Same names are a funny thing. Paul Kelly is both the great Australian songwriter and the grating Australian bloviator, Michael Moore is both the arch enemy of capitalism and the ex-head of the WTO, and for several years total confusion reigned in social policy debate because there were two academics named Peter Saunders with opposing views on just about everything.

Now there’s another duo to add — the two Marcia Langtons. Confusingly they’re both professors of indigenous studies. There the similarity ends. One Marcia Langton launched a ferocious attack, in yesterday’s Sunday Age, against Andrew Bolt and his defenders, arguing that Bolt’s obsession with skin identity was influenced by:

“… the silent assumptions of a code of racial hygiene that is older than this nation itself. It was ideas about racial purity, racial hygiene, the master race, the inferior races, a perverted idea about the survival of the fittest and other such nonsense that led to the incarceration of Aboriginal people in reserves in the 19th century to prevent ”mixing” of the ”races” and later, the segregation laws that specified where and how ”half-castes” and other ”castes” could live …”

Strong stuff — and a strong rebuke to the other Marcia Langton, who earlier in the year joined in the vociferous attacks on Larissa Behrendt noting, on April 15 in The Australian that Behrendt was:

“… the principal litigant in a case against conservative columnist Andrew Bolt, who published several columns accusing the ‘fair-skinned’ Behrendt and others of falsely claiming to be Aboriginal to get the perks. Australians, whether they support reconciliation or not, must be astonished at the viciousness of the twittering sepia-toned Sydney activists. Andrew Bolt should be rubbing his hands with glee — Behrendt has delivered on all of his stereotypes, and this time I have to wonder if he is not right after all.”

Wow. Serious accusations from Marcia Langton (2). Fortunately, yesterday Marcia Langton (1) had an answer:

“Among the many race-obsessed expressions in [Bolt’s] offensive, and now, unlawful, columns was the accusation that the defendants, all ”fair-skinned” Aboriginal people, claimed to be Aboriginal to receive certain benefits. As every person who has been raised by an Aboriginal parent knows, we must be ”twice as good as the white man” to finish school and get a job and suffer endless racist slurs while doing so from idiots who say things like, ‘You don’t look Aboriginal. Why don’t you identify as white?'”

But that special pleading cuts no ice with Marcia Langton (2), who in April thought the sepia sisters got an easy ride:

“I met Bess Price on the banks of the Katherine River with her husband in 1980 … I learned she was from Yuendumu, born and raised there … Behrendt, on the other hand, was raised in suburban Sydney. Her mother is white … It was in the Aboriginal political scene of Sydney that Behrendt found her forte: legal and academic arguments about human rights. She has since turned to writing novels … Behrendt and the other anti-intervention campaign maestros have assumed the role of superior thinkers whose grand education and positions in the metropolis qualify them to heap contempt on the natives of that faraway place …”

This is all very confusing, especially for other participants. For example, Bolt name checked Marcia Langton (2) in his peekaboo way during the attacks on Behrendt:

Andrew Bolt

Friday, April 15, 2011 at 06:06am

In order to better preserve my right to free speech I cannot comment about Marcia Langton’s article, even to correct an error, Nor, on legal advice, may I comment about this news story or this editorial.
For legal reasons I cannot allow you to comment, either.

Yesterday, on his blog, he was less happy with Marcia Langton (1)’s arguments:

“That what I’ve said could be so wilfully misrepresented as its very opposite and published in a major metropolitan daily is absolutely extraordinary. That a robust reply, perhaps referencing Langton herself and quoting at length from my articles, risks being declared unlawful is an outrage against our free speech.”

Pity really. Bolt had hitherto had positive thoughts for one or both Marcia Langtons earlier, in her/their search for hidden racism:

Andrew Bolt

Tuesday, August 19, 2008 at 07:16am

Langton is right:

Marcia Langton has delivered a stinging rebuke to Germaine Greer, describing her views as outdated and simplistic and condemning the feminist for a “cleverly disguised” racist attack on Aboriginal people. Writing in The Australian today, Professor Langton dismisses Greer’s claims that Aboriginal men suffer a rage they “can’t get over” … “Taken as a whole, her arguments are racist,” says Professor Langton, the chair of Australian indigenous studies at Melbourne University. “They are also just plain wrong.”

While Paul Kelly (bloviator not singer), in an attack on Robert Manne’s criticisms of Behrendt-gate noted in defence:

“Should the paper have refused to publish Marcia Langton’s furious assault on Behrendt? Was it not newsworthy that other indigenous leaders attacked her government appointment?”

Bet The Oz is asking itself that question right now. Let’s leave the final words to Marcia Langton (2):

“Just like the old Protection Board of the 19th century, [Bolt] must believe that he can intimidate and terrify Aboriginal people into sneaking away and pretending to be ”white”, to deny their Aboriginal parentage and upbringing and the values and world view learnt in an Aboriginal family.”

And Marcia Langton (1):

“… Behrendt and company [believe] the natives are simply not smart or sophisticated enough to know what is right for them. Once upon a time this was the role of the patrol officers, now it’s the turn of the city slicker Aborigines with an axe to grind.”

Wonderful stuff. The debate between the two Marcia Langtons looks set to continue for years to come.

Peter Fray

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