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May 31, 2013

I am a racist and so are you

The Eddie McGuire-Adam Goodes fraccas is UFC for people who enjoy artisanal cheese. Everyone's a little bit racist, and if we all could just admit ...

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Helen Razer is a horrid racist who selfishly fails to understand the pain of indigenous Australia.

I make this declaration for two reasons. First, a simple cut’n’paste will now save several bloggers the trouble of typing it themselves. Second, it happens to be true.

I am white and I am Australian, and I believe that these data make the fact of my racism toward Aboriginal Australians ineluctable. A racism begun two centuries ago in explicitly genocidal policies — and continued in the implicitly genocidal Intervention — is in me as surely as it is in the social body. It doesn’t just leave because I say “scram”.

But, perhaps this is My Bad. It does seem there are an awful lot of Gubbas who’ve emptied themselves from history’s racist curse. Most of them, in fact, heaved their rich kindness onto the floor of Australian liberal media this week following the verbal abuse of Brownlow medalist Adam Goodes by a 13-year-old bint.

Would that I had the evolved compassion of a Sam de Brito sufficient to see Aboriginal Australians as “an ancient, unique people”. Perhaps I could work on seeing them as Mystic and Noble as well? Fortunately, many commentators did that work for me, with the Swan emerging as Rousseau’s Noble Savage in a great social media outpouring where we were reminded that Goodes was good.

I’m not sure what to make of all this, but I can’t help conclude that in order to be spared racism, you should be ancient or unique or really good with a footy and kids. The subeditor to an otherwise creditable piece by football fan Rhys Muldoon sees “Goodes rises above the pack”.

Oh. He’s a Tinted Inspiration To Us All!

This stuff — written for a white bourgeois liberal audience — does two unforgivable things. First, it casts Goodes as the Brave Aborigine who is a Credit to His People. Second, it outsources racism to the body of a 13-year-old girl and, later in the week, to Collingwood FC president Eddie McGuire.

If you want to know what McGuire or Miss Menarche said, Google it. I am not feeding the pornographic appetites of SEO for hate-speech. I will say, though, that anyone who has ever seen Hot Seat should not be surprised by McGuire’s hideous flub.  He’s that guy who reliably asks the heavyset lady when she’s due.

But, apparently, we must “call out racism” and we must see that McGuire undid “good work” and must be chastened.

Look. Yes. Eddie’s a dick. The man was made and is sustained by AFL so is obliged to take care when talking publicly about the league’s stars. Honestly, McGuire’s advantaged arse could probably do with a kicking for this nonsense. But a set-shot to the McGuire arse will score less than a behind.

One can hold that the incident highlights racism; that the pain so evident on Goodes’ face reminds all Australians of the horror of the Intervention or of the (widening) gap in quality of life between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.  A good piece in The Guardian reminds us that, in fact, that the incident should.

But it doesn’t.

It is not so much that censure of McGuire is a “distraction” from the matter of material reform; although of course, it is cheap liberal bourgeois entertainment. It is UFC for people who enjoy artisanal cheese. It is, rather, that our encroaching focus on the symbolic comes at the expense of the material. Chalk a rainbow. “Call out” s-xism. Say Sorry. All of these actions — great as they feel at the time — compound the idea that it is gestures and not healthcare that moves a society along.

It feels good to call somebody else a racist.  It is easy and rewarding for whitefellas to reprimand McGuire. It is difficult and thankless for us to confront the mess of guilt at our core.

I am white and I am Australian and I am a racist. The only way out of this shunless truth is to acknowledge it.

Helen Razer — Writer and Broadcaster

Helen Razer

Writer and Broadcaster

Helen Razer is a writer and broadcaster whose work has appeared in The Saturday Paper, SBS Online, The Big Issue, and Frankie. She has previously worked as a columnist for The Age and The Australian.

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54 thoughts on “I am a racist and so are you

  1. Andrew McIntosh

    Okay, so we white Australians are racist. Now what?

    Because it’s one thing to simply shrug one’s shoulders and “admit” that being a white Australian automatically means you inherit the sins of the past. Things get tricky when we want to fix the results of those sins. No one seems to have a clue. Or, if they do, they aren’t getting attention.

    Razer hints at a possible solution by bringing up healthcare. Of course, physical infrastructure that bridges the divide between impoverished Aboriginal communities and the rest of Australian society should be made, I’d take that as a given. But let’s suppose that such impoverishment was magically wiped out and every Aboriginal in Australia has the same standard of living as, give or take, the rest of us. What then? Is it okay to keep calling them “boongs” or what have you, just because we both work in the same office?

    It’s not entirely about basic, daily racism. A serious acknowledgment of who’s land this actually is should not be a mere gesture. An intense crime was committed – nothing less than the outright theft of land and attempt at genocide. And that can’t be fixed. No “welcome to country”, no inclusion of Aboriginal people in the constitution, none of these things will fix that. A total surrender of the land back to its original owners might do that, but that is never going to happen.

    I think we’re stuck with it. We are stuck with our racist past and heritage. It’s never going away. All the stupid name calling in the world will only ever be a shadow of that. All those who use terms like “boong” and “abo” and call people monkeys or apes or whatever, all of that is just a symptom of a sickness that we will never cure. Of course it would be better if those racist idiots would just shut up, but the attitude, the basic knowledge that we stole this country by force and tried to destroy its original inhabitants, will be the stench we bare until the next historic cycle of conquering and subjugation.

  2. Malcolm Harrison

    the ‘noble savage’ meme became evident during the week. the outpouring of judgement and righteousness first against a thirteen year old girl ‘who wasnt really to blame but should have somehow known better’, overshadowed by the uproar against Eddie McGuire who is after all just Eddie McGuire. all against a background of long suffreing
    Goodes who was ‘gutted’ by these cruel slurs on himself and by implication all aboriginal people who have been subject people these last two hundred years.

    It feels more like lynch mob mentality to me. Look, Eddie’s remark was facetious, an example of comic build. I’m sure Eddie had lost touch with the subject matter while he was creating the joke. the link between a king kong show and the girls comments just popped into his mind and looked like they belonged together. and of course they did belong together and while Eddie was recognising that and in fact giving voice to it he forgot to consider the possible consequence. i dont think issues of race were in Eddie’s mind at the time. I think in this instance he is more-or-less innocent of the charge made against him. He’s crass, but he’s not Ray Hadley, Allan Jones or Karl Sandilands. let’s get some perspective here.

    as for the ‘bint’, she was 13 and presumably reasonably small. someone of
    Goodes size and general bulk could very well seem like an ape or a gorilla. many men do. What she called Goodes could only be called racist if we establish that she was referring to his aboriginal appearance. if the girl was just as likely to call any such large man be he Russian, American, German etc, then the remark is not racist. it cant be racist to confuse somebody with an animal. Who is being vilified here, the man or the animal? After all many animals, including Apes, may not appreciate the comparison either.

    Excellent article, a purging of a group vomit.

  3. Rick Brooks

    It is interesting the commentary surrounding racial vilification stemming from the events in the past week in the AFL

    I agree with the sentiments surrounding political correctness gone crazy however it is interesting when you take a step back and take a broader, more considered view.

    While it is true certain individuals could be lazy, unintelligent, uncaring, useless, criminals or any number of other labels that one could think.

    And for those people, while the truth maybe a little inconvenient for them, it is true.

    And while they may play the victim card, for most it is the lot they choose and therefore they should accept it. And if they don’t like the label, change their attitude, toughen up, get over, grow up, what ever! But don’t complain.

    Where things go astray though is when people attach permanent attributes to these behaviours – smelling Asians, lazy blacks, dumb blondes, radical Muslim, useless so and so… we all know many more.

    Why is this?

    Attaching a negative variable to a permanent feature suggests there is nothing that person can do to change the situation – and if they buy this (due to the fact every one tells them it is so) – then it becomes a self-filling prophecy.

    And research suggests no amount support, develop or encouragement can lift a person past their self-perceived limit. With this self-belief the sub-conscious will always find a way to confirm what it sees as reality. The behaviour will confirm the belief/label.

    So, how frustrating would it be to want to be better than that world knows you can be.

    To know that no matter how hard you struggle you will always be labelled, you are what you are labelled and that is that

    Call a spade a spade but don’t judge or value it just because it is a spade

  4. samistapol

    IMHO Helen is admirable for going where others don’t dare to. I think it is well worth trying to understand the realities of racism and how to deal with it. It won’t get dealt with by trying to pretend we are all virtuous, while ignoring reality.

    For further reading on this I can recommend the Global Mail’s article at http://www.theglobalmail.org/blog/you-call-that-racism/627/ on Olga Havnen, who was appointed by the NT government to report on the delivery of remote services, and was sacked quite possibly for producing a comprehensive report (linked to by the above article) showing how bad that delivery is. She also highlights what she calls “covert racism” which is a lot more destructive, although largely invisible, than the overt kind that brings on such public handwringing these days.

    The problems that Ms Havnen describes are awfully difficult; I don’t know how to fix them but I do believe we need to make more of an effort to solve them, at several levels.

  5. Warren Joffe

    The Comments make me feel better about Crikey and its readership. Razer’s self-indulgent waffly piece has been called out. Does she think she would be doing a service by making word’s like “racism” and “genocide” ones to avoid as immediately suspect markers of empty intellects who would be troubled if they had to find words for precise arguments about precisely defined concepts. Maybe they are already – together with, e.g. “elitist”.

    Surely Razer remembers the caning the authors of “Bringing Them Home” [name of inquiry report from memory] got for their misguided, and indeed counter-productively insensitive use of “genocide” used because it was inflammatory and attention-grabbing and purportedly justified by some specialised use of it a UN document which included the destruction of culture within the concept. It is insulting to those who have truly been subjected to genocide – Jews, gypsies, Tutsi e.g. and maybe Khmer people at the expense of other Khmer at a pinch – to regard any policy of organised authority in Australia (in practice always government in pre-democratic colonial or self-governing democratic form) as genocidal. Worse, it is inaccurate and a negative contribution to understanding.

    No discussion of the plight of Aborigines in Australia (i.e. those of whom it makes any sense to speak of their “plight”) should fail to make the distinction between the majority who are intermarrying with non-Aborigines freely and/or earning a living in mainstream ways, or on welfare in a mainstream manner, and the desperate products of Nugget Coombs’ madness of 40 and more years ago. Anyone who thinks the intervention wasn’t necessary in some form should give some evidence that they have better ideas about bringing that significant minority of Aborigines into a modern healthy life of educated people able to cope with the world as it is and enjoy its possibilities. As everywhere in the world where there are poor, especially poor indigenous, people educating and supporting women is the key. And we need to expect a big pay off only after many years.

    To suggest that Aborigines can do it all for themselves is of course as absurd as suggesting that in the mid 19th century it was patronising and unnecessary to prescribe curriculum and syllabi for the illiterate classes.

    The word for those who believed in the superiority of some races over others used to be “racialist” and it was obviously a bit vague and at least as unscientific as the Nazis’ monstrosities. After all the British or English might be called a “race” when what was really being referred to was those who belonged to the nation and were, or should be, patriotically at one. (It is doubtful that Huguenots would have been excluded despite any differences in DNA).

    It is worth making a distinction. On the one hand there are those whose emphasis is on culture like the many Americans who are concerned about the changes being and likely to be wrought on American society by the huge influx of legal and illegal Mexican and other Latin American immigrants, their relatively large families and their different cultures, including ethnic and family solidarity conducive to corruption. (There has always been plenty of corruption to worry about in the US but the ethnic varieties of the past weren’t such a problem so long as the existing population continued to have large families and weren’t being outbred.)

    The true “racist” one might suppose is one who thinks that one or more of the identifiable extended families of largely inbreeding peoples is/are superior to others in some way that matters a lot. It was once possible to identify with some clarity “races” in that sense such as East Asians, Northern Europeans, Ashkenazi Jews, Bantu etc. (Australian Aborigines were by no means all one “race” or extended family however much some would like to pretend they are or have been, but Australia has been home to more than a few of those extended families).

    It should be, though it has often proved not to be, harmless and unobjectionable to note that descendants of West Africans are physically blessed with sprinters’ speed in a way which must be genetic (on average should always be understood). Some East Africans, particularly mountain people, are superior distance runners, Australian Aborigines tend to have superior eyesight (like test pilots), Sherpas can live well at very high altitudes, and so on.

    It is when significant differences in average IQ or equivalent measure of cognitive performance or ability persist between ethnic groups over many decades together with correlated low employability and high criminality that the danger is that contempt or, perhaps worse, fear, will become part of the mental furniture of those not in that ethnic group. If the old idea, no longer tenable, that the Irish were thick by nature had been true then it needn’t have mattered much once the Irish in Glasgow or Liverpool began to sound like locals. But nearly all African-Americans will remain immediately identifiable as such and the fact that there are very many African-Americans who perform better on tests of cognitive ability than the average white person won’t be enough. With the Irishman in Liverpool, long before you had a chance to consider whether, if it mattered, he was dim or smart, you would have just seen another white person who spoke much the same way most of your neighbours did. But the first thing your System 1 thinking (using the terminology of Kahnemann’s “Think Fast, Thinking Slow” – System 1 being the fast thinking intuition) does is see the black skin.

    Contempt and fear tend to go together and both are great curses on both perpetrator and victim, despiser and despised. Some conduct, perhaps some people, deserve contempt though it is not an emotion which is a blessing for the one who feels contempt. Perhaps the rule we should try and practice and to teach is careful discrimination. Treat individuals as individuals and try to understand the differences between people in detail. Leave lazy even if not entirely inaccurate generalisations to condemning conduct and doing so without personal responsibility for providing precise diagnosis and remedies. Of course those drink sodden child abusers in some outstations engage in contemptible conduct which is prevalent there in a way it is not in the average capital city suburb (and wouldn’t have been thought to be so amongst clergy….. let’s not be too self-righteous about the way we think and what we know in 2013), and it would be an absurd fear of being called “racist” that prevented us from saying so.

  6. Christopher Nagle

    There is afoot an orgy of racistology and guilt edged ideological self flagellation which betrays a masochistic enjoyment of self revulsion and collective ideological feces smearing.

    Or perhaps I am being a bit generous here. Perhaps this is just the final apotheosis of a ‘progressive’ political ideology that is running on empty and starting to eat itself to stay relevant.

    There is more cant talked about racism than any other subject I can think of. And the worst of it is that it isn’t doing anything to help the perceived poor thing victims of history. Victimology never does, because it removes from said victim any real responsibility to transform their situation.

    People who are bent on transfomational empowerment don’t give a damn about what others think because they know that they are going to be history winners and the carpers don’t matter. That is what empowerment means. They know that their success in whatever they are doing is the final answer and the only one that matters.

    Our migration system is bringing people onto this continent that put the traditional sufferings of indigenous people into some kind of perspective; people who really do understand what mass murder and genocide really is, rather than an ideological inflation to get intellectual traction.

    No self respecting Somali is going to take any notice of a bit of white trash with a big mouth. And it is time our indigenous brothers and sister took the same attitude.

    Enough bullshit my ideological preciouses…..

  7. zac48

    Racism has been a fine art practised by and taught to the Aborigines of this country. The absolute, aggressive, determined, narrow minded and deliberate “self-alienation”, “disassociation”, “dis-unity” and “separation” of the Aboriginal community from mainstream Australian society and the now generational teaching to the Aboriginal people that they are special, superior, different from, unique and somehow more justified human beings than anyone else is the direct cause of self inflicted conflict….The great irony is that the confused, self-righteous hand-wringers who would perpetuate this delusion throughout the Aboriginal community don’t allow anywhere near the same right of national and cultural recognition to the Anglo/European, Judeo/Christian culture that built this country from the ground up, and scream rascism because Australians don’t want to see this country turned into another Islamic, Hindi or other Middle Eastern or Asian cultured diaspora. But then what hope did only 10 million Australian’s have of maintaining their own cultural identity in the face of such overwhelming numbers….That’s why the far seeing past generations came up with the “White Australia Policy” because the destiny of such a small Anglo/Euro, Christian/Judeo society existing in the heart of Sth. East Asia was inevitably going to be under threat, as it is. The Chinese have already chosen a new name for Australia. They’ve decided on “Aodaliya”, which I suppose has a nice ring to it, if you happen to be Chinese…..Don’t forget to celebrate “Cubbie Station Day” on the 12th. October, when Australia commemorates the Labor Party sanctioned and blessed sale of Australia’s largest viable “farm”(the largest in the entire world), lock, stock and water rights to the Communist government of China…mate.

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