So, are Australians racist?
Currently, I believe that the use of the phrase “Australian” is problematic. There are three linked concepts here that IMO should be delinked. One is that of nationalism or nationality, the others are that of race and culture.
In Australia, many people say Australian when they mean Anglo Australian. They also mean Anglo Australian that was born here as opposed to Pommie Australian or what have you. Now, using “Australian” in this way can either by a lazy shorthand for saying Anglo-Australian or it could be an exclusionary use of the word in the sense that unless you are an Australian born Anglo (or white), you cannot be considered a “real” Australian. The former is not racist, the latter is racist. I’ll define the latter attitude here as that of racial nationalism.
There is another broader category of people within the Australian population (and i believe J Ho falls in here) who uses “Australian to define a cultural belief system. I’ll define that attitude as cultural nationalism. Pure cultural nationalists dont care what colour you are so long as you are culturally Australian that is for example, you speak english, play footy and *insert favourite ocker cliche here*.
The seperation however between the racial and cultural nationalism is complex as both use “Australian”. Most native born Anglo Australians, I believe have an undifferentiated mix of both attitudes. When it comes down to it, in my experience, very few are racial nationalists. however, many of them easily shift into racial nationalists mode when defensive or threathened or paradoxically when called racists.
Finally, there are the multi-cultural nationalists where Australia is an umbrella term meaning a single liberal democratic system with mutual respect and tolerance for all cultures within it. Multi-cultural nationalists dont believe there is a single primary culture that defines Australia. However, they recognise there is a majority culture (of course) with history and tradition. I’m going to leave a deeper analysis of this to the next post.
Most native born Anglo Australians these days have a lot of day to day experience with nonwhite noncultural Australians. And it is pushing their ideas of racial or cultural nationalism into that of multi-cultural nationalism in very direct and challenging ways. Most of the resistance I hear come in the form of “they cant even speak english” which I would deem cultural nationalism backlash as opposed to racial nationalism backlash vis-a-vis cronulla.
Again, this is an oversimplification of course because people can generalise this fear into the entire racial group pushing them from cultural nationalists to racial nationalists. The media can easily accelerate this process. Breaking down the anti-lebanese concepts on tv and radio, I find that most of it is culturally specific to start with and then over-generalised first to Islam (again culture) then to ethnic appearence. The media loves doing this of course and people like it too because the complex becomes simple. They no longer have to tussle with ideas of culture, the “Other” becomes easily identifiable through physical markers.
However, I also believe that the reverse (ie pushing racial nationalism to cultural nationalism and maybe even multicultural nationalism) is possible through the process of engagement and deconstructing the usage of the phrase “Australian”. A process that becomes impossible whenever the tag racist is used by multicultural nationalists.
The question then becomes whether cultural nationalism is based on a belief that the native born Anglo Australian culture is superior and if that is racist in itself. I’d say that cultural superiority is definately there, there is a sacrosanct Australian way of life with sun, sand and bikined girls. Threathening this way brings out a big fear/fight response and pushes a whole lot of people into the racial nationalist mode.
However, I dont think a feeling of cultural superiority is racist so long as it is not associated with race but with a set of beliefs. The problem is that this is not usually very clear cut. Partly because Australia’s history is rife with racial nationalism. In fact, I’d say until the advent of multi-culturalism, Australia so totally conflated white and ocker and aussie that it was impossible for them to be anything but racial nationalists where race and culture were indivisible. This conflation/confusion is still with us and it flares up too, but I feel (hope) in ever diminishing areas.
My next post examines cultural nationalism and multicultural nationalism.
PS: There is also another reason why I hesitate to use the racist tag because when someone is a racist, it implies that they will never be anything but one and the only real thing one can do is oppose them or restrict them or put them in jail. It is easy to fear racists and to hate them. And if ethnic minorities fall into the overgeneralisation trap, it then becomes quite easy to fear and hate Anglo Australians and become racists themselves.
I generally regard most Anglo Australians as unconscious cultural nationalists who see-saw between that and racial nationalism and is often confused about one or the other. I find that believing this allows me to engage with Anglo Australian even when they come up with the most outragoues stereotypes and generalisations and steer them into differentiating between race, culture and nationality. IME, your average Anglo Australian is happy and quite able to understand these concepts, even if most will not let go of cultural nationalism.