Australia is too afraid to start a conversation about race

Stephanie Guy
Stephanie Guy  /  3 Comments

Australia: my home, the land of kangaroos, beetroot in burgers, Bondi Beach babes and a whole lot of nervous people who don’t want to talk about race.

Talking seriously about race and racism is supremely uncomfortable for some. No one likes to be told they’re wrong. No one genuinely wants to hear another side of the story. No one likes to hear that they are implicit in a system that thrives on hierarchies based on ‘race’; hierarchies they rely on to support their way of life.

This is how racism is approached in Australia. It’s founded on two pillars of colour-blindness and victim blaming, and obscured by multiculturalism. Overt racial violence (like the video from Sydney we saw circulating earlier this week) is met with public outrage; the perpetrator is labeled as ‘un-Australian’, we massage the ego of white Australians who would never do or say anything like that and go about our day. Ultimately, nothing is done about the more subtle and insidious institutional and structural racisms.

Australia desperately needs to have a greater conversation about racism that goes beyond these isolated incidents. The country still perpetuates the myth that colonisation was unproblematic; that frontier violence was accidental, trivial or has been overstated; that Indigenous peoples’ claims of sovereignty are just “selfish rabble”; that full recognition of their pre-colonial inhabitancy is just too difficult. This is where the blindness starts. As a colonial country, Australia seriously struggles to look in the mirror.

As both the left and right of Australian politics would have you believe, to talk about race is to be racist. Australia refuses to view itself as implicated in and profiting from racism, and distances itself from culpability because race ‘is not about us, it’s about them’.

Australia is so self-assured that it doesn’t have institutional racism, to the extent that a substantial majority of its population have become world-class victim blamers. According to this sentiment, the only reason migrants (of colour) have less opportunity is because they fail to ‘integrate’ (they may have changed the policy to ‘integration’, but let’s be honest, they still mean assimilation). Indigenous economic disadvantage is apparently not due to systemic and trans-generational racism, but because Indigenous Australians choose to be welfare dependent ‘dole bludgers’. These are only two examples of the insistence that disadvantage has nothing to do colonial structures, but a lack of motivation or willpower.


Sanitised encounters with diversity


If Australia really wanted to look at race, it would have to start a painful introspection, revisiting the evils of colonisation and its continuing processes, excavating enduring institutional racism, unveiling the unspoken acceptance of white (male, Christian) hegemony. To talk about race, white Australia would have to racialise itself. It would have to see whiteness not just as the norm, but a cause, and benefactor, of racism. But doing this would erode the foundations upon which the colonial country was built and ain’t nobody got time for that.

When Australia tries to approach issues of diversity, it doesn’t think about race. It is obsessed with multiculturalism, and multiculturalism is treated as a celebration. ‘Look at how diverse we are!’ At multicultural festivals across the country, well meaning white people eat ‘traditional’ food, listen to ‘authentic’ music, peruse stalls selling ‘genuine’ artefacts, and refrain from casual racism for a day. They go home buoyed by how diverse Australia is, reveling in their participation in that diversity, and silently wonder if that last gözleme they ate was a bit dodgy…

It’s a self-gratifying pat-on-the-back, assuaging white guilt by engaging the ‘other’ in a sanitised and safe environment. Multiculturalism doesn’t pose a threat to the Australian nation. It embeds a hierarchy that continually positions white Australians at the top, Indigenous people at the bottom, and People of Colour in the messy bit in between. It does not effect anything close to anti-racism.

White Australians turn a blind ey

White Australians exist in a culture of blindness

I support the actions of Stacey Eden and the many others who have actively aligned themselves with the anti-racist movement. While I think it is shameless self-promotion to film yourself acting the ‘white saviour’, these people are speaking up about something that has far too long been silent. The biggest danger to anti-racism in Australia is for people to remain bystanders and silently acquiesce to the racist few. But I hope this enables the rest of Australia to be introspective. Australia needs to have an honest conversation about race. It needs to look at how institutional and structural racism is toxic and far-reaching, and embedded so deep in society, and stop being a posterboy for right-wing twat bags like Katie Hopkins to impose their uneducated views on people who have more than half a brain and a smattering of a conscience.

The newfound willingness to speak up against overt racism is only the beginning of a long battle. Australia needs to strip itself of its reliance on colour-blindness and victim blaming, and use the platform of multiculturalism to actually effect change. Any sort of racism impedes full access to a prosperous civil society. If it doesn’t take the lead from the many Australians who are tired of racism, the country will only continue to fail itself.

  • antipodean

    I agree with your central premise but there are many, many damaging generalisations in this article, the most smugly arrogant being “They go home buoyed by how diverse Australia is, reveling in their
    participation in that diversity, and silently wonder if that last
    gözleme they ate was a bit dodgy…”. By all means, attack the vocal minority who espouse racist or anti-immigrant views, and encourage passive bystanders to engage, but falling back onto condescending tropes and assumptions about the hearts and minds of the average punter undermines your argument. Equally, how can you actually substantiate that a ‘substantial majority of its population have become world-class victim blamers’? It’s clearly a complex issue, but empty rhetoric won’t solve it

  • Howard

    Complete drivel.

  • putetrekk

    Let’s just list up all the structures ones and for all pleas. Stop blaming the ghost, show the ghost, or accept it is not there, other wise “racism” and “anti-racism” is nothing else then religions. Fu#k them both I say, and let’s get down and dirty with actual discrimination, and let’s deal with it regardless of skin tone and ethnic background.