Karmaphobia or: How to be a racist but still be a good person

5 Apr 2016

Sorry white peeps, this isn’t a useful ‘How to’, as the heading suggests, but don’t worry because most white people are already experts at this. Racism isn’t just the overt hatred of other races, and it isn’t always blind hatred either, but if you were raised in Australia then you have probably been far more regularly exposed to racist attitudes than you have been to almost anything else.

No single raindrop thinks it is to blame for the flood.

Sorry white peeps, this isn’t a useful ‘How to’, as the heading suggests, but don’t worry because most white people are already experts at this.

Racism isn’t just the overt hatred of other races, and it isn’t always blind hatred either, but if you were raised in Australia then you have probably been far more regularly exposed to racist attitudes than you have been to almost anything else.

You may have been taught in school that Captain Cook ‘discovered’ Australia, and you may not have been taught much at all about Aboriginal peoples, cultures or histories.

You may not have known that there are hundreds of Aboriginal nations.

Or that there were countless resistance fighters who died opposing the invasion of their countries, or that the last of these battles are still within living memory.

On the other hand though, you have probably heard that Aboriginal people are all drunks, or child abusers, or that we can’t be given homes because we’ll just rip up the floor boards and burn them.

You’ve probably heard that ‘it was 200 years ago’, and we are just ‘living in the past’.

That we get everything for free, from houses to education, to dog food, loans, cars and jobs.

You’ve probably heard that this information isn’t racist though, because whoever told you that probably qualified it by telling you how not racist they are. How they went to school with an Aboriginal person. How some of their best friends are Aboriginal. Or how it’s only ‘those sort of Aborigines’ they hate, and that if they could just be like the ‘good Aborigines’ they know then there’d be no problem.

Traditionally in Australia, the distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Aborigines often took the form of hatred towards ‘full-bloods’ or ‘half-castes’ and ‘quadroons’ and one of those groups was exalted for either maintaining their identity or for assimilating better, respectively. As these oversimplified classifications fell out of fashion we have found other ways to still say the same basic thing, but avoid the outdated Eugenics based language that goes with it.

You’ve also probably heard about those poor white people who are too scared to speak the truth about any of this for fear of being called racist. How even the police are too scared to arrest Aboriginal people because they are scared of being called racist.

If you grew up in a white dominated Western country like Australia it would be a miracle if you were not affected by this bombardment of racist information on the one hand, and the overwhelming lack of information countering it on the other.

Despite this statistical likelihood that your views have been shaped by the racist attitudes of yesteryear, white Australia still thinks that being called racist is the worst thing that could possibly happen to anyone, worse even than experiencing racism on a regular basis from individuals as well as from the media, the government, and the knowledge that this is the general status quo.

A Charlie Hedbo article even referred to being merely called an Islamaphobe or a racist to a ‘form of terrorism’.

This is what lies behind the infamous line ‘I’m not racist, but’… the desire to not be called a racist is remarkably strong yet, amazingly, it rarely leads to any introspection or reflection or education. It rarely leads individuals to challenge the assumptions they have been raised with, largely in thanks to the endless array of logical fallacies that exist to help people avoid having to confront these attitudes (you’re just trying to make me feel guilty, it’s PC gone mad, Cultural marxism, living in the past etc), coupled with the apparent difficulty many people have in finding out this information even if they do try to learn more.

A lot of it has to do with the weight allegedly given to the label ‘racist’. With the exception of your overt, ‘proud’ racists, most people don’t like to think of themselves in this light. A racist is an unequivocally ‘bad’ person; a member of the KKK, someone who loves Hitler, someone who hates all members of all other races. How could such a horrific term apply to them?

Just like other terms that we equate to ‘being bad’, we like not to think of them applying to us. Eg you might steal a few office supplies from work occasionally, but you certainly aren’t a ‘thief’. You might like a drink, but probably don’t like to think of yourself as a ‘drunk’.

And for those mean Aboriginal people to use terms like ‘racist’ to describe things that you have said or done seems grossly unfair.

Clearly, they are just being too sensitive or, more likely, they just call everyone racist to try and make white people feel guilty because… reasons.

In this way, Australia has been able to maintain its racist attitudes, policies and practices without ever needing to meaningfully address them and without anyone needing to feel that they themselves play a part in this. But when we talk about institutional racism, we aren’t talking about the bricks and the ceiling fans. Racism doesn’t require overt hatred, or self-identification as ‘racist’. It just requires people to justify the racism that does exist, while distancing themselves from having any part to play in it.

We saw this justification at play during the Goodes booing saga: ‘Of course it’s not racist – if it was racist then all Aboriginal players would be getting booed!’

But this is how racism operates within the sphere of still wanting to be a good person. Most people don’t just go around booing at every Aboriginal person they walk past in the street, but give them an opportunity boo one Aboriginal person within what they perceive to be a socially acceptable setting and watch them line up around the block to boo. Not only that, but watch them line up to enthusiastically explain how it isn’t at all racism. The most interesting thing was how many people not only denied that racism was in any way involved in their own actions, they denied it was a factor for everyone else too.

There is a great quote I read a long time ago that argued that ‘Europeans didn’t become slave traders because they were racist, they became racist because they were slave traders.’

This is an important consideration. As Christian attitudes shifted towards the idea that ‘all men are created equal’, and that we are all ‘the children of God’, it became harder to justify such horrendous acts towards fellow human beings. Rather than stop what was unquestionably a very profitable trade, it became necessary to dehumanise victims of slavery and maintain profits.

This is the missing ingredient that most people overlook: racism = profits. Profits largely derived from stolen lands and from exploited labour.

This doesn’t sit well with a nation that considers itself the ‘lucky country’ and the ‘land of a fair go’, so we deny or try to justify our history of invasion, of slavery, and of ongoing profiteering from Aboriginal lands. This doesn’t just apply to mining by the way, it applies to everything. The entire country and everything within it.

So it isn’t just a fear of being a ‘bad person’ that we have to contend with, it is the fear of losing ill-gotten gains. The fear of losing the privilege that has been derived at the expense of Aboriginal people. The fear of karma… karmaphobia.

I have often thought that both alien invasion movies and zombie movies have a lot to do with invasion karmaphobia, with aliens representing the ‘technologically superior’ unstoppable force (how white people see themselves), while zombies represent the brainless violent horde (how white people perceive Aboriginal people and other races whose lands they have stolen, whose labour they have exploited, and whose bodies they have inflicted countless acts of violence against).

So, when people say that eliminating racism is simply a matter of education, they aren’t quite right. There is a level of cognitive dissonance at play that it is so strong it could be equated to trying to teach algebra to someone who fundamentally believes that learning algebra will literally cause themselves to lose their homes and all of their possessions and potentially be violently murdered as a result.

I saw these fears in the lead up to the Mabo decision, which overturned the myth of Terra Nullius while still upholding the ‘legitimacy’ of white Australian sovereignty over the country. It was common to hear otherwise well educated and logically thinking white people argue that if we overturned Terra Nullius then Australia would instantly revert to traditional Aboriginal law and all the white people would need to move out.

The case for Aboriginal justice in this atmosphere isn’t just a matter of arguing a case, but a matter of overcoming an illogical fear, karmaphobia.

This is the part of the article where I’m meant to write a heartfelt conclusion which gives insight into how you can actually not be racist and still be a good person, but I’m afraid I don’t have the answer for that.

What I do know though is that by white people regarding the need to see themselves as good people as more important than the need of Aboriginal people to be free from racism is a huge part of the problem.

I also know that I don’t care if that makes you feel guilty. I’m not saying it to make you feel guilty. I’m saying it because it is true.

Maybe that’s a start though, simply recognising that people who agree with what I’m saying here are not motivated by a desire to collect white tears, but out of a sincere belief that this is contributing to the perpetuation of both personal and institutional racism. Recognising that we are not the zombie horde coming to eat your oh so delicious brains. Maybe that’s too much to ask, I don’t know.

No single raindrop believes it is to blame for the flood, but it doesn’t change the reality that we are drowning in racism out here.


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