continent. I think I know Australia reasonably well across a spectrum of fifty years.

The nomadic life has had me living in Europe, Antwerp, Belgium; London, on three occasions for months at a time, Bombay, India for more than four years; Luanda, Angola for more than four years; both Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa; Lusaka, Zambia; Vancouver, Canada and now more than five years in Malawi.

I have also spent months at a time living in the United States, and driven across a lot of it, including travelling with  very black friend, and months at a time in Russia in both Moscow, Ekaterinburg and small mining towns. I have had a few months in Portugal, mainly Lisbon, to learn Portugese for our time in Angola. So, I think I have had reasonable experience both around Australia and around the world of various cultures and societies to enable perspective in regard to my own country and the accusations of racism.

If you want to see real racism, spend some time living in a developing country where rigid social boundaries and religious, tribal and cultural laws make tolerance rare and change difficult. Compared to places like India and Africa, Western racism is minimal.

But here too, the locals have been turned into victims and mendicants with ‘hand held out’ and allowances made for behaviour which would not be tolerated if they were treated as equals and not patronised like helpless children as is so often done to Aborigines.

Australians have a long history of ‘calling a spade a bloody shovel’ and of being frank and open in their views in ways which few other societies are. We are more outspoken than the British, Americans, Canadians and probably the New Zealanders. The Scots might give us a run for our money, but, in general, Australians stand out as a people who are more inclined to say what they ‘really think.’

And this is what is being called racism by foreigners who judge by their own standards and their ignorance of the Australian culture, if not at times, jealousy, and by those Australians who have turned themselves into a mafia of political correctness.

Who knows, maybe we got our irreverence and ‘straight-talking’ from that mix of rebellious convicts and Aborigines. I certainly think it is the source of our laconic, ironic, irreverent sense of humour, something else the ‘PC police’ wish to censor.

I also believe there is a strong seam of common sense in Australian society which is why the screams of ‘racism’ achieve nothing constructive, because people know when they are racist and when they are accused of something they have not done they just ignore it, until they get so pissed off about it, as some did with Adam Goodes, that they take a stand.

Bigotry is wrong. Racism is wrong. Negative discrimination is wrong – actually I think positive discrimination is also wrong but that is a digression. But, calling someone racist when they are simply speaking an unpalatable truth or demanding that everyone is treated equally as a human being is equally, if not more wrong.

And what makes it worse is where one group is considered to be guilty of racism and another is not. The other fad is to believe that only Westerners are racist when history has always demonstrated that racism is a common human affliction. All cultures, societies, nations, peoples have a capacity for racism it is simply a matter of degree. Racism is not about the colour of your skin and in the modern age, people with black skin are more likely to be more racist than people with white skin, it is about the beliefs that you hold. Racism is about culture and the social attitudes it encourages.

Australians have traditionally taken an attitude of ‘judging’ others on how they act, not who they are. Most do not care what job you do, how much money you have, what your religion is, or what colour your skin is – they care about who you are as a person and how you act. That is not racism. It is the foundation of our ‘tall poppy syndrome’ where you are not meant to ‘get above yourself’ just because you are rich, famous or powerful, which seems a pretty sensible approach.

When we begin to ‘make allowances’ based on race we are creating victims and we are creating racism.

Adam Goodes was judged by his actions as an adult and called to account. If he had not been indigenous and the child he humiliated had been Aboriginal, the crowd would have reacted the same, but the Aboriginal Industry and the Politically Correct Police would have reacted very differently. That is racism.

That is holding Goodes to a ‘lower bar’ of accountability because he identifies as Aboriginal, despite the fact that he is far more Anglo/European than he is Aboriginal in terms of ancestral inheritance. And that is racism because it is taking a position that the terrible and unnecessary humiliation of a non-indigenous child is acceptable because of her ‘race’ and ‘culture’ in ways it would not be if she, like Goodes, could find some Aboriginal ancestry, and particularly if she had been treated as she was by someone without an excuse, a non-indigenous ‘white.’

The distorted definitions of the term ‘racism’ is creating an environment which produces racism where it did not previously exist. The racism demonstrated by the Aboriginal Industry and its ‘crusaders’ where all non-indigenous are guilty of crimes done since 1788, as espoused by Adam Goodes, is destructive and divisive. It is also unfair.

It is not Australians in general who are dividing the country into ‘white’ and ‘black’ but the Aboriginal Industry supported by academia, Government and most of the media and setting the scene for a ‘race war’ without substance. Tragically, this situation does far more harm to those indigenous still in need of support than it does to anyone else.

I don’t actually believe it will lead to that because I believe most Australians, indigenous and non-indigenous are not racist and will not be turned into racists, but I do think we have reached a point where we need to think carefully about what the word racism means and not use it unless it can be substantially demonstrated that real racism exists.

Real racism is where you reject an entire group of people because of their race, religion or culture. There are no exceptions for a racist. And on that basis, Australia remains one of the least racist countries in the world and that is what needs to be nourished, for the sake of everyone.

Here’s what the data show:

  • Anglo and Latin countries most tolerant.People in the survey were most likely to embrace a racially diverse neighbor in the United Kingdom and its Anglo former colonies (the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and in Latin America. The only real exceptions were oil-rich Venezuela, where income inequality sometimes breaks along racial lines, and the Dominican Republic, perhaps because of its adjacency to troubled Haiti. Scandinavian countries also scored high.


About rosross

Editor, writer, poet.
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