Do we begin with her comments about how Asians ‘don’t assimilate’, ‘form ghettos’ and are ‘swamping’ our country? Or about Aboriginal cannibalism? Or about how violent Muslims are, and that they are also 'swamping' our country? Or, do we start with the fact that she actually tried to use a dictionary definition, like she was speaking in a high school debate, rather than in Parliament? We could also probably pick some low hanging fruit about flipping the anti-18C rhetoric by saying how sensitive she is, that she can't handle robust debate, and doesn’t support my free speech right to call her a racist.
The most obvious response would simply be to say that racist is as racist does, and if she doesn’t want to be called a racist, she should probably stop saying such horribly racist things and exploiting people's unfounded and irrational fears for political gain.
All of that is just too easy though so I’m going to pick lexicography to talk about first, because I like the word lexicography, and I’m about to say ‘lexicography’ a lot in the next few sentences, so please bear with me. Lexicography is ‘the activity or occupation of compiling dictionaries’. I used the dictionary definition of lexicography because that seems like a word that a good lexicographer should be able to define quite easily. Racism, however, is not a concept I would ever expect a lexicographer to be the ultimate arbiter of. The job of lexicography is to create short and succinct definitions to words so that they can fit in a dictionary. That said, some lexicographers have realised the limitations of the old definition and recognise the need to mention intolerance and discrimination too.
The definition of racism, used by Pauline Hanson, is a common component of many dictionary definitions and is definitely a root attribute of what racism is, and where it originates. The belief that one race is superior to another. Modern racism is definitely connected to this idea, it is forever tied to the eras of eugenics, scientific racism, and overt white supremacy that were used to justify things like slavery, invasions, massacres, and countless other atrocities over hundreds of years.
It would be easy to point out the myriad of ways that racism in its myriad forms has expanded beyond this definition; into institutional, systemic, social, casual, ignorant and all the other adjectives, except reverse, that accurately describe different aspects of contemporary racism.
Contemporary racism does not require the explicit expression of superiority to be defined as racism - if, for example, someone was to argue that they believe that all races are equal, but still supported oppressing and exploiting another race, not out of a sense of superiority, but purely for profit, then we would probably still define that as racism, and rightly so (that isn't a hypothetical by the way, the global economy relies fairly heavily on people's willingness to do this). Or when someone says they think all races are equal, they just don't want to employ Aboriginal people, we would probably consider this to be a racist act as well. It would be easy enough give infinite examples of everyday racism that either don't explicitly claim superiority or that explicitly deny a belief in superiority, but I'd rather just linger for a moment on the question of whether or not Pauline Hanson's racist statements fall into the ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ school of thought.
When someone makes claims about the need for people to abandon their identity, language and culture in order to ‘assimilate’ into a dominant culture, does not that very act denote a belief in the supremacy of the culture doing the absorbing? If we didn’t see the culture we were asking people to abandon as inferior, then would we really be so quick to ask them to leave it at the gate? If we weren't so confident in the rightness of our own culture, wouldn't we believe that other cultural values and their schools of thought could enrich our own culture? Or do we think that now that we have already stolen so many cornerstones of modern Western thinking from Asia and the Middle East that they don't have anything left to offer? Can someone honestly expect to make claims about particular racial groups ‘forming ghettos’ without that being interpreted as suggesting that these people and their culture are inferior? Isn’t it a bit much of a coincidence that as soon as Australia abandoned to overt belief in white supremacy which was used to justify assimilation and limit immigration in the recent past, that people like Pauline Hanson suddenly developed a wide raft of other justifications to achieve the same result?
This habit of looking to the worst interpretation of the worst behaviours of another group without any consideration for context or contributing factors, lies at the very heart of racism. It was described in 1973 by Aboriginal author and poet, Kevin Gilbert in his amazing work, Because A White Man'll Never Do It, he said
“All human beings discriminate between various levels of human behaviour and categorise them as something to which they aspire or as something which they condemn. By this process personal standards are formed. But racist discrimination tends to ascribe to a whole group the patterns of behaviour that can be observed amongst the lowest individuals within that group. In short, it ceases to discriminate, and becomes mere prejudice.”
It is interesting to note that as soon as overt racism lost total and absolute political power it began to adopt the language of the oppressed, and the rhetoric of the civil rights movement, to allow white people to claim victim status rather than encouraging people to move away from the entitlement that was fostered by this false sense of superiority. Suddenly we were hearing about the dangers of ‘affirmative action’, ‘reverse racism’, ‘special treatment’, ‘free handouts’, and on the more Nazi-ish side of this coin, ‘white genocide’. Aboriginal people went, almost overnight, from being forced into unpaid or grossly underpaid labour, or denied employment altogether, suddenly they were ‘stealing jobs’ that they didn’t deserve from poor oppressed white people.
Similar transitions were quickly made to continue the oppression and exclusion of other groups as well while allowing white Australia to feel good about itself for 'civilising' and 'evolving' and giving everyone a 'fair go' while actually doing very little in that regard. This is what frustrates me when people make the 'get over it, it was so long ago!' argument. What was so long ago? When is it that you think racism actually stopped? And even if overt racism was removed from some law books, do you think it instantly left the hearts and minds of all those who practiced it?
Racist attitudes and beliefs have been left to fester these past few decades and were depressingly easy for people like Pauline Hanson to reignite and exploit for political gain. This where people are right when they say that you can't exploit the law books alone to remove racism, where they are wrong however is when they use that as an argument to therefore remove anti-discrimination legislation and instead encourage and incite racism in politics and in popular media, because I still for the life of me can't see how that will remove racism either.
The reality is that when politicians like Pauline Hanson, Peter Dutton, or commentators like Andrew Bolt make racist comments it is not just the comments themselves that cause damage, it is the knowledge that they are directly inciting and encouraging racist attacks in public, online, or in the workplace that many others will suffer from.
So, excuse me if I don’t feel a huge amount of sorrow for Pauline being ‘fed up’ with being called a racist, I’m a bit too busy being fed up with all of the racism that she exploits and promotes to care about that.