Racism and racists and The Plonker’s latest foot-in-mouth attack

08 Oct

I have been giving much thought to Jim Belshaw’s post Race and racism in Australia. He is quite right to say that pseudoscientific racism, the kind that was official policy in Nazi Germany and more widely accepted elsewhere in the not too distant past than we now find comfortable to admit, is probably a minority position in Australia. Jim prefers the word “prejudice”, the term “racist” having become a generic term of abuse that shuts down discussion. This is certainly worth considering. I will let Jim explain, but do read all his post:

…By global standards, we live in a remarkably open, pluralist, tolerant, polycultural society. We have transformed ourselves as a country and a people. Yet based on our own reporting of ourselves, an outsider could be forgiven for thinking that this is a place were racial bigotry runs rampant.

Mr Andrews is not known for his ability to handle things in a sensible and tactful fashion. Yet when I look at the facts, the ones who introduced and then followed up the race issue were the media and commentators more broadly. They created the problem.

There are a small number of genuine old style racists in the Australian community who do try to take advantage of this type of event. They did so in Tamworth following the controversy. As happened with Tamworth, they will fail.

There is a larger group who feel threatened by the pace of change and who fear becoming aliens in their own country. Alienated during the changes of the eighties and nineties, this was the group that One Nation appealed to. Most were in no way racist in the true meaning of the term, but their alienation made them vulnerable to messages with racist undertones.

Then there is everybody else all of whom have varied mixes of prejudices.

Some Australians are prejudiced against Muslims, some are prejudiced against Christians, some prejudiced against anyone of faith. Some are prejudiced against city people, some against country people, some against Sydney’s eastern suburbs, some against the western suburbs. Some are prejudiced against Americans, some against Chinese, some against Indians, a number against anything to do with anglo-celtic Australia. The response to Mr Andrews is itself an example of prejudice.

If you want an extreme example of cultural prejudice you only have to look at the word bogan , a term that I had not even heard of until a few years ago when I heard some of my daughters’ friends use it.

My point in all this is that all Australians are a mix of sometimes conflicting prejudices of which attitudes towards race is just one element. Any prejudice can derail sensible discussion. This is just what happened in Tamworth and now in the current case where views expressed in the media and by commentators derailed sensible discussion. In the meantime, core issues about the way we resource and manage refugee resettlement programs go unresolved.

Jim may also have added Cronulla to Tamworth in that last paragraph. Jim carefully avoids the term “multicultural” — he coined “polycultural” instead — reflecting an earlier discussion we have had. I am perfectly happy with “multicultural” myself, and more than that would defend the term vigorously, and have done so. I was at the time far less sympathetic towards those who found Pauline Hanson’s One Nation attractive. From my perspective as an ESL teacher and the then partner of one of the Asians we were being “swamped” by the whole Hanson phenomenon was disappointing — no, more than disappointing: disgusting — and so close to racism that it made little difference as far as I was concerned. I wrote angry letters to the Prime Minister and others at that time. All I got from the Prime Minister was his now familiar bromide about “political correctness” and a list of his speeches. Certain National Party members were more forthcoming. But I also understand what Jim is saying and respect his experience. Jim has told us something of what occurred in his own life at that time and I am sorry he had to go through that too.

refugeeshire My reference to Cronulla is pertinent to Jim’s discussion not only because of the events there at the end of 2005. First, it has brought true racists out from under their rocks, but most Cronulla people would regard this guy as a total ratbag as his election results (1,193 votes out of 47,000+) proved. Second, and much less well known, are facts about The Shire represented by the image on the right. Click that and you will read about “fabulous photos and visions of the future by refugee students” who “attended a Homework Club supported by St Phillips Anglican Church at Caringbah and Gymea Community Aid and Information Service. The students have come from Sudan. They are relatively recent arrivals in Sutherland Shire who are enjoying the peace, acceptance and freedom found in their adopted home.”

Shire Looks Beyond Race Riots

One year on from the Cronulla race riots that shamed Australia internationally, St John’s, Sutherland, are presenting a fresh vision for their Shire – as a place welcoming of refugees.

“In light of the Cronulla riots it was clear that more discussion and understanding about people who share multiple racial and cultural identities was needed,” says Faye Hillier who is part of a group from the church who organised a community forum called Refugees – Beyond the Headlines: Taking a humane approach to resettlement.

“Our vision is for the Sutherland Shire to be an area of Sydney that leads in being open and supportive of cultural difference.”

Christian speakers at the forum include local MP Bruce Baird MP who has been involved in helping refugees; Iranian asylum seeker Amir Mesrinejad, who spent five years at Villawood Detention Centre, and Chris Denegris, a member of St Phillip’s, Caringbah, who is involved in the resettlement of Sudanese refugees.

“The decision to run a public discussion on refugee resettlement was an acknowledgement of the refugee families we have resettling in our area and the needs they have, the difficulties refugees face in resettlement generally and the implications this has on communities,” says Ms Hillier. “In mono-cultural parts of Sydney prejudices can quickly develop as small numbers from different cultures stand out.  There is also the potential to develop a fear of unknown ‘others’ who are ‘out there’.”

Ms Hillier says that as the Sutherland Shire becomes more multicultural through refugee resettlement, it is important that the public is involved in discussion about the changes in order to protect against racial stereotyping and hostility.

“It is only through understanding an issue and talking about it that we can hope to educate and improve the situation,” she says.

Ms Hillier is particularly disappointed that asylum seekers have been politicized in recent years.

“Asylum seekers have been branded as ‘queue jumpers’ or possible ‘terrorists’ making public opinion towards them very negative. The less supportive the Australian community is of refugees the more difficult the resettlement process is,” she says….

We would do well to remember that more African refugees have been accepted into Australia since John Howard became Prime Minister than ever were under the previous regime. We should also remember that prime movers in that and in resettlement issues since have been various Christian churches. These are facts.

So Arthur, just as one example among many and not specially picking on you, while I don’t entirely disagree with you, I suggest you might rethink your broad brush technique on this matter, as I have had to do in recent years. One of my great regrets is that my antiracist trigger point was reached prematurely and inappropriately in a situation in 2005 concerning The Rabbit and his blog, the evidence of which I have quietly expunged from my Big Archive, so ashamed am I of it now. I will also confess to having been racist myself on occasions: who hasn’t? My recent fiction here tells at least one true story about that from my own childhood, and M will tell you of another occasion he trots out against me from time to time. Let he who is without sin, etc. Racism is a demon, for want of a better metaphor, that sits in the reptile brain of all of us, I’m afraid.

On the other hand I am still rather proud of this and still very warmly commend Caleb Rosado.  It is also worth looking at Fight dem back! and Racism No Way.


See An American Racist? and make sure you play the video. This entry comes from American Humanity, another WordPress blog.

American Humanity was created in response the the hate speech, propaganda, and fear tactics being used by the anti-”illegal” immigrant groups at rallies in the New Jersey area.

I am of mixed European heritage and I do not believe that “illegal” immigrants are “invading” this country.  I simply believe that all people inherently want a good and secure life for themselves and their families.  However, greed and consumerism have caused many to fear these immigrants while, at the same time, exploiting them, and foreign labor, to keep the cost of living down for themselves.

I believe that compassion is the only tool we need to fight the problems of this world.  Hatred and greed are what’s been causing them all along.

Worth visiting.

I might mention too that my good friend Sirdan is originally a white Rhodesian farmer of Afrikaner descent. We have often had very interesting discussions on these matters, none more so than at the dinner in honour of Lord Malcolm at the Shakespeare Hotel where he opened up about his experience in conversation with myself and Kristina.

Some facts

Offshore Visa Grants by Top Ten Countries of Birth 2005-6

Sudan Iraq Afghan Burma Liberia Burundi S. Leone Congo (DRC) Eritrea Iran
3726 2150 1799 1118 888 740 460 363 274 232


The new blog

Nice entry on Thomas’s blog yesterday to which I respond here.

Afterthoughts on main post

Go to this blog: AFRICAN REFUGEES: Reflections on the life and times of African refugees in Australia. On some of the real issues see No support for African refugees: study.

Discrimination, language barriers, poor job opportunities and a lack of support are making it harder for African refugees to settle in Australia, a study has found.

The study by psychology researcher Renu Narchal, from the University of Western Sydney, examined the personal stories of 35 people who had moved from war-torn Somalia to Australia over the past eight years. Most were living in Sydney’s west. It found increasing numbers of Somali refugees were battling extreme loneliness that could lead to depression as they struggled to build a new life in Australia.

Africans found settling in Australia traumatic and isolating, as they were not used to their adopted country’s way of life.

Dr Narchal found discrimination on religious grounds and in the workplace was a common problem facing new arrivals from Africa. And language problems, uncertainties about cultural identity and insufficient support systems were making it harder for Somali people to adapt to their new world.

Dr Narchal said settlement in Australia could be made easier for migrants by making government services more culturally and socially aware of the needs of African immigrants…

About 9,000 African refugees have settled in Sydney since 2000, with 12,000 choosing Melbourne and about 5,000 each going to Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide.

The federal government has become embroiled in a race row in recent days after Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said poor integration was the reason for slashing Australia’s African refugee intake this year. This was at odds with his statement in August that the government was reducing its African refugee intake because conditions in African countries had improved, and Australia needed to take in more displaced people from Iraq and Burma.

In this year’s budget, Mr Andrews committed $200 million towards refugee support services over the next four years.

Uniting Church leaders say they are deeply concerned and disappointed by the federal government’s decision to cut the quota of Africans into Australia under the humanitarian refugee program. The Reverend David Pargeter, director of the Commission for Mission at the Uniting Church, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania says the refugees need support, not vilification.

“When a government minister, on the eve of an election, connects violent action with one particular cultural group, we know we have reached deeply into the darkness of racial politics,” Mr Pargeter said. “This, coupled with punitive action against one of the most traumatised refugee groups in Australia, exposes once again this government’s lack of understanding of what life is like for a refugee. African refugees need a break, not a smear campaign against them.”…

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13 responses to “Racism and racists and The Plonker’s latest foot-in-mouth attack

  1. ninglun

    October 8, 2007 at 10:28 pm


    Here’s an Aussie blog I found recently and have been meaning to review: Vridar: “A rationalist’s musings on humanity, religion (especially Christianity) politics and society.” It has some things on it that interest me and with which I may even agree. Later though…

  2. AV

    October 8, 2007 at 10:38 pm

    I see religious groups as part of that provided they don’t try to impose any peculiar views in an undemocratic spirit

    As do I. Religious groups that support democracy and secularism aren’t the problem.

    But they can have their two cents worth and lobby as much as they like, just as others can and do.

    Absolutely. And the rest of us are permitted to criticise them.

    I don’t think Andrews was being racist, as a matter of fact, merely incompetent.

    I don’t think he is a racist, necessarily: it is the policy I am critiquing. I think a reasonable definition of racism has to encompass the making of hasty generalisations about people based upon their race/ethnicity/land of origin–and the refugee policy appears to be based very much upon hasty generalisations (in this case, about Africans).

    See what Fran Kelly did to the poor plonker on ABC

    I actually heard that interview. (The wonders of live streaming.) He was asked to provide the evidence–in the form of facts and figures–regarding the integration of African refugees. He failed to do so, and then chided us all for neglecting to “name the problem.” Well, Mr Andrews, the “problem” seems thus far to be based on anecdote and hearsay. Where is the empirical evidence?

  3. ninglun

    October 8, 2007 at 11:01 pm

    I think Media Watch tonight has been very interesting on that last point. Certainly the television reports exposed there encourage, and exhibit, hasty generalisations about people based upon their race/ethnicity/land of origin and Andrews may have been unduly influenced by the way the media have framed the issue. However, as I mention towards the end of my post, serious reports on African settlers do reveal the usual kinds of issues one finds in most recently arrived communities, especially where the people concerned have come from traumatic situations. Professionally I am fairly familiar with those issues. Such issues do need to be discussed openly, fairly, and honestly. I had the experience of such honesty when dealing with the Korean community at one time, mainly because the Korean community itself was worried and really wanted a straight conversation rather than excessive cultural sensitivity.

    The whole “ethnic gang” meme is at work as well.

    On the other hand there are also good news stories, some of which I allude to in my post, and in earlier ones.

    That an adjustment to the refugee intake should happen if there are perceived problems this end waiting to be addressed is not in itself reprehensible; I am sure it has happened before in the past twenty years. Again, keep in mind that the current government’s record on black African refugees is better than that of the previous Labor government, whatever else one might say about the Dept of Whatever They Call It Today.

    As usual the “empirical evidence” suggests, if I may believe the Victorian Police Commissioner, that there is little empirical evidence. The media have fanned it for all it’s worth, and Andrews is too often a goose when trying to explain himself.

    And yes, I still have an underlying suspicion that at least someone — maybe not Andrews — is looking for a nice hot wedge issue.

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