Racism: The Painfully Obvious ‘Missing Factor’

30 Sep 2015

Every now and again we hear in media that ‘research has found that racism may play a factor in [insert literally any school, uni course, job, or industry], and then it usually disappears from public discourse for a few months or even years. Sometimes, very rarely though, it flares up into the full blown media circus that is “Is Australia a racist country?”. This quickly leads to various groups of white people in the media attacking anyone who would dare suggest that racism exists in any other form than ‘reverse racism’, which we’re told is a is a very real and serious problem, and not at all a completely farcical circle-jerk. They may also tell of us about all of their black friends, and then will usually attack the ‘professional anti-racists’ who rely on ‘playing the race card’ in order to make white people feel various feels…

This is usually highly entertaining, but is ultimately frustrating and exhausting for anyone who wants to actually do anything about reducing the racism that does exist in every school, Tafe and university, every workplace, every community, and every government department.

As Bruce Pascoe so succinctly wrote: “White people’s ignorance of Aboriginal people is so pervasive, so profound, that it exhausts the Indigenous who are forced to argue every point: well, yes, we did live here before you came, no, we didn’t eat our children, yes, my grandfather was murdered by your grandfather, yes, my father went to both world wars alongside yours, no, he didn’t get a soldier settler’s farm like yours, no we didn’t invent the wheel… or the jail, or the rack, boiling oil, or instruments to pluck out fingernails, white collar crime, there were a lot of things we didn’t invent.”

This frustration and exhaustion is something that white Australia doesn’t like to think about, and neither is the all encompassing ignorance that white Australia has when it comes to Indigenous peoples, or indeed to any of the not white groups living in Australia. Even though some of these groups have actually been living in Australia much longer, and some others got here at pretty much the same time.

“To acknowledge the existence of racism is not to label every white Australian racist….

It is to acknowledge that racism is insidious and has long been woven into the very fabric of our ‘nation’…”

White Australia has long had the pleasure of considering itself ‘The Lucky Country’, a land of democracy, equality, and an easy going friendly nature… a fair go for all. This is despite all evidence pointing to this being a ludicrous myth, up to and including the fact that the label ‘The Lucky Country’ was intended as an insult. (Australia is a lucky country, run by second rate people who share in its luck’. Despite the White Australia Policy, despite the Stolen Generations, the massacres, the forgotten wars, despite the racist campaigns led by mining companies and governments alike, despite the human rights abuses of refugees, despite all of it. And at the heart of denying these obvious truths is the necessity of denying racism, white privilege, and human rights. We wrap it up in terms of ‘democracy’, ‘meritocracy’, ‘progress’, ‘assimilation’, ‘preserving our Christian heritage’, ‘protecting Australian jobs’, and a myriad of other slogans and statements designed to negate or distract from having to use the word ‘racism’.

Yet, racism is what this colonial outpost was built upon, and is what continues to maintain the status quo of white dominated media, government, institutions, and industry.

A country that has its contemporary history so inextricably linked to overt racism cannot hope to assume that this racism no longer plays a factor in any area of life (especially not when it plays a factor in basically every area of our lives).

You cannot examine issues of education, employment, housing, health, incarceration, suicide, or indeed any issue that affects Indigenous peoples, without acknowledging and examining the historic and ongoing impacts of racism. Not just ‘200 years ago’, but yesterday, today, and tomorrow. And not just the overt personal racism that exists in the hearts and minds of many, but in the policies and practices of the institutions and government departments that have influence over these areas.

To ignore these impacts is to allow them to continue unfettered; and since it has been long identified by individuals, researchers, and experts alike as a major hurdle in every level of education and employment in every sector, to ignore it is to condemn these issues to perpetuate indefinitely.

This is the missing piece of the Close the Gap puzzle. It is the reason why no much how much we ‘just try a little harder’ we will never see equal representation in positions of power. It is why we need Indigenous specific programs and services. Not because we need ‘additional support’, but because we need spaces free of racism to ensure adequate service provision and the creation of equitable opportunities.

To acknowledge the existence of racism is not to label every white Australian racist, despite enthusiastic claims to the contrary; it is to acknowledge that racism is insidious and has long been woven into the very fabric of our ‘nation’ and its institutions. It is to acknowledge that Indigenous peoples do not all just ‘play the race card’ to collect white tears, but that most people discuss racism because it is real, they see it and feel it, and can describe it in clear detail, and live daily with its effects.

Racism is of course not the only factor, but it is a major one, and it is largely left off the radar, intentionally so. It is in the ;too hard’ basket. But unless we can put racism firmly on the radar, as well as the voices of Indigenous peoples, government lead victim blaming slogans and the programs that underpin them (‘kids must go to school, adults must go to work, and communities must be safe’) will continue to be nothing more than empty rhetoric, and our responses to these issues will continue to be misplaced, paternalistic, punitive, and largely pointless.


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