The race to see racism
Now that the dust has settled a little on the recent events involving a cartoon of a black female superstar behaving unprofessionally and a young Australian girl objecting to the national anthem, I thought I would offer my opinion. For many people, both events have validated their belief that “racism is alive and well.” For me, no such validation occurred, at least not in the Australian context. Sure, racism exists, but it is not well; I think it struggles and it is actually dying. What these events have clearly demonstrated to me, is that the desire among some to see racism where it isn’t, is alive and well. They have further demonstrated to me that racism is not as common as social justice warriors, whinja ninjas, and snowflakes like to think it is. If people have to use an Olympic gold medal standard of mental gymnastics to see Knight’s cartoon of Serena Williams as racist toward Black Americans and cast our anthem as racist toward Australian Aboriginal people, then I think it proves that real racism is becoming rare.
Black American author Shelby Steele describes his experience in the United States of America as follows: “When I visit university campuses today, black students often tell me that racism is everywhere around them, that the university is a racist institution. When I ask for specific examples of racist events or acts of discrimination, I invariably get nothing at all or references to some small slight that requires the most labored interpretation to be seen as racist.”
His experience is very similar to what I observe here in Australia regularly, both as someone with Aboriginal ancestry and in my roles as media commentator and university academic. Instead of reading about real racism, we now hear about ‘microaggressions’, ‘everyday racism’, and ‘institutional racism’. And we are told, by the ‘experts’ that these forms of racism are just as harmful as the more obvious forms of racism.
In this article I wish to address why people are so keen to see racism where it isn’t, and I will restrict the discussion mostly to the Australian context, particularly with Aboriginal people. I don’t believe racism against Aboriginal Australians is alive and well. In fact I think it is on life support and kept alive by stakeholders who have a vested interest in claiming Aboriginal Australians are the victims of ongoing racism.
I offer here two main reasons (and there are more) why I think there is a trend to see racism where it isn’t. The first is that it enables some to play the part of protector or expert. Academics can build nice careers around claiming that racism is here, there, and everywhere, while commentators, leaders, and anyone else able to access a social media platform can make grand statements like “the scourge of racism runs deep in this country” and feel that they made a positive difference, when in fact they have achieved nothing.
But perhaps more importantly, is that focusing on racism provides a convenient excuse to not have to deal with more difficult (and inconvenient) problems facing Aboriginal people. Employment, housing, health, and education are not so easily addressed. Shouting “racism” is far easier. Moreover, problems like shockingly high rates of violence and child abuse in Aboriginal communities are not something many wish to talk about. And those who do talk about it, pay a price. Myself, and others like Jacinta and Bess Price, and Warren Mundine know this only too well.
So why does any of this matter? Exaggerating the prevalence of racism has serious implications. I believe that both Serena and Harper have copped more criticism than they deserve. But I can’t help but wonder if the disproportionate response towards them is a reaction by good people who feel they are continuously being told that they are racist? We live in an age when people are too often accused of racism when they shouldn’t be. When this happens, don’t be surprised that good citizens strike back.
John Robson, a writer for Canada’s National Post has stated “Canadians feel for aboriginals, but our patience for too many insults has limits.” Although here in Australia we might spell ‘Aboriginals’ with a capital ‘A’, I believe the situation is pretty much the same here. When non-Aboriginal Australians are constantly told that they are racist for celebrating Australia Day, or applying black face makeup for a costume party, or bombarded with endless rhetoric like ‘white supremacy’ or ‘white privilege’ then don’t be surprised that some will say to Aboriginal people: “Why should I care about them if I’m only going to be criticised?” – a response that is then typically interpreted as racist. It shouldn’t be that way, but unless you’re a monk it can be damn hard not to lose some good will some of the time.only going to be criticised?” – a response that is then typically interpreted as racist. It shouldn’t be that way, but unless you’re a monk it can be damn hard not to lose some good will some of the time.