Fighting racism needs to go beyond banning symbols and ‘bad words’

29 Jun 2023

Arrernte writer Celeste Liddle speaks up about the racism, targeted and racialised bullying she has endured, concluding that Australia has little hope of ever eradicating the extreme racism of fascists.

Readers be advised this article mentions racial slurs as examples of racism.

The Federal Government recently made overtures about banning the display of the Hakenkreuz, except in educational and similar circumstances (I use the term Hakenkreuz deliberately, in recognition that swastikas have had religious and cultural significance for a number of non-white groups, and this is the specific term for the Nazi version). The response was predictable. I saw politicians stating these symbols have “no place” in a wonderful country such as Australia, some soft lefties saying this was “long overdue”, some right-wingers gnashing their teeth in disgust about ‘political correctness gone mad’, and the rest of us wondering what it will achieve in a country so intrinsically linked with its racist foundation.

More than anything, this upswing of far right activity to the point where they believe they can again parade in front of Vic Parliament, throw a few salutes, flash their SS tattoos and lift some weights to show off their gigantic tanks of testosterone, should be surprising to no one who takes the time to think for ten minutes a day. Even if you don’t avidly read and watch the materials of those who document far right activity in this country like I do, this increase in Nazi groups has been documented several times in mainstream media. What tends to get missed in mainstream coverage though is that Australia, in all honesty, provides a safe space for these far right movements, and has done so for an incredibly long time.

It’s such a problem that the largest portion of anti-terrorism funding gets spent on investigating far right activity. It’s also nothing new. Australia openly celebrates historical figures who have been affiliated with far right activity and eugenics – from Miles Franklin, to Adela Pankhurst, to the women who founded Family Planning NSW. As I have stated several hundred times now, this country was founded on the erasure of several tens of thousands of years of Indigenous occupation because us belonging here was inconvenient for colonisers, and additionally, vestiges of the White Australia Policy remain in Australia’s constitution to this day.

Melbourne has been a breeding ground for White Nationalists for quite a while. The “progressive city” has seen the creation of the United Patriots Front and the True Blue Crew, as examples. Neo-Nazi grouplets have now set up a couple of gyms so they can have safe spaces to work on their “master race” goals. Yet mostly, people tend to ignore this is the case.

Back in March, a group of feminists in Melbourne, who had decided that pumping up the numbers at a speak-out by British anti-trans-rights commentator Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull – a woman whose politics are decidedly not feminist (as she’s stated herself), but rather, biological essentialist – were shocked that a group of White Nationalists felt perfectly comfortable showing up to their rally to show their support. It would have been hilarious,  if it weren’t so damned predictable.

In the wake of this mass synaptic misfire, I found a number of feminists removing themselves from my social media feed because I had the hide to suggest, as a long-identifying Aboriginal feminist, that the curation of an event where both women who care nothing for my life and liberties, and Nazis, feel perfectly welcome at, is not a “feminist space” I could possibly feel remotely safe in. Or that it shouldn’t take a genius to figure out why I would proudly be standing with trans folks, not to mention women of colour, disabled women, and anyone else who had been a victim of eugenics and biological essentialism, in that circumstance. I mean, seriously?

Of course, as someone who has been engaged in a variety of social justice movements for a very long time, this has not been the first instance where I have felt abandoned by movements I am engaged in because they lack the ability to confront their own racism. As mentioned by Bizzi Lavelle, nearly a year ago now, I removed myself from Twitter due to constant racialised attacks. These attacks were not coming from the “racist right”. They were coming from feminists, unionists, Labor party members and other white social progressives, almost entirely. Why? Because I had the hide, as an Aboriginal woman with a bit of profile, to participate in the democratic process as a political candidate.

Naturally, none of these people, who hounded and attacked me for months, would see their comments as an act of racism. As we saw with Stan Grant’s recent exit from QandA, despite him making it explicit that the real issue for him was the lack of support and protection he felt from his workplace when he was facing some disgusting onslaughts online, and from other news providers, many in the left quickly reduced his problems to “some people called Stan some bad words”, erasing his real experiences. And so it is with a majority of the left where, unless the words “boong” or “Abo” actually pass their lips, they don’t believe themselves to be racist. Truly, at least with the overt forms, the ability to instantly call it out can give us some peace. The same can’t be said for when they bully, exclude or try to chip away at us merely for existing (or trying to) in their white spaces and institutions.

When it came to my circumstance, trying to get a bunch of alleged progressives to recognise that what they were engaging in was targeted and racialised bullying was near-on impossible because almost none of them said the “bad words”. It didn’t occur to them that their targeting of just me, when a party was running candidates in every seat nationally and many had a much smaller margin to conquer than I had, was racism. Or that talking to me like I was a naughty little Blak girl who didn’t know her place, was racism. Take these examples:

By the time the election was finally over and done with, I had pages and pages of this documented. I was also broken and exhausted. Not a single other Greens lower house candidate dealt with this. Indeed, the only person I saw copping the same was Lidia Thorpe and guess what we have in common? None of these people would consider their actions as racist. The media commentator I witnessed gleefully contributing to the pile-on of me being orchestrated by Labor shitposting pages would also not consider her actions as being fuelled by racism. 

Ironically, those same online spaces went so far to feign outrage when I expressed qualms about One Nation gaining support in the seat. They were so focused on their hatred of me,  they seemingly didn’t see a problem with their “real racists” feeling comfortable in my neighbourhood. Nearly all of these people are busy proving their “progressive credentials” by outwardly supporting the Voice right now, while shouting down those who dare ask questions, or who problematise Labor’s track record on actually enacting anti-racism legislation.

There’s a lot more to this story, but perhaps that’s best kept for a follow-up piece? Suffice to say, I believe that most of Australia’s problems with continued fascist threats in our society arise from an inability to confront a history that includes terra nullius and the White Australian Policy leading to an actual tolerance of these very ideals. However there is also the fact that those who believe they are on top of it  – the social progressives who parade their awesome politics for all to see – are complacent and generally ignorant of what racism consists of. They don’t really care one iota about tearing down the systems that exclude others, because they benefit from these very systems. When we dare attempt to work within these systems, we are reminded pretty quickly, and rabidly, that we don’t belong. 

At the end of the day, Australia has little hope of ever eradicating the extreme racism of fascists due to this ignorance and tolerance. No amount of legislation banning symbols and salutes is ever going to change this.

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