• Vandalism at airport in Queensland (Reddit)
Racism in Australia isn't just about slurs. Ethnocentrism plays a key role in how our society works.
By
Natalie Cromb

10 Aug 2017 - 12:35 AM  UPDATED 10 Aug 2017 - 12:05 PM

We might continue to see mainstream polls written by white people for white people that invariably conclude that Australia is not a racist nation, but we need to stop legitimising the privileged view of race politics in this country. 

We need to stop reducing racism to whether or not Joe Bloggs down the street uses racial slurs to determine whether or not this country is racist. Racism is not as simple as some ignorant fool shouting expletives to strangers on a bus. It’s deeper and malevolent. It is woven into the fabric of this nation and every institution that has been formed to govern the country; it has infiltrated homes through mainstream media propagating the racist assumptions about racial groups – particularly of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Racism is alive and well in Australia. It has been since 1788. It runs in cycles of being covert and then becomes increasingly overt like a heart murmur on the monitor machine – but it is always there and it remains systemic and institutional.

Australia has a long history with racism and the racism that has pervaded this land since European settlement has been particularly targeted towards First Nations’ people from the very first act of racism - the declaration of Terra Nullius – a lie predicated upon British ethnocentrism. 

Terra Nullius was a deliberate social construct that was intended to facilitate settlement without regard to prior ownership – theft without redress because the British classed themselves as superior based on their own notions of what constitutes ‘society,’ otherwise known as ethnocentric racism. 

 

Ethnocentrism

James Cook referred to the Natives of New Holland (Australia) as “some of the most wretched people on Earth” in his journal – an ethnocentric-Eurocentic viewpoint if there was ever one, given the true status of Indigenous Australians during that time is that they were healthy, community-minded and family orientated with their own hierarchy, cultural practice and way of life.

The crux of the racist attitudes in this country are rooted in the long relationship between Government and Church, notwithstanding the theoretical separation of powers. Australian societal attitudes and behaviour towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is borne of the corrupt relationship between these two institutions and their inherent ethnocentrism.

The two together were a force of complete annihilation which deemed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people culturally and societally inferior, specifically, being ‘savages’ without the social standards believed acceptable by the Government or the Church. This standard of ‘being civilised’ is not a reflection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but instead speaks volumes of an ideology of British prejudice. Despite being culturally, linguistically and physically different from Native Americans, for example, they too were deemed inferior to the Europeans. However, this is notwithstanding the false notions of commitment to human rights by The Crown and their affects of waged war upon the Indigenous population, the committed massacres, the enslavement, the introduced illnesses, the widespread poisoning, the damage to the land and its resources and the forced segregation.  

 

The Media

When Indigenous people failed to die out as predicted by eugenic consultants for the Government, the war was waged on a propaganda basis – through an key tool of the Government – the media.

The propagation of stereotypes is most prevalent in mainstream media which flows straight into the homes of families. When screen time is given to Indigenous issues the narrative is either one of patriarchal condescension where Indigenous people are painted has hopeless, unable to manage their affairs, unable to participate productively in society and needing the helping hand of the good white community or worse, alcoholics, child abusers or neglecters and violent. This depiction is powerful on those sitting at home around their dinner table discussing without a converse viewpoint to counterbalance the racist stereotypes.

When protests occur to raise awareness and protest the treatment of the Indigenous community, the mainstream media regularly presents a narrative of selfish people disrupting the daily lives of good citizens, when the truth is quite the opposite. Those who take to the streets do so altruistically to shine a light on injustice in the hope it opens the eyes of those who are unaware and/or apathetic.

Of course, the ‘selfish rabble’ are protesting the actions, laws and policies of our executive, legislature and judiciary. These institutions are the three arms that govern this country and each – and every branch off them – maintains the paradigm that has been since federation (or arguably even before) – that their way is the right way and anything that threatens the ruling class must be oppressed and subverted. 

 

The Government: past, present and ... future?

The Federation in 1901 which brought the six colonies into one interrelated system of government marked the turning point in race relations from “protection” to formal White Australia Policy which were the mechanisms to undermine the existing system of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander governance of land and community by implementing the assimilation policies. 

Yes, there have been a few symbolic acts such as the 1967 Referendum, Apology and the Native Title Act, but overall very little has changed. The governing branches of the Government continue to view Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as a ‘problem’ that they tired of ‘solving’. A barrier in the profitability of the mining industry. A 'subsidy' in Western Australia. An inconvenience on Australia Day.

Australian Governments, Parliamentarians and bureaucrats at all levels contribute to racism. This is evident in their failure to grant land rights and facilitate justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, their complete disregard of charges of genocide from the community, their failure to sign and act upon international instruments and exclusionary policies on a national and international level.

Australian Governments, Parliamentarians and bureaucrats at all levels contribute to racism. This is evident in their failure to grant land rights and facilitate justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, their complete disregard of charges of genocide from the community, their failure to sign and act upon international instruments and exclusionary policies on a national and international level.

Instead the Government enacts policies that are targeted in their racism – from the Northern Territory Intervention which was started on a lie, to the basics card welfare quarantine and working for unemployment entitlements – all of which disproportionately target and affect Aboriginal people.

The judiciary demonstrates the entrenched racism with particularly brutal precision. Although the statistics do not present that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander commit any more crime than non-Indigenous Australians, they make up 17 percent of the prison population despite representing only 2.4 percent of the overall population. You would have to be extremely radical to believe that breaking the law is inherently imbedded in the biology of a racial group and yet, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are significantly more likely to receive custodial sentences than their non-Indigenous counterparts and this is the case for even minor offences.

There have been calls for a formal investigation to be launched into sentencing practices following the hit and run death of Aboriginal boy, Jack Sultan-Page in which in 2015 Matthew Alexander was given an 18-month suspended sentence and six months in home detention for the incident. The most recent woeful example of ‘criminal justice’ is the case of Elijah Doughty who was aggressively pursued by a man in a utility truck, hit and killed but he was not convicted of manslaughter but merely a traffic offence – which could have carried a 10 year sentence but the judge saw fit to impose a sentence at the lower end of the scale and the man who killed Elijah could be walking free in February 2018.

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When examining racism in Australia – the white lens needs to disappear in order to objectively consider solutions and reform required to address it, because it is here.

Rather than reflecting on the individual behaviours of white people, reflect on the system that benefits and supports white people. Whether you believe that being largest multicultural nation in the world (who, mind you, still can’t seem to put people of colour on TV) exempts us from racial prejudice, racism still exists in our constitution, our history books and despite being this conglomerate of different nationalities it remains an element of everyday life for Indigenous people and all the other ‘others’.

Australia is racist, and it isn’t demonstrated by the foul mouth of a neighbour. It’s time to face the institutions, change the institutions and stop denying the coarse stitches woven into the fabric of this nation.  

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Occupation: Native tells the story of Australia's history from a different perspective, an Indigenous perspective. Getting all historical and hilarious, filmmaker Trisha Morton-Thomas (with the help of Black Comedy's Steven Oliver), bites back at our country's accepted history. Part of NITV & SBS' #YouAreHere series airing on Sunday, 13 August at 8.30pm on NITV Ch. 34