Is Australia a Racist Country?
(This is an extended version of an article that was originally published in The Australian Spectator in September 2019)
The title for this article is a question, and one that relates to Aboriginal people. So when I talk about whether or not Australia is a racist country, it will generally be in the context of Aboriginal people unless otherwise stated. I ask the question because I frequently hear that for Aboriginal people: “Australia is a racist country.” This is an important question, because if Aboriginal people believe that Australia is racist against them, then this would certainly dampen their enthusiasm for participation in mainstream life and their relationships with other Australians.
When I dare to ask for evidence that Australia is a racist country, apart from receiving the predictable attacks and slanders (that only seem to tickle me and not provoke me), my opponents demand that I prove that Australia is not a racist country towards Aboriginal people. I then need to explain that the burden of proof is normally with the claimant and not the sceptic. I offer the example of trying to prove that the tooth fairy does not exist. It’s a basic law of logic—you can’t prove the non-existence of something. It is up to those who believe in tooth fairies to provide their evidence, then sceptics like myself will examine the evidence. So it is with the claim that Australia is a racist country; it is up to the claimant to provide the evidence; it is not up to me to prove that Australia is not a racist country. Interestingly however, there does seem to be plenty of evidence that Australia is not racist with respect to Aboriginal people—just look at the intermarriage rate for example.
For the race hounds who need to see racism against Aboriginal people everywhere, the question of “Is Australia a racist country for Aboriginal people?” morphs into “Does racism against Aboriginal people exist?” Those two questions are vastly different from each other. The answer to the first question I believe is “no” and for the second question is “yes.” Racism against Aboriginal Australians exists for sure, but not to the degree that the race hounds would have you believe. Having some racist people does not make Australia a racist country. We have a few (several in fact) wealthy Aboriginal Australians, but based on this small (unrepresentative) sample, it would be wrong to conclude that Aboriginal people are a wealthy people. Similarly, a few shark attacks happen in Australia each year, but our beaches are not shark infested. Yes, there are some dumb Australians who are racist against Aboriginal people, but they are relatively few and far between. Their presence does not make Australia a racist country.
I find it amazing that among those Australians who identify as Aboriginal and are adamant that Australia is racist against them, many are totally unrecognisable as being Aboriginal—they are very fair-skinned. Why is it that those Aboriginal-identifying people who have never experienced racism are so keen to claim that Australia is racist against ‘their people’? Could it be that for them being the victim of racism validates them as being Aboriginal? Or perhaps yelling racism is a convenient distraction from other problems facing Aboriginal people? (more about this shortly).
Interestingly, I have had some of these fair-skinned Aboriginal people tell me that because of their predominantly non-Indigenous features they have the advantage of hearing what non- Aboriginal Australians say when they think no non-Aboriginal person around. These undercover super heroes tell us that non-Aboriginal Australians are deeply racist. Again, for them, the minute sample of Australians they gather their experiences from is proof positive (for them and their fans) that Australia is a racist country.
The racism which Aboriginal people face, is the very least of their problems. They are far more likely to be hated, harmed, and slandered by other Aboriginal people than they are by non-Aboriginal people—a topic that the race hounds are reluctant to talk about. Maybe the obsession with Australia being deeply racist against Aboriginal people is really just a distraction from some inconvenient facts like the high rates of violence and child abuse in Aboriginal communities? The obsession means that energy and resources are diverted away from discussing and delivering real solutions to serious problems. The problems resulting from excessive focus on racism are best summed up by Dave and Bess Price:
The strident obsession with racism and political correctness permeating the academy and media, and a profound ignorance of our history mean that practically useful publicly available analysis of the issues is rare and endangered. The voices of the dispossessed, the marginalised, those who suffer most are routinely ignored in the clamour. (Price & Price, 2013)
Bess, a full-blooded Aboriginal woman (and no, that term ‘full-blooded’ is not racist but the race hounds will make it racist) born in the bush, and was a Minister of the Crown in the Australian Northern Territory government. She and her non-Aboriginal husband of more than thirty years have intimate knowledge of the serious issues facing Aboriginal people. The suffering the Prices refer to are self-harm, violence, child abuse, unhealthy lifestyles, and the problems associated with living in remote areas. They are the ‘elephants in the room’ that few wish to acknowledge for fear of being accused of ‘blaming the victim.’ Discussing racism is far easier. Somewhat paradoxically, when violence and child abuse are discussed (by non-Aboriginal people) there are shouts of “racism!”
Few people have written more about racism against Aboriginal Australians than Gerry Georgatos. He has stated:
I speak and write with some on [sic] authority on racism – the lived experience, racism has been self-evident and impacting in my life since a young child … I see the racism in all its forms, institutional, structural and overt. Racism has haunted me from day dot. My predominant academic work, including doctoral research has been in understanding racism and the ways forward.
There is a culture of racism in this nation so extreme, odious in its stench, the likes I have not known elsewhere in my many travels outside this continent. Of all the middle and high income nations with relatively recent colonial oppressor histories Australia has the widest divide of all measurable indicators between the descendants of its First Peoples and the rest of the population. The racism in Australia burns so deep that it not only threatens life, it takes lives.
When I read words like ‘odious’, ‘stench’, and ‘colonial oppressor’ I decided to ask Gerry to justify his claim, as making claims without justification is all too easy. His answer is as follows:
The majority of Australians are racist, and this is profoundly understood and indisputably validated by my experientialism, by lived experience. I am older than two-thirds of Australians, have travelled to more than 600 destinations Australia-wide, mixed it with tens of thousands through my four decades working life, and closely supported and interacted with thousands of Australians.
So-called experts and pontificating commentators can write books and working papers, opinion pieces and akin, but nothing can reduce the ugly racism, the exclusion I experienced as a child in the 1960s, or the racism and classism I experienced as a teenager in the 1970s.
There was a period of some hope that racism would be checked, and some progress made, and though much will change positively but with assimilation forefront for certain culturally diverse peoples in the half century ahead, misogyny, more so than xenophobia, will become as ugly again and worse, for future migrants who hoped Australia as home. With missionary fervour there remains a predominately Anglocentric White supremacism in Australia, dominating our media and parliaments and the nation’s boardrooms and the bastions of power such as the civil service that manages Canberra, that will never surrender to equality. They only allow for the assimilated, and for managed token appearances. The vanquishing of racism per se rests in the century and a half ahead with peoples from throughout Asia becoming the majority Australians and extinguishing Anglocentric racisms.
My experience, my personal witness is more profound than writings and akin. For a wog like me, with a high IQ, I am the least of who a perennially threatened oppressive peddler wants around. The nation’s worst self, piled with racism and classism, is found in our political leadership, in our governments, and so we have to cope.
So basically the majority of Australians are racist because Gerry’s lived experience tells him so? Far be it from me to argue with someone who speaks and writes with some “authority on racism.”
Claims of Racism
I have read in the social media where many people have written words like “We are watched and followed every time we enter a shop.” I don’t doubt that this happens, but again, not nearly as much as what the race hounds would have you believe. I have lost count, but I would estimate that I have responded to these people on more than twenty occasions with “Please tell me which shop this is happening in and I will come and see it for myself and speak to the shopkeeper.” So far, not one person has taken me up on my offer. Interestingly I have one friend, a non-Aboriginal woman, who has Aboriginal children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, who told me that some of her grandchildren said they have been watched when entering shops. While they find it annoying, they tolerate it because they are aware of the high shoplifting rate amongst their peer group. This situation is similar to what happens in North America. Consider the account by Jason L. Riley (2014), a Black American, in his provocatively titled book ‘Please stop helping us.’
In high school I worked as a stock boy in a supermarket. The people caught stealing were almost always black. As a result black shoppers got more scrutiny from everyone, including black workers. During college I worked the overnight shift at a gas station with a minimart. So when people who looked like me entered the store my antenna went up. Similarly, when I see groups of young black men walking down the street at night I cross to the other side. When I see them on subways I switch cars. I am not judging them as individuals. Why take risks? If I guess wrong my wife is a widow and my children are fatherless. So I make snap judgments with incomplete information.
My attitude and behaviour are hardly unique, even among other blacks. Like white cabdrivers, black cabdrivers have been known to avoid picking up black males at night, something I also experienced firsthand upon moving to New York after college.
Some individuals who avoid encounters with black youths may indeed be acting out of racism, but given that law-abiding blacks exhibit the exact same behaviour it’s likely that mot people are acting on probability. (pp. 63, 64)
If you were to get your news about Aboriginal affairs from sites like NITV, you would think that whenever an Aboriginal person was mistreated, it was mostly from non-Aboriginal people and that it was racially motivated. What you won’t typically see on NITV or in similar outlets are stories about the high rates of violence and child abuse in Aboriginal communities, or if you do, it is often attributed to racism, oppression, colonisation, or transgenerational trauma.
A few years ago I presented at a conference on the prevention of sexual abuse against Aboriginal children. The chief organiser was an Aboriginal woman and she did an amazing job. One day, NITV came and did some filming of the conference; I was truly surprised. The story was posted on their Facebook page. I was due to present the next day. I told the organiser that if the story gets more than a dozen comments, I would do my presentation in the nude. You will be relieved to know that the NITV followers were predictable and only a small number of people commented on the story. Contrast that to stories on NITV where there is the possibility of an Aboriginal person being the victim or racism, and they get hundreds of replies.
Yes there is racism in this country against Aboriginal people, but it is not as widespread as activists (or those whose income is dependent on believing it) would have us believe. A preoccupation with racism simply prevents us from tackling the real problems affecting Aboriginal people: housing, health, employment, etc.
If a ‘voice’ is enshrined in the Constitution, will the people behind this voice be motivated by the belief that racism is the big culprit hurting Aboriginal people?