Guy Rundle writes eloquently today on the racial frissons in America over the George Zimmerman trial, acquitted of killing unarmed African-American man Trayvon Martin:

“The Martin case illustrates the terrible dilemma the US faces. Its root problem is mutual fear and mistrust — frequently but not exclusively race-based — but the only ways of dealing with it that are available to them makes things worse. Had the Martin case occurred in 1963, it would be a multimedia page in a school textbook, illustrating the terrible legacy America was moving away from. To find it still occurring in the detritus of 2010s America, gated communities and wannabee cops, middle-class social fraying and squawk box media, is immensely depressing, because there is no promised land over the horizon, simply the long slog of making things less worse, or stopping them getting worse as fast as they otherwise would.”

You might draw similar conclusions on the asylum seeker issue here. For as much as a review of operations and assessment is needed — too many people are dying on the journey — the undercurrent of racism inherent in the debate threatens to boil over in an election campaign that now has two parties promising to be tougher on boats.

That undercurrent perhaps isn’t as strong as in the US (though the relationship with Aboriginal Australians is a long way from reconciled), but it’s near enough to the surface. As Kevin Rudd rewrites our policies, as Tony Abbott vows to toughen whatever he comes up with, both sides would be wise to bear this in mind.

No promised land, indeed.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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