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Category Archives: racism

Norm, Ahmed, Shafana, Aunt Sarrinah, radicalisation and Australia

The first of the Things to look forward to is now done. It was the world premiere of Alana Valentine’s Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah and a revival of Alex Buzo’s 1969 classic Norm and Ahmed.

pakistanirestaurant shafana-0026-aunt-sarrinah-8low

Left: “Ahmed” takes “Norm” to a Pakistani Restaurant

Right: the opening scene of Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah

Pics from the Alex Buzo Company blog linked above.

Of her new play Alana Valentine writes:

I hope Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah will surprise audiences with its portrait of Afghani Muslim women, who are articulate, highly educated, deeply spiritual and enraged by the way Australian and global media paint them as oppressed, meek and silent. To be part of a project where Buzo’s theme and concerns might be reignited through a new work…is genuinely exciting. In effect, it allows the ‘conversation’ to move into a third dimension: not just Buzo speaking anew to the 21st Century, but Buzo reflected and responded to through the voice of a contemporary playwright. It’s a vision of Australian theatre as a historical continuum…

Alana’s plays are always grounded in in depth research and interviews with the groups she is representing; that depth came through in last night’s performance which both Sirdan and I found very thought-provoking. The issue is whether or not Shafana should wear hijab. She eventually decides she will, even if Aunt Sarrinah, whom she dearly loves, is somewhat appalled by that decision. The play takes us beyond our often mind-numbingly dreadful understanding (if that is the right word) of the issues Australian Muslim women face and that we face in our response to them. A valuable exercise well dramatised, if, I thought, just a bit slow off the mark at the beginning.

As for Norm and Ahmed I agree with the woman sitting next to me in the theatre: “the more things change the more they stay the same.”  Sirdan was born in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia at the time) but could well relate to Norm and Ahmed – for him it was, unlike for me, as new as Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah. He agreed that the contemporary relevance of this forty-year-old play was quite amazing.

A thoroughly good night out.

By coincidence, my mind still on Alana’s play especially, I read a truly excellent article in this morning’s Australian: From a human to a terrorist by Sally Neighbour.

… The perplexing question is: Why? How does a seemingly ordinary young man come to embrace violent extremism? Its corollary, the question that confounds counter-terrorism experts worldwide, is: how can we stop them?

The rapidly morphing nature of global terrorism demands an evolving response. Since 9/11, Osama bin Laden’s al-Qa’ida has diminished but its ideology has flourished, spawning hundreds of like-minded groups and cells across the world. US terrorism specialist Marc Sageman describes this new phenomenon as a "violent Islamist born-again social movement" straddling the globe. Its fragmented and anarchic nature makes it arguably a bigger threat than al-Qa’ida, according to Britain’s Strategy for Countering International Terrorism, unveiled in March this year. Unlike the once highly centralised al-Qa’ida, the new grassroots terrorism cannot be fought with border protection measures or military strikes, but must be tackled at its roots.

This reality has spawned a new buzzword in the anti-terrorism fraternity: counter-radicalisation. Its aim, in Sageman’s words, is to "stop the process of radicalisation before it reaches its violent end"…

Sageman, the pre-eminent expert on radicalisation theory, is a former CIA mujaheddin handler in Pakistan, now a psychologist and author of two books, Understanding Terror Networks and Leaderless Jihad. After studying 165 jihadists, Sageman is adamant that terrorists are not born but made. There is no psychological profile of a terrorist and Sageman believes "root causes" such as socioeconomic deprivation are overrated. The most common factor in the making of a terrorist is alienation. Of the jihadists Sageman studied, he found that "a remarkable 78 per cent were cut off from their cultural and social origins". He concludes "this absence of connection is a necessary condition for a network of people to join the global jihad"…

Sageman adds they are not violent psychopaths but "generally idealistic young people seeking dreams of glory fighting for justice and fairness"…

Much better in its analysis that most of the rants you see. The dynamics of that alienation, though not in a form likely to lead to terrorism, are also seen in Alana Valentine’s play.

Oh – and a footnote. I have always thought taking the French path and “outlawing” the hijab in Australia would be really stupid. Fortunately both John Howard and Kevin Rudd have not been tempted.

* Special thanks to Emma Buzo. 🙂

Update

See the The Australian Stage review.

[On Alana’s play] …This is a powerful night at theatre and a welcome, bold, essential addition to the culturally homogeneous theatre one can expect to see in some of the larger venues around town. I believe this to be an extraordinarily brave and bold double bill containing four very fine performers. Actors who embrace the challenge of new work, with new perspectives are worth their weight in effusive praise and I feel compelled to mention the spectacular performances by Camilla Ah Kin and Sheridan Harbridge who confront this subject with tenderness, fierceness and great compassion – to the extent that I felt stunned and broken by the time the lights dimmed.

 

Racism is not the main story: Four Corners last night

Last night Four Corners ran an expose on the scams run by certain private vocational training colleges and some immigration and education agents. I emphasise some because there are very many such agents who are totally ethical, and ditto for the better established private colleges. In fact one of the principal whistle blowers is himself an immigration and education agent.

According to ABC this morning the Indian press has reacted by invoking racism: ‘It’s racism’: Indian media seizes on student scam report.

Another storm of controversy has broken out in India over revelations that Indian students are being ripped off by unscrupulous operators in Australia.

Last night’s Four Corners program on ABC1 detailed how students had paid tens of thousands of dollars for services they claim they never received, and how allegations were made to the relevant government authorities but their complaints were ignored.

An Indian journalist, working undercover for the program, was also attacked after investigating alleged corruption by immigration agents.

The latest incident has seen the Indian media slip into tabloid high gear.

I am not for a moment denying there are racist elements in the story but would still say Australia is no more racist than anywhere else. I have addressed that before: More on “Racism? Yes and no” and here and here. It is true that the Flying School singled out in the Four Corners story is alleged to have behaved in a racist manner, but the other examples were of Indians here and in India exploiting both the system in Australia and their Indian clients.

Reporter Wendy Carlisle reveals how dodgy business practices are being used to rip off foreign students seeking legitimate qualifications in Australia. At the same time she also shows how vocational training for foreign students has become an immigration scam allowing thousands of foreigners to come to, and then remain in, Australia under false pretences.

For ten years now Australia’s foreign student education sector has been on a massive growth spurt. First it was foreign students seeking university degrees. More recently it’s the vocational education sector that’s been expanding.

Last year more than 70,000 Indian students came here to buy an education. Egged on by immigration and education agents, many were told if they enrolled in cooking, hairdressing and accounting courses they would not only get a diploma but they could also qualify for permanent residency in Australia.

Now a major Four Corners investigation reveals that foreign students in this country have been targeted by unscrupulous businessmen, who have set up training schools that supply qualifications that sometimes aren’t worth the paper they are written on.

"It is a fraud because we were shown so many rosy pictures about the school and it is not what it was really… it was just a scam." – Parent of Indian student

"We all know that they have sardine type cooking classes where there’s sixteen students to a frypan." (Corruption investigator)

Bogus courses though are not the only scam going on. If a student wants to apply for permanent residency they must pass an English language test. Four Corners has found clear evidence that unscrupulous immigration and education agents are offering English language tests for a price. In some cases the exam paper is worth up to $5,000…

In this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald we read that “Students have been dealt a major blow after a Sydney college went into administration on Monday night.”

More than 500 students have had their courses halted and face the loss of thousands of dollars in fees. All 35 college staff have been sacked.

"Late on Monday afternoon Dr Dharmappa Hagare, the sole director of Sterling College Pty Ltd, which operates the group’s Sydney training facilities, made a decision to appoint Quentin Olde and Matt Adams of Corporate Recovery Specialists, Taylor Woodings, as voluntary administrators," the administrator said in a statement.

Taylor Woodings said the college’s Brisbane campuses, part-owned by Dr Hagare, would remain open for the time being.

The Sydney campuses specialised in teaching IT, language and hospitality courses.

"Students have unfortunately been severely impacted by the failure of Sterling College and have had not only their education process suddenly halted, they also face the prospect of a financial loss as most of their tuition fees have been paid in advance," Taylor Woodings said…

So the story is primarily one about corruption, greed, exploitation, and government inaction. The cash cow was devised (unwittingly perhaps) by the Howard government, but the Rudd government has also sat on its hands rather too much, to the great detriment of Australia’s reputation in what is in fact one of its greatest export earners, greater than wool and wheat combined in fact. As Four Corners noted:

For some time now the Federal Government has boasted about the growth in the foreign education sector. But some experts now believe the time has come for the government to stop the corruption. The question is: does it have the will?

"Well basically they’ve been bedazzled by the dollars …they could proudly say this is a $15 billion industry, more than wheat, wool and meat put together, there’s perhaps an understandable reluctance to look at the foundation of the industry." – Bob Birrell, from the Monash University’s Centre for Population and Urban Research

If the government refuses to clean up the scams and the corruption many believe it could destroy the $15 billion industry. As one young student told the program why would you pay for a service that is not provided?

"Obviously I am very angry. I’ve like taken a loan. It’s a big loan and I paid the money to the school. I came here for a purpose… I haven’t got anything." – Indian student.

One of the Australian Indian figures exposed on Four Corners has now become the object of Federal Police attention, we were informed in a note at the end of Four Corners.

Certainly this industry needs to have the cleaners put through it.

 

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Two rather different experiences: book and dvd review

star30 star30star30star30star30  The Tracker (Rolf De Heer 2002)

This truly magnificent movie — so resonant, so beautifully made and acted — came out when Australia was lost in Howard’s Great Stony Desert. As Margaret Pomerantz said at the time:

The film opens with a painted landscape – and this is signficant because paintings by Adelaide artist Peter Coad are integrated into the action of the film to historify events and to move the violence from realistic representation. Into this landscape come four men – four archetypal characters. They are the Fanatic, Gary Sweet, a government trooper who is heading an expedition to find an Aboriginal man accused of murdering a white woman. Others in the expedition are the Follower, Damon Gameau, a greenhorn trooper, the Veteran, Grant Page and the Tracker, David Gulpilil. Like a tapestry unfolding the film charts the attitudes, the shifts and balances of power within the group as if it were the history of white settlement here. Along the way are confronting scenes of violence. But at the heart of every scene is the Tracker. Graham Tardif composed and Archie Roach sings on the soundtrack and it was one of the most emotional film experiences of my life to see The Tracker with Roach performing live at the opening of the Adelaide Festival. De Heer’s use of Coad’s paintings adds an uncanny power to the film, strangely making the violence more meaningful, more tragic, taking away any notion that’s it’s only a movie. David Gulpilil brings important heart to the film. De Heer’s screenplay and direction has extraordinary compassion despite the violence. It’s actually a film that’s important not to miss.

It still is important not to miss. For more reviews and a synopsis see Rolf De Heer’s The Tracker.

star30star30star30star30star30 Alexander McCall Smith, The Unbearable Lightness of Scones (Edinburgh, Polygon 2008)

This is the sixth in the 44 Scotland Street series; I reviewed the fifth here. Again I was delighted. What was true of the fifth is true of the sixth:

The thrust is gently conservative, with a folk wisdom that has much to commend it. I see that captured in a quotation I planned to use myself, but fortunately Kerryn Goldsworthy has used it in a review in the Sydney Morning Herald, thus saving me some typing:

For the most part, we treat others in a matter-of-fact way; we have to, in order to get on with our lives. But every so often, in a moment of insight that can be very nearly mystical in its intensity, we see others in their real humanity, in a way that makes us want to cherish them as joint pilgrims, almost, on a perilous journey.

Po-faced indeed would be any reader who is not drawn in and delighted, even if at the expense of an odd cringe or two — the latter probably being therapeutic.

One issue that runs through the novel is the discomfort some (perhaps many) Scots experience about social change, particularly relating to immigration, though it would be silly to accuse McCall Smith of racism. I can understand the discomfort, as Scotland has been until recently an exporter rather than an importer of migrants: I am part Scot myself! Even if quite a lot of what passes for Scottish tradition was invented by or after Sir Walter Scott in the early 19th century, I do sympathise with the sense of loss. At the same time McCall Smith skewers ultra-romanticism with his very funny Pretender travelling across Scotland in a motorcycle sidecar attempting to replicate the saga of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

A lovely book, with much wisdom to offer.

 

Indian students, racism, theatre news

Given recent concern over attacks on Indian students in Melbourne and Sydney it is fitting that Sydney’s newest theatre company, The Alex Buzo Company, is mounting two plays in August at The Seymour Centre: Buzo’s Norm and Ahmed (1968) and Alana Valentine’s Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah. The first Sydney production of Norm and Ahmed made history. Not long before his untimely death in 2006 Alex Buzo told ABC what happened.

ALEX BUZO: Those words, I mean sorry, the first word, had been used in a lot of overseas plays and so I just assumed it was OK, it was legal.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: It had been said on stage?
ALEX BUZO: Yeah, it had been said on stage. But because it happened in an Australian play, there was a double standard and they thought it was shocking and the actor was arrested and eventually exonerated.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Yes indeed, the whole matter was actually quashed by the Attorney-General. But there was some… there was a bit of a drama to go through until that happened, when the charges were laid and Graeme Blundell and Lindsay Smith were charged with obscenity. There was a great deal of discussion about it in the press.
[VT] Did it dishearten you?
ALEX BUZO: Well, I had actually been boasting in private that my aim as a writer was to put Australian drama on the front page. I didn’t anticipate this sort of front page treatment but, I thought it did have a good result in the sense that people knew that Australian drama was alive and well, whereas up until that point it had no publicity whatsoever, so it did have positive things. On the other hand it was very draining for the actors to go to the Magistrates Court and then the Supreme Court and then it went eventually to the High Court in Canberra. So, it certainly was a wearing process but it did have its upside.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: In a sense looking back on it, it’s a little disheartening, I guess, that the fight all the way through the courts had to be about two words, had to be about a swear word, rather than something a heck of a lot more important than that. I mean, you can imagine going to the courts in defence of art, but something much more important than just those words.
ALEX BUZO: Yes, I mean, I’d be disappointed if people didn’t think the play had something to say about racism and generational envy. But it is a literary play, it is an art play, it’s meant to be humorous and imaginative, it’s meant to have other things going for it other than the final two words.

I was fortunate enough to meet Alex Buzo on several occasions, most memorably when I played a Rugby League commentator in his The Roy Murphy Show for the Balmain Theatre Group in 1978.

I also see Alana Valentine quite frequently as we have some common interests. I shall go to this double bill if I can possibly do so.

Meanwhile around 4 am on Sunday a couple of Indian students were bashed on Bathurst Street near George Street Sydney. This isn’t surprising, unfortunately, as parts of George Street are notorious for this kind of thing especially in the small hours of Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. I would hesitate to wander there myself. The assailants were respectively 16 and 17.

It is pleasing to note The Times of India reporting on 28 June Indians in Australia are safe.

Australian scientist Jose (Jimmy) Botella, who is attending a three-day international conference hosted by Vinoba Bhave University in Hazaribag, on Sunday said that Indian students in Australia are safe and that reports about repeated attacks on them in Melbourne and Sydney have been blown out of proportion by the Indian media. Botella said that Melbourne and Sydney are cities like Delhi and Mumbai in India where criminal activities are no exception. "This does not mean that Australians are indulging in a hatred war against Indians. In fact, Indian students are very bright and intelligent and Australians like them for this quality."…

True enough. See also Delegation tries to allay ‘racist’ attack fears.

There is, however, another basis for complaint. Some of the “private colleges” students might be lured to are store-front operations of dubious pedigree. Students should conduct careful checks preferably with recognised education sites and the Australian Government before enrolling.

 
Comments Off on Indian students, racism, theatre news

Posted by on June 29, 2009 in Australia, Australia and Australian, current affairs, education, events, friends, OzLit, racism, South Asian

 

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And even more, I’m afraid…

Curious, isn’t it? Here I am in this country which has allegedly taken up “curry bashing” as a sport extending beyond the Cricket field and I bought my Sydney Morning Herald this morning, several of the lead stories in which are by one Arjun Ramachandran, from the Indian newsagent to see that Miranda Devine has returned to the theme. I even agree with some of what she says, insofar as the people actually doing the bashing tend to come from a pool of thugs fairly well known for a similar interest in targeting gays, not that Miranda mentions that. (Lord Malcolm was once on the receiving end.) Jim Belshaw’s term “underclass” is another that Miranda eschews. Instead her King Charles’ Head leads her down a slippery slope – no racial profiling intended – where I would rather not follow. She accuses Kevin Rudd of hypocrisy for advocating that vigilante action really is not a good idea, and rather commends the good folk of Cronulla 2005.

…In a strange twist of fate, Superintendent Robert Redfern, the Parramatta local area commander who was hard at work at the Harris Park protests at midnight on Tuesday, was also police commander at Cronulla during the 2005 race riots. We saw then the dangers of vigilantism.

Back then, Cronulla locals had been complaining for months that police were playing down assaults and menacing behaviour by what they described as "Middle Eastern" youths from south-western Sydney. There was a protest, which turned into an ugly riot with racist violence against anyone who looked Middle Eastern, followed by revenge attacks as young men from the south-west drove to Cronulla damaging property and assaulting people, with police nowhere to be seen.

In Harris Park, the script is familiar. Police play down crime problems, victims lose faith in the authorities to protect them, start to protest, take matters into their own hands, attack innocent passers-by. So far there have been no revenge attacks but it’s unlikely police can guarantee they won’t occur.

I sincerely hope Miranda isn’t hoping… And I should add, as a Shire boy myself originally, that the openly racist nut who attempted to be elected to Sutherland Council last year failed miserably.

You see, I brought the first Indian into The Shire myself, or perhaps I did. It was back in 1957 when I brought one of my best school friends, Ashok, home to Kirrawee. That of course was when institutional racism was alive and well in Australia. There was the White Australia policy, generally supported by the Left partly on the grounds that it protected Australian working conditions and kept the “Yellow Peril” at bay, and there was our Aboriginal policy, though that was beginning to be questioned. There the Left had a better track record. Mind you, hindsight is all very well, isn’t it?

My father was a bit worried about the prospect of meeting Ashok. He wanted to know how black he was, and warned me about the strange things some folks did when the moon was full. On meeting him, though, it was almost love at first sight, and over thirty years later, when my father was unfortunately quite gaga, he would ask me how Ashok was, though it was thirty years since Ashok had gone on to higher fields at St Paul’s School in London. His father, you see, was Assistant Indian Trade Commissioner, which explains why Ashok and Anand were in Australia at that time. My mother thought Ashok’s mum’s saris were really beautiful, and Ashok’s manners were at times a contrast to my own.

The local Kirrawee boys were just disappointed that Ashok didn’t have feathers and a bow and arrow…

Forty years on and The Mine had more subcontinentals – who tended to call themselves “curries”—than you could poke a stick at. Not that we did. We did rely on them to keep up the school’s cricketing reputation though.

 

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More on “Racism? Yes and no”

Rarely does a post of mine excite much discussion, though I have to say that is partly because I don’t really foster massive comment threads. After a couple of weeks I usually close comment. So I have been fascinated by the turn taken in my post Racism? Yes and no….

Comments have been sidetracked a little by Antony Shen, but it’s not a bad sidetrack: after all, what constitutes humour in “making fun” of second language speakers and what constitutes superciliousness or even racism is a good topic, even if it arguably has little to do with the current issue between India and Australia about their students here.

Meanwhile the stories of attack and counter-attack on the subject of Indian students in Australia goes on. There are very serious implications, as Ramana, a delightful gentleman in India and a regular reader, notes in that comment thread.

The focus just lately has been on the western Sydney suburb of Harris Park.

Indian students have protested for a second night in Sydney’s west, calling for greater police protection.

Around 70 young men blocked off an intersection at Harris Park just after 8:00pm, demonstrating against what some claim is racially-motivated attacks against Indian students perpetrated by members of the Lebanese community.

Two men were arrested and taken to Parramatta Police Station. One was released without charge and the other was served a notice to appear in court later this month.

Rippon Singh, a student at the protest, believes they are being targeted.

"We are contributing to the real community, we are paying the taxes, we are doing everything that is possible and we are getting bashed up," he said…

In a speech to India’s Parliament, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh slammed the attacks as senseless violence, saying some of them are racist in nature.

Australian High Commissioner to India John McCarthy says there are not any systemic racist attacks going on.

"Some of the crimes committed against them have had a racial element in them and I think there has been increased concern among the Indian student community as a whole in Australia," he said. "That’s understandable."

India’s Foreign minister, SM Krishna, has urged Indian students to stay calm in the wake of the attacks on them.

"I would like all Indian students to be patient," he said. "They should be restrained. They have gone there to pursue higher studies and they should concentrate on that, rather than retaliate."…

Jim Belshaw makes a useful contribution on the demographics of Harris Park.

I am still “yes and no” on this, and that is not to sit on the fence but to recognise that “racism” is too broad a brush, too much of a catch-all here. While as strongly anti-racist as ever, I also recognise the ease with which this emotive term can blur lines, can indeed be one of those concepts that make us “white folk” (though I am not myself entirely white) feel righteous: see the wonderful satirical blog Stuff White People Like, a great prophylactic.

One of the nastiest racist incidents I have ever seen here in Surry Hills (some years ago) was an Aboriginal man spitting on some passing Chinese. Racism isn’t exclusively a white preoccupation.

Today in The Sydney Morning Herald Paul Sheehan (whose Waiting for the Barbarians in the late 1990s was a singularly inflammatory and unhelpful analysis of our being “swamped by Asians” leading to my regarding him ever since as a thinking person’s Pauline Hanson) does have a point. See Brutal truth about attacks.

…the distorted story of white racism has been helped along by the prevailing sensibilities of reporting of crime in Australia, with skittishness about detailing the gritty reality that most violent street crime in Sydney and Melbourne is not committed by whites. The prison populations confirm this.

The attacks on Indians have followed this pattern, with the crimes committed by a polyglot mix reflecting the streets – white, Asian, Middle Eastern, Aboriginal, Pacific Islander.

The most recent attacks, in Harris Park this week, allegedly involved assailants of the proverbial "Middle Eastern appearance". The assault on Monday night was followed by a retaliatory attack by a big group of Indians. Police said three men "of Middle Eastern appearance" were set upon in Harris Park after about 200 Indian men converged on the street after hearing of the latest attack. In Melbourne, an assault on an Indian student on a train was recorded on video and footage depicting the attack was posted on YouTube. The video shows a swarm of young men robbing and repeatedly attacking the student. Most of them do not appear to be white.

A recent assault on an Indian student in Glebe was committed by a young offender described as Aboriginal…

What Sheehan forgets is that everyone having Australian citizenship, whatever their culture or ethnicity, is Australian. The implication of such thinking as his is that there are “Aussies” and there are “non-Aussies” – Lebs for example. Unfortunately too many fall for this error, including many in the “non-Anglo” Australian camp as well as many self-styled “Aussies” rather over-given to wrapping themselves in Australian flags, a very recent practice that once would have scandalised most Australians. But he is right to point out that “white racism” is at best just one element in this puzzle.

Similarly Miranda Devine a little while back, though she parades her hobby-horses as usual. Even so, Adrian Phoon (an Australian born and bred) remarked at the time on Twitter: “Miranda Devine speaks and I find myself not disagreeing with her, even almost agreeing with her. Is this the apocalypse or just revelation?”

Unfortunately, as Ramana says, the current difficulties have coincided with several other matters to make this a real issue in India. We Australians do need to be careful how we address it.

 

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Racism? Yes and no…

It is no accident that my “What’s new” picture for the last few days has been this:

curios 001b

There am I, third from the left, with a Japanese Christian and Mr Kim from Korea on my right, a couple of Indonesian Muslims, Rui from Tianjin China, two more Indonesians, a Korean, and another Indonesian on my left. It’s a long time ago now, and I have always been better with faces than names. This is just one group from the hundreds of students I came to know in 1990 to early 1991 when I ventured into the overseas student world. Most were those Chinese who had left their country in the wake of Tiananmen. Rui, for example, was a scientist.

Some of them did experience racism or at least xenophobia, often of the petty kind: finding people would not sit next to them in the train, for example. (On the other hand, I read of a black American in Korea who found an entire swimming pool suddenly empty of people when he dived in.) Some of them, like the thirteen Nepalese mentioned in the Sydney Morning Herald today, found themselves conned or ripped off, though the perpetrators were quite often of the same ethnicity as the fleeced. Some overseas student agencies were ethical and indeed excellent, as is still the case, but some were shysters. Some private colleges were shonky, very shonky, and some were not. Some were owned by Indonesians or Chinese, some were not.

One Korean student reported racism to me once: taxis would not stop for him. I investigated by asking him what he did to hail a cab. He demonstrated with a hand movement which would work in Korea, but in Sydney would be interpreted as “I don’t want a cab.” Correct hand movement taught, the problem was solved.

I am not wanting to trivialise the degree to which racism is involved in some of the attacks on Indian students and others in recent days, but to embrace that as the only cause is a sure way to miss the fine detail and thus to act ineffectually. The idea that Australians are racist has some validity, but as a generalisation is no better than others such as “Chinese eat cats” or “Australians are lazy” or “Muslims are terrorists” or “Lebanese are criminal drug lords”. The word “some” should figure in all the above.

Very emotive thing, racism. I am firmly anti-racist, but regret some of the excesses this has led me into. Ask the Rabbit, whose indiscretion on one occasion (in the name of humour in his case, a bit Chaser-like and misplaced perhaps) I over-reacted to quite shamefully, forgetting the obvious point that in his actual life as I well knew there was very little evidence of real racism.

It is also true that overseas students are quite often vulnerable. I would baulk at travelling by train at night in some parts of Sydney; they have to, and are conspicuous. They may also be perceived as rich, though that too is a false generalisation. Jim Belshaw today canvasses more possibilities.

The desire to profit from overseas students sometimes runs ahead of ability (or even willingness) to consider their welfare. This is especially true of the worst private colleges.

On the other hand undoubted racists are making a meal of this situation, and the usual white supremacist minority would probably have been behind those leaflets distributed around the University of NSW.

See also my English/ESL blog.

 

I read the news today, oh boy…

Well, it is the anniversary of that album…

But then, whoda believed it a few years ago?

And then, speaking of holes: Bellevue hole an active crater for weeks to come. See Sally’s Sydney Daily Photo.

(More coming. I’m switching to Live Writer…)*

And then, as I was saying before I was rudely interrupted…

020609_cartoon_moir_gallery

Moir in today’s Sydney Morning Herald

Meanwhile.

We have had much merited soul-searching about the targeting of Indian students in Melbourne of late. You will see Ramana took it up here recently. You need only to check this blog under racism to see where I am coming from on such things. However, I did find New Matilda more than a bit po-faced in Sol Was Right: We Are Racist by Ezequiel Trumper. I agree with commenter PaulRobert:

…You’re not seriously trying to argue that there is less entrenched racism in the US than in Australia, are you? There’s very little chance of hysterical protests against chk-chk-boom because no one takes the racist angle seriously – it was so obviously a joke.

Your article reminds me of Robert Hughes’ idea of "linguistic Lourdes": if only we could change the language people use, all the evils of the world will magically disappear – very PC circa early ’90s.

If you want to highlight the damage racism does in this country, get on the case about the appalling attacks against international students in Melbourne. But Trujillo? I’m happy to join with Rudd and give him the "one-fingered" farewell not because of his Mexican heritage but because he was a corporate vandal, a failure and a knob.

I even go along, for the most part, with Gerard Henderson:

…Stories which have a race edge tend to excite journalists in Australia. Not, however, on this occasion. Readers of The Age and, to a lesser extent, the Herald Sun would have been aware of a spate of attacks on Indians beginning about October, primarily in Melbourne’s western suburbs. This led to the establishment of the Police-Indian Western Reference Group in January. At the time about 30 per cent of all victims in this area were men of Indian appearance.

In fact, the number of Indian victims of assault in Melbourne over the past six months exceeds the total number of serious casualties in the Cronulla riots – and revenge attacks – of December 2005. Yet, until last week, there had been almost no coverage of this issue on the public broadcasters. The matter was all but ignored on such important ABC programs as AM, The World Today, PM, The 7.30 Report, Q&A, Lateline and Radio National’s Breakfast, as well as SBS’s World News Australia.

Even the Victorian Government has been surprisingly quiet on what sections of the Indian media have depicted as "curry bashing" incidents. The Premier, John Brumby, issued a media release last Friday following representations from India’s high commissioner in Australia, Sujatha Singh. Better late than never, but still late…

Interviewed on Lateline on July 28 last year, the influential Indian commentator – and one-time United Nations player – Shashi Tharoor criticised Australia’s policy on uranium exports. He made the important point that, unlike Australia, India does not enjoy the protection of the US nuclear umbrella. He also pointed out that, in living memory, India has fought wars with what are now two nuclear powers — China and Pakistan.

Elsewhere, Tharoor has depicted Australia’s policy in this area as a vestige of what he terms "apartheid".

It appears many influential Indians do not fully appreciate that the Rudd Government’s position on uranium exports is determined in part by the Prime Minister’s focus on observing United Nations treaties to the letter, and in part on upholding Labor policy and, in the process, keeping Labor’s left-wing quiet.

Even so, the policy has annoyed the highest level of the Indian Government. And now many Indians are rightly concerned about ethnic-motivated crime in Australia.

It’s time to focus on improving the relationship between Australia and India. A greater concentration by the Victorian authorities on crime, and more restrained policing, would help for starters.

Let’s hope they catch all the low-life responsible for the Melbourne attacks.

* I was composing direct to WordPress but the WordPress media uploader, and/or Google Gears, crashed Firefox three times!

 

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Sol Trujillo as victim of malicious Rudd racist “adios”…

… only if the unexpressed “arrogant turd” is racial vilification. We colonials take rather unkindly to being labelled “backward”, and I am sure the Singaporeans were not impressed by Trujillo’s stewardship either:

SOL TRUJILLO’S claims on the BBC that Australia is a racist country sit oddly with the dog-whistle politics which Telstra played so hard and so often under his three-year stewardship.

"We are an Australian company, majority owned by Australians. We are not from Singapore or anywhere else," Mr Trujillo’s chairman, Donald McGauchie, told shareholders at the company’s AGM a year ago.

The Singapore reference was a shot at Telstra’s main competitor, Optus, which is owned by Singapore Telecommunications…

So writes Michael West in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. I even find myself in broad agreement with Peter Costello, former Howard treasurer:

There are plenty of reasons to be critical of Sol Trujillo’s performance as chief executive of Telstra. Race is not one of them.

Kevin Rudd was foolish to take a cheap shot – saying "adios" – when Trujillo left. And Trujillo is milking it as evidence that Australia is racist.

But come on, Sol. You came to Australia and took up the prize job in Australia’s telecommunications industry. After four years you are leaving with $30 million of cash and bonuses. And you want us to believe you are a victim of racism?…

Trujillo says he changed Australia. Not in the way he thinks. One change is that corporate boards are going to be more wary of overseas appointments in future. Australian executives are as good as any in the world. A chief executive who understands the country and has a long-term interest in its future is a valuable asset for a company in a sensitive sector.

The Telstra directors could not have been surprised things ended the way they did under Trujillo. His previous track record was there for all to see. In my view, the board has a lot of explaining to do. It’s about judgment and performance. It is not about race.

The “Ugly American” rides again…

Yesterday I remarked on Twitter: “What a twerp!” Indeed.

 

A rather odd argument?

I remember without much pleasure the Paul Sheehan of a decade or so ago when I thought of him as “the thinking person’s Pauline Hanson”. What he had to say then about people like M was distinctly warped and unhelpful. In recent times he has addressed himself rather often to the topic of Muslims. You may go back two years to see what I had to say about him then: Paul Sheehan again. (There’s a bit of a connection also – tangentially – to Jim Belshaw’s recent post Saturday Morning Musings – Muslim prayer rooms and the importance of checking one’s facts.)

Today Sheehan argues that Islamophobia is a fabrication.

I’ve been considering a request from a post-graduate student who wants to do a thesis on Islamophobia in Australia. She writes: "I am researching the topic Islamophobia, and I am trying to prove whether Islamophobia is based on religion fear or cultural fear of Islam."

What about proving that Islamophobia exists at all? That would be the logical, ethical and scholarly starting point. But it appears the outcome has already been decided. This would fit the prevailing orthodoxy in academia that the default position for Muslims in Australia is victim. The jargon, "Islamophobia" is part of this ideological construct. Literally, it means fear of Muslims.

I reflected on all this while on holiday in Malaysia and the Maldives last week. This was my twelfth visit to Muslim societies because I do not "fear" Muslims and do not "fear" Islam. Yes, there is ample evidence that Australians have become uneasy about Muslims in general and hostile in specific cases, but this is about cause and effect…

This is suspiciously like “some of my best friends are Jewish” particularly when it is followed by a litany of bad news stories about Aussie thugs and crims of a generally Middle Eastern or Muslim background, the cumulative effect of which must be distrust of such groups as a whole, despite his opening disclaimer.

I would agree that terms like “Islamophobe” and “racist” are sometimes tossed around thoughtlessly, but that does not prove in any way that there isn’t a strong irrational or visceral component in the reactions of some people which can fairly be termed a phobia. Nor, when you think about it, does Sheehan pursue cause and effect very far. Cause seems to end on the Islamic or Middle Eastern side of the equation every time. Strange, that.

I am of course not denying there is a problem; neither, I would suggest, do thoughtful Muslim Australians.

Update 31 March

Irfan Yusuf has a piece in today’s Sydney Morning Herald: Australian Muslims not a monolith. It appears it is coincidental, as he addresses Rev Fred Nile’s and Andrew Bolt’s unhelpful interventions rather than Paul Sheehan’s, but the cap fits.

…On the ABC’s Q&A program on Thursday, columnist Andrew Bolt spoke of "a rejectionist strand" that made Muslim immigration experience different to the experiences of Greek and Italian migrants. Again, the underlying assumptions are based on ignorance. To speak of a recent singular wave of Muslim migration is to engage in historical revisionism. Virtually all waves of migration incorporated an element of Muslims, including Europeans from Albania and the former Yugoslavia .

Some Muslims came as refugees, others as skilled or business migrants. Some have hardly been out of an immigration detention centre for a few years. Others are descended from Afghan cameleers who married indigenous women in the 19th century.

Yet, for some reason, Australian Muslims are treated as some kind of monolith. We hear pundits and self-serving religious leaders speak of a mythical entity called the "Muslim community". The idea that Muslims define themselves primarily by their religion sounds ridiculous when one considers that membership of the Lebanese Moslems Association is limited to adult males eligible for Lebanese citizenship. Yet what happens at this Lakemba mosque is somehow a reflection of 300,000-odd Australians who feel inclined to tick the "Muslim" box on their census forms.

Are such prejudices widespread? Could they lead to violence? It’s hard to say, though some comments published on popular blogs are not promising. Bolt’s blog carries comments calling for a "Carthaginian solution" to be adopted against Muslim countries. One comment this month ended with: "Drop the bomb, kill them all." Another spoke of "a number or an above average percentage in the Lebanese/Arab/Muslim of south-west Sydney who are short-tempered, relatively thick, criminal, and fundamentally violent".

And it took a complaint from an executive member of a Muslim religious body before this remark was removed: "Bombing them, back to the stone age where their politico-religious philosophy belongs, would indeed be the only thing they understand … Islam has no such thing as a peace treaty … You don’t negotiate with that, you shoot it."…

 

On race and policy: worth noting

Again I owe Arts & Letters Daily for pointing to Slate and Sudhir Venkatesh on How To Understand the Culture of Poverty, a review of More Than Just Race by William Julius Wilson.

… Liberals believed that black poverty was caused by systemic racism, such as workplace discrimination and residential segregation, and that focusing on the family was a form of "blaming the victim." Conservatives pointed to individual failure to embrace mainstream cultural values like hard work and sobriety, and intact (read: nuclear) families. It’s like Yankees vs. Mets, and for 40 years there has been no middle ground. (That the current generation of college students might not necessarily share this polarized view may augur an important shift in the years ahead.)

In this standoff, along comes the eminent sociologist William Julius Wilson, whom I studied with at the University of Chicago in the 1990s, promising to transcend the polarizing discourse on race in American society. (Sound familiar?) Wilson claims his analysis in his new book, titled More Than Just Race, will bridge the two worlds and create a new, more enlightened way for Americans to talk about race (heard this one before?)—but he is well aware that won’t happen without controversy…

More Than Just Race, which draws on Wilson’s earlier research as well as more recent studies, is yet more proof of his willingness to ignore political and academic pieties and his will to make social science relevant to the public. Wilson wants to explain inner-city behavior—such as young black males’ disdain for low-wage jobs, their use of violence, and their refusal to take responsibility for children—without pointing simplistically to discrimination or a deficit in values. Instead, he argues that many years of exposure to similar situations can create responses that look as if they express individual will or active preference when they are, in fact, adaptations or resigned responses to racial exclusion…

The book stands to have a powerful impact in policy circles because it points to the elephant in the room. Wilson knows it is difficult to engineer cultural change. We can train black youths, we can move their families to better neighborhoods, etc., but changing their way of thinking is not so easy. Evidence of this lies in the many "mobility" programs that move inner-city families to lower-poverty suburbs: Young women continue to have children out of wedlock and, inexplicably, the young men who move out return to their communities to commit crime! These patterns flummox researchers and, according to Wilson, they will continue to remain mysterious until we look at culture for an answer…

…Wilson repeatedly points to the benefits that jobs programs and vocational training have on the cultural front. Stated somewhat crudely, increasing employment will reduce the number of people who might promote or even condone deviant behavior. Change might not occur overnight, and it may not be wholesale, but it will take place.

Wilson advised the Obama campaign, and it is likely that his combination of race-neutral social policies and "jobs-first" agenda will be attractive to our president. Perhaps after addressing the financial mess, terrorism, the Iraq war, "AfPak," education, health care, and the climate, the administration will turn its attention to domestic poverty. However long that takes, it is alas safe to predict that ghetto poverty will still be a pressing national problem.

Despite the obviously US context of this – and do read the whole article – it is clear (to me at least) that some of our more vexing issues here in Australia would benefit from similar thinking.

 

Old books, old movies, old mentalities

Jim Belshaw has had a couple of interesting posts lately: Train Reading – J H Curle’s The Face of the Earth and Sunday Essay – Race, Eugenics and the views of J H Curle. The book was published in 1937.

In the first post Jim writes:

In some ways I got more than I bargained for.

The book is laced with comments about nationality, race and ethnicity expressed with a freedom that would not be tolerated today. I almost put the book aside after the first chapter with the thought do I have to read this stuff? I kept going because I had, after all, deliberately chosen the book as a window into a past world.

As I read I found that I could put aside my reactions.

In the second post he elaborates:

At the time Mr Curle was born, the British Empire was at its peak. It seemed natural to assume that the white race was by process of natural selection destined to maintain a dominant position. However, Mr Curle’s Social Darwinist views did not allow him to believe that any nation, people or race had an automatic God-given superiority. All three could rise or fall.

I also think it worth noting that Mr Curle had no belief in the “purity” of any race or people. He was not opposed to racial mixing so long as the mix raised the “quality” of the race or people.

In this context, Mr Curle supported the Nazi eugenics policy as it related to things such as sterilisation. However, he did not believe that there was such a thing as a German or Nordic race. He thought the Nazi expulsion of German Jews was unwise because to his mind the admixture of Jewish and German blood had done much to strengthen the creativity and strength of the German people. He still hoped that Germany would learn this and re-admit the Jews.

The reason for the desperation in Mr Curle’s writing is simple. By 1937 he had come to believe that in the absence of fundamental change, both the Empire and the current pre-dominance of the white race were doomed.

Mr Curle’s views strike us as in many respects most unfortunate, but had we been around at the time no doubt we would have found a range of views to the left and right (not taking those terms with their unfortunate linear and dichotomising effect too literally) of his. As Jim says, the fact he wrote in a certain matrix of his time and place does not prevent his being interesting. Eugenics is nowadays totally tainted, and discredited as gross oversimplification – and more, but it lives on in other guises and in other terms under the rubric of genetic engineering. I suspect we also have to thank our current so-called “political correctness” for inoculating us, if we are wise, against the racist mindset within which he was working even if at certain levels he was, as Jim mentions, reacting against it too. But even there much that he wrote seems to have been predicated on the idea of “race”.

Some of Mr Curle’s most scathing writing is addressed to what he sees as the unjustified racism of some of the working and middle class English throughout the Empire. He compares them very unfavourably with other peoples and races.

And who, in all this, are the races or peoples of the future?

It seems from The Face of the Earth that in terms of people at a purely personal level, Mr Curle is especially enamored of Chinese/Malay (this includes what is now Indonesia) or Chinese/European mixtures.

However, in the hierarchy of races or peoples driven by Mr Curle’s Social Darwinism, the future lies with the Chinese.

That idea of “quality” is itself racist thinking because it assumes that “race” is a relevant category. Culture may be; race is not.

One can go back even further. I am rather fond of a Victorian lady – she would have used the term – named Isabella Bird.

Bird was born in Boroughbridge in 1831 and grew up in Tattenhall, Cheshire. As her father Edward was a Church of England priest, the family moved several times across Britain as he received different parish postings, most notably in 1848 when he was replaced as vicar of St. Thomas’ when his parishioners objected to the style of his ministry.

Bird was a sickly child and spent her entire life struggling with various ailments. Much of her illness may have been psychogenic, for when she was doing exactly what she wanted she was almost never ill. Her real desire was to travel. In 1854, Bird’s father gave her £100 and she went to visit relatives in America. She was allowed to stay until her money ran out. She detailed the journey anonymously in her first book The Englishwoman in America, published in 1856. The following year, she went to Canada and then toured Scotland, but time spent in Britain always seemed to make her ill and following her mother’s death in 1868 she embarked on a series of excursions to avoid settling permanently with her sister Henrietta (Henny) on the Isle of Mull. Bird could not endure her sister’s domestic lifestyle, preferring instead to support further travels through writing. Many of her works are compiled from letters she wrote home to her sister in Scotland.

Travels

Bird finally left Britain in 1872, going first to Australia, which she disliked, and then to Hawaii (known in Europe as the Sandwich Islands), her love for which prompted her second book (published three years later). While there she climbed Mauna Loa and visited Queen Emma.

There was a copy of an 1877 Leisure Hour in our house when I was a child which contained a serialised version of her Australia Felix – but unfortunately this is long gone. I do have a cheap reprint, however, of her The Golden Chersonese (1883) and even if she finds a Chinese dragon dance may be “devil worship” she can also be very observant. She writes well. Read an extract on Singapore.

…Here is none of the indolence and apathy which one associates with Oriental life, and which I have seen in Polynesia. These yellow, brown, tawny, swarthy, olive-tinted men are all intent on gain; busy, industrious, frugal, striving, and, no matter what their creed is, all paying homage to Daikoku. In spite of the activity, rapidity, and earnestness, the movements of all but the Chinese are graceful, gliding, stealthy, the swarthy faces have no expression that I can read, and the dark, liquid eyes are no more intelligible to me than the eyes of oxen. It is the "Asian mystery" all over.

It is only the European part of Singapore which is dull and sleepy looking. No life and movement congregate round the shops. The merchants, hidden away behind jalousies in their offices, or dashing down the streets in covered buggies, make but a poor show. Their houses are mostly pale, roomy, detached bungalows, almost altogether hidden by the bountiful vegetation of the climate. In these their wives, growing paler every week, lead half-expiring lives, kept alive by the efforts of ubiquitous "punkah-wallahs;" writing for the mail, the one active occupation. At a given hour they emerge, and drive in given directions, specially round the esplanade, where for two hours at a time a double row of handsome and showy equipages moves continuously in opposite directions. The number of carriages and the style of dress of their occupants are surprising, and yet people say that large fortunes are not made now-a-days in Singapore! Besides the daily drive, the ladies, the officers, and any men who may be described as of "no occupation," divert themselves with kettle-drums, dances, lawn tennis, and various other devices for killing time, and this with the mercury at 80 degrees! Just now the Maharajah of Johore, sovereign of a small state on the nearest part of the mainland, a man much petted and decorated by the British Government for unswerving fidelity to British interests, has a house here, and his receptions and dinner parties vary the monotonous round of gayeties.

The native streets monopolize the picturesqueness of Singapore with their bizarre crowds, but more interesting still are the bazaars or continuous rows of open shops which create for themselves a perpetual twilight by hanging tatties or other screens outside the sidewalks, forming long shady alleys, in which crowds of buyers and sellers chaffer over their goods, the Chinese shopkeepers asking a little more than they mean to take, and the Klings always asking double. The bustle and noise of this quarter are considerable, and the vociferation mingles with the ringing of bells and the rapid beating of drums and tom-toms–an intensely heathenish sound. And heathenish this great city is. Chinese joss-houses, Hindu temples, and Mohammedan mosques almost jostle each other, and the indescribable clamor of the temples and the din of the joss-houses are faintly pierced by the shrill cry from the minarets calling the faithful to prayer, and proclaiming the divine unity and the mission of Mahomet in one breath.

How I wish I could convey an idea, however faint, of this huge, mingled, colored, busy, Oriental population; of the old Kling and Chinese bazaars; of the itinerant sellers of seaweed jelly, water, vegetables, soup, fruit, and cooked fish, whose unintelligible street cries are heard above the din of the crowds of coolies, boatmen, and gharriemen waiting for hire; of the far-stretching suburbs of Malay and Chinese cottages; of the sheet of water, by no means clean, round which hundreds of Bengalis are to be seen at all hours of daylight unmercifully beating on great stones the delicate laces, gauzy silks, and elaborate flouncings of the European ladies; of the ceaseless rush and hum of industry, and of the resistless, overpowering, astonishing Chinese element, which is gradually turning Singapore into a Chinese city! I must conclude abruptly, or lose the mail.

Given her always uncertain health she was one very feisty woman, and it is good we have her work. But we also see time and again that the past is indeed another country. We enter it at a certain peril. We can’t possibly say “heathenish” today in quite the same assured way, can we?

Last night courtesy of Surry Hills Library I was transported back to my earliest years through a double bill DVD of I’ll Be Seeing You (1944) and Since You Went Away (1944). The second is the better movie, but both have fine performances and some lovely black-and-white visuals. The music on the remastered sound-tracks is also really good. Both movies offer much to think about in terms of the world-views they partake in, not all of them worse than our own, I should add. For their time both movies are in some respects rather enlightened. I enjoyed them, but was reminded of my own age and that, again, the past is another country.

I have added relevant video to the side-bar VodPod.

 
Comments Off on Old books, old movies, old mentalities

Posted by on March 2, 2009 in Asian, best viewing 2009, book reviews, film and dvd, History, Jim Belshaw, memory, movies, Postcolonial, racism, reading

 

Nice, but hot

Over on the photoblog I mention it was 39C today – not what the news says, but that’s what it was out of the wind and in the sun on M’s balcony at noon. I was doing a brief house-sit, for reasons I won’t bother with here… But you can see one of his plants.

06feb 022

It was at least cool inside, and it did keep me away from the computer most of the day. 😉 (Today’s other posts went up via automatic pilot just after midnight last night.) Called at The Mine too.

06feb 002

No. Not too close… Photographing school boys is a no-no.

nephew Speaking of no longer school boys, English/ESL scored a visit via my grand-nephew’s (right) MySpace blog. He’d written last year (and I hadn’t seen this before):

With a new school year set to start today, I just thought that I should spread a little bit of cheer in the form of information. Yay!

HSC is a bitch, as we all know, and English is a subject everyone does, and it is a pain in the ass right across all levels. I, however have found a website that takes a little bit of the strain off the extensive English workload.

http://neilwhitfield.wordpress.com/

This website, hosted by former English HT of Sydney Boys HS (along with several other High Schools and Universities) and my Great Uncle…was one of the best resources I had when I was studying HSC English Advanced. But not only does this website cover English Advanced curricula, but ranges from ESL, English Standard, and even to Extension, and includes tips as to how to write proper essays, and guidlines on how to stick to answering the question.

I rate this website to anyone studying the HSC this year as it saved me a few times last year.

So Check it out!

Bookmark it!

Maybe it will save your HSC too…

Go Figure

No, I’m not linking him, but I was also pleased to read (and he is a Shire boy) a really impassioned statement on racism.

…I understand racism still exists. It is appalling that in today Australia, that barriers still exist. I for one am NOT a racist. However, I am an Australian. My heritage is that of English, Scottish, Mauritian, Aboriginal and a bunch of others. I have cousins of Malaysian descent. I was born in Australia and live my life as an Australian. I do not mingle in the business of others, and I certainly do not take offense nor exhibit prejudice to the heritage that of my own nor other around me.

I do, however, take offense to others who label me as a racist, BECAUSE I am what is ignorantly labelled as White Australian. It is an ugly term to be thrown around. My love for who I am and where I live and those who have lived before me does not make me a racist, nor does it make others like me racist. It is, in fact, those who use that term to label others who are the racist ones.

This needs to stop. We need to live together under the one flag. That is what the Australian Flag represents. It represents unity. It represents mutual respect…

Nothing to do with me, I assure you, all his own unaided thoughts. (I don’t see him all that often, though we just had a quick MSN chat in response to the English/ESL link, which I thanked him for.)

I was chuffed though.

Must correct my g-nephew: I was never H(ead) T(eacher) — just a dogsbody crew member, and of course ESL head, in the sense there was only ever one of us!

 

Friday intellectual spot 2

Not all that intellectual today, but two items of interest from the recent Arts & Letters Daily selections.

The first I immediately thought was another reactionary rant on its subject, but closer examination shows it is better than that. I was put off by the A&L’s intro:

Literacy, the most empowering achievement of our civilization, is to be replaced by a vague and ill-defined screen savvy. All in the name of progress… more»

Much better than that would lead you to expect. You can read the whole thing in PDF here.

The second is from The Atlantic Monthly: The End of White America? by Hua Hsu.

"Civilization’s going to pieces,” he remarks. He is in polite company, gathered with friends around a bottle of wine in the late-afternoon sun, chatting and gossiping. “I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read The Rise of the Colored Empires by this man Goddard?” They hadn’t. “Well, it’s a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be—will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.”

He is Tom Buchanan, a character in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, a book that nearly everyone who passes through the American education system is compelled to read at least once. Although Gatsby doesn’t gloss as a book on racial anxiety—it’s too busy exploring a different set of anxieties entirely—Buchanan was hardly alone in feeling besieged. The book by “this man Goddard” had a real-world analogue: Lothrop Stoddard’s The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy, published in 1920, five years before Gatsby. Nine decades later, Stoddard’s polemic remains oddly engrossing. He refers to World War I as the “White Civil War” and laments the “cycle of ruin” that may result if the “white world” continues its infighting. The book features a series of foldout maps depicting the distribution of “color” throughout the world and warns, “Colored migration is a universal peril, menacing every part of the white world.”

As briefs for racial supremacy go, The Rising Tide of Color is eerily serene. Its tone is scholarly and gentlemanly, its hatred rationalized and, in Buchanan’s term, “scientific.” And the book was hardly a fringe phenomenon. It was published by Scribner, also Fitzgerald’s publisher, and Stoddard, who received a doctorate in history from Harvard, was a member of many professional academic associations. It was precisely the kind of book that a 1920s man of Buchanan’s profile—wealthy, Ivy League–educated, at once pretentious and intellectually insecure—might have been expected to bring up in casual conversation.

As white men of comfort and privilege living in an age of limited social mobility, of course, Stoddard and the Buchanans in his audience had nothing literal to fear. Their sense of dread hovered somewhere above the concerns of everyday life. It was linked less to any immediate danger to their class’s political and cultural power than to the perceived fraying of the fixed, monolithic identity of whiteness that sewed together the fortunes of the fair-skinned.

From the hysteria over Eastern European immigration to the vibrant cultural miscegenation of the Harlem Renaissance, it is easy to see how this imagined worldwide white kinship might have seemed imperiled in the 1920s. There’s no better example of the era’s insecurities than the 1923 Supreme Court case United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, in which an Indian American veteran of World War I sought to become a naturalized citizen by proving that he was Caucasian. The Court considered new anthropological studies that expanded the definition of the Caucasian race to include Indians, and the justices even agreed that traces of “Aryan blood” coursed through Thind’s body. But these technicalities availed him little. The Court determined that Thind was not white “in accordance with the understanding of the common man” and therefore could be excluded from the “statutory category” of whiteness. Put another way: Thind was white, in that he was Caucasian and even Aryan. But he was not white in the way Stoddard or Buchanan were white.

The ’20s debate over the definition of whiteness—a legal category? a commonsense understanding? a worldwide civilization?—took place in a society gripped by an acute sense of racial paranoia, and it is easy to regard these episodes as evidence of how far we have come. But consider that these anxieties surfaced when whiteness was synonymous with the American mainstream, when threats to its status were largely imaginary. What happens once this is no longer the case—when the fears of Lothrop Stoddard and Tom Buchanan are realized, and white people actually become an American minority? ….

Do make sure you read on. It becomes even more interesting, and it is very relevant to our thinking here in Australia, despite its US emphasis, and to our own past. In fact I’ve PDFed it too: Hua Hsu article. Of course there are major differences between the US and Australian experiences, but there is common ground in some of the thinking Hua Hsu alludes to.

Putting both articles together, you might say a 21st century Tom Buchanan would be running an ultra-Right blog! 😉

The relevance to our own past? See earlier entries here: That hypothetical Year 10 lesson on “White Australia” and Updating that hypothetical Year 10 lesson on "White Australia". My contention would be that in the context of the time, given what was “normal” thinking in much of the Anglophone world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it would have been very surprising if Australia hadn’t had a “White Australia Policy”. We don’t have to agonise about it, because we have moved on since then. Sadly, not everyone has moved on, as we know, but generally speaking there has been a lot of progress, especially here in Australia.

It doesn’t hurt our international reputation though to be frank about our own past, while equally assertive about the progress that has been made; I’d go further and claim it is very desirable so to do, setting an excellent example to others less honest about their chequered pasts. That’s why I don’t accept Keith Windschuttle’s special pleading on the subject. Our White Australia Policy was indisputably racist, whatever else it may have been – protective of labour, concerned with Empire and with internal social cohesion, inspired by distance and vulnerability, and so on – all part of the mix too. But it is really not surprising that racist thinking shaped much of the rhetoric at the time.

Jim Belshaw and I have thrashed this one out several times in the past, as visiting those two posts will show. 🙂