Australia seems to believe it is now so far beyond racism that nothing it does anymore can be constituted as racism, including all of the racist things it has done in the past.
Genocide never happened in Australia, the Stolen Generations never happened, Frontier massacres never happened and certainly didn’t continue well into the 1920s, blackface isn’t racist, Golliwogs aren’t racist, and racism in general isn’t racist – it’s just ‘PC gone mad’, whatever that means.
These sort of arguments are usually seen as part of ‘The History Wars’ but would perhaps better be described as ‘The Future Wars’ because they have far more to do with justifying the perpetuation of racist ideas, practices and policies today and into the future than they do with coming to terms with what has happened in our past.
If it can be maintained that not only was this country never invaded, but that Aboriginal people were ‘saved’ when white people came here then there is no need to consider the ongoing impacts of intergenerational trauma, oppression, exploitation, dehumanisation, the relationship between police (and other institutions) and Aboriginal people and communities, Aboriginal deaths in custody, unemployment, health, education etc, because white people have been trying hard for over 200 years to give us all of the benefits of Western society and Aboriginal people only have ourselves to blame for any disparities (otherwise known as ‘The Gap’) that exist.
This belief is ever-present, it can be seen in our governments statements about our education curriculum needing ‘more Shakespeare’ and ‘less black-armband history’, our government’s three-point slogan for Indigenous Affairs ‘Kids need to go to school, Adults need to go to work, and Communities need to be safe (each of these points focuses exclusively on what Indigenous people ‘need to do’ and completely ignores the roles and responsibilities of government and relevant institutions, and how these continue to fail Indigenous peoples), as well as every article that Andrew Bolt has ever written that mentions anything about Aboriginal peoples. One of the more interesting, yet lesser known examples of this belief comes an ABC article about Philip Ruddock, back when he was the ‘Reconciliation Minister’ *cough*. He was in France in the lead up to the 2000 Olympics, and was apparently asked by a French journalist about why Indigenous peoples in Australia were ‘more disadvantaged than compared with Indigenous people in other parts of the world’. Philip basically argued that it was because we were invaded by, sorry, ‘came into contact with’ white people so much later than other Indigenous groups… “They were not familiar with the wheel”. When he was inevitably challenged to justify these comments he said “The only point I was making is that contact between Indigenous people in Australia and others really only developed in the last two centuries. And if you’re looking at, for instance’ North America, contact was over a period of something like four centuries.”
Pat Dodson quite succinctly smashed Ruddock over these claims at the time, saying he was “using archaic and divisive language, relying on interpretations that ignore the historical reality of the policies that have denied Aboriginal people their rights, that have subjugated us to the policies and directions of governments…”. This attitude of history was probably taught far more overtly when Ruddock was a child, but it is still a belief that is painfully present in today’s society as well, and is becomingly increasingly popular.
So perhaps ‘post-racial’ isn’t even the best way to describe this belief as it also tries to erase any racism from our history, and not just our present. ‘Colonial’ is probably more accurate… and because racism isn’t now a thing, ‘and probably never was anyway’, it then follows that the increased removal of Aboriginal children is a perfectly acceptable action, the increased incarceration of Aboriginal people can be fully explained with the phrase “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time”, and Golliwogs are nothing more than a beloved children’s toy, as they have always been. And according to the Phillip Ruddock view of ‘progress’ it is perfectly acceptable to think that it could take eight generations for a child to learn that rounds things roll, as long as that child is Aboriginal. It is even easier to believe when you refuse to teach kids in school that Aboriginal peoples had an understanding of far more complex scientific principles long before we were invaded.
This is why we are seeing less Indigenous perspectives in our schools, mass dismantling of Indigenous services, and a return of racist merchandise to our shops. These battles were already fought and won, but the war still wages on. The war for our history, our present, and our future… and at the moment it seems as though we are losing. Social media has been useful for having individual items removed from the shelves, but hasn’t been able to do much to stem the tide of big stick government policies, which is a far more pressing matter and is what opens the door for the return of these racist items.
So perhaps we need to look towards our history for how to fight it, because these battles have been won in the past, at a time long before the advent of social media, so there is no reason we can’t win them all over again.
The future of our history depends on it.
“Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” George Orwell
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