Scott Morrison and the racist in the dark alley

So here’s something I’ve been thinking.

Scott Morrison has been saying all the right things in the last few days, both about the terrorist attack in Christchurch and about Anning’s disgusting remarks. He is clearly trying to distance himself from the overt racism of the far right. And this is heartening, as far as it goes. Frankly, if ScoMo has decided that trying to be unifying and bring Australians together is a better election strategy than racism and divisiveness, then I’m all for it. Words matter, and I’m in favour of anything that keeps our multicultural society safer.

Hell, perhaps this is ScoMo’s ‘come to Jesus’ moment – the moment when he sees where the kind of rhetoric he has been permitting leads, and decides to change. Even if it isn’t, I believe that he is quite sincere in his horror and revulsion at this event.

But here’s the thing.

This entire conversation is reminding me of the sorts of conversations we have after a woman is attacked and murdered when walking home at night, or by day, or wherever, by the stranger who comes from nowhere. And we are all shocked and we are horrified and we hold vigils and have conversations about how dangerous it is for a woman to walk alone at night. Because it is so much easier to think of rape and assault as something that is perpetrated by strangers in the dark than the fact that women are more likely to be attacked in their own homes and by people they know.

Fraser Anning is helping ScoMo and his mates quite a bit right now. He is giving them something truly despicable to point at, so that they can say ‘this is racism, and we reject it utterly’. And it is, and they should.

The thing is, though, Anning is that stranger in the dark alley. He and people like him are terrible, terrible people, and we absolutely need to stand against their overt racism – but we must not forget that for every attack by a stranger in the dark alley, there are dozens, hundreds, even, of attacks that we don’t see or don’t recognise, because they happen in private, or because they don’t fit our idea of what an attack looks like.

I think it’s important that we don’t let the government, or the media, or anyone else fool us into thinking that they are fighting against racism because they reject Anning and the acts of terrorists. That is the lowest of all possible bars (and I can’t help but noting that there are those still doing their best to limbo under it).

Pay attention to what else they say. Pay attention to the dog whistles about economic migrants and immigrants who don’t want to fit in. Pay attention to what sort of free speech is protected, and what sort is condemned.  Pay attention to who is allowed to be angry, to be outraged, to react in self-defense, to have their feelings hurt.

There are so many microagressions, so many everyday acts of racism, so many things that we ask people just to ignore to keep the peace, because ‘he doesn’t really mean it’, or ‘she was only joking’ or ‘it wasn’t that bad’.

And it’s true that these things aren’t as bad as murdering 51 people because of their religion, or even as bad as blaming those people for their own murder.  But, you know, something can be not as bad as the worst thing you can think of and still be not, actually, good.  It can, in fact, still be bloody terrible.

You can be less racist than Anning, and still be racist.

I think we ought to be demanding that our politicians do better than ‘not the actual worst’.  We’ve become accustomed to some pretty terrible rhetoric, and I think that’s dangerous – our standards have become so low that we feel faintly relieved that ‘at least’ Morrison referred to the killer as a terrorist.

(And I wasn’t even all that surprised when Dutton tried to claim that the Greens were just as bad as Anning.  Surely that ought to merit more than an eyeroll?)

We need to do better than this.  We need to demand that our leaders take responsibility for the racism and xenophobia that they have been enabling (or at best, turning a blind eye to, for the sake of votes).

But most of all we need to understand that racism doesn’t start with a man murdering people at prayer because he is a white supremacist. It starts with words, with small cruelties, with tiny acts of exclusion.  It starts with all the little things our society does to signal that it’s OK to be a little bit racist, it’s OK to think that people who come from somewhere else, or who worship differently from us might be a bit funny or a bit dangerous or a bit inferior.

And, after all, don’t we care about freedom of speech?

Fraser Anning has said terrible, racist things.  This is indisputable.  But we can’t afford to be distracted by him, or by arguments about the proper use of eggs vis-a-vis politicians of any stripe.

I would love to believe that this is the moment when our society and our politicians look inside themselves and reject racism once and for all. But I’ll need more than a denunciation of Anning to be convinced.

~~~~~

Disclaimer: I’m white.  I have no direct experience of racism, nor have I devoted significant time to studying it.  So this analogy might be terribly flawed.  I welcome comments from those who are more knowledgeable.  (But bear in mind that all comments are screened, and I’m not always online and available to unscreen them.)

Of Paris, and of Fear

I’ve spent most of the last fortnight thinking about Paris.  With the huge project I’ve been running at work coming to an end, I can start looking ahead to next year, and I’ve been thinking about taking some long service leave, even a visit to Europe.  Then, I’ve been playing with a project where I’m writing short stories set in Paris, so I’ve spent a lot of my spare time recently reading histories of Paris, learning about the old geography of Paris, and its now-underground rivers.  On good nights, I’ve been dreaming about Paris.

And then this morning I woke up and heard the news.

News reports are now talking about more than 120 dead – some sources are saying as many as 160.  Seven coordinated attacks.  Terrorists who blow themselves up rather than be arrested. Daesh is taking credit.

I am heartbroken and I have no right to be.

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Politics: What is Australian?

I’ve been thinking about Australian-ness for a while, partly inspired by a friend’s blog posts about nationalism in France, and partly inspired by the new Citizenship Test and other acts of idiocy currently being perpetrated by our government.

And I’ve come to the conclusion that I have some ideas about what being Australian is all about that are perhaps more unusual than I’ve thought. Because to me, the key thing that makes Australia Australia is immigrants, immigration, and the stunningly diverse population we have as a result of these things. Let’s face it, with the exception of the few people of Aboriginal and Koorie descent, we are all immigrants here. And most of the waves of immigrants, now I think of it, have been from classes or races that were at the time considered socially unacceptable (criminals! Irish! Miners! Chinese! Greeks and Italians! Chinese again! Vietnamese too! Muslims! Sudanese!). I find it both sad and ironic that the descendants of these earlier settlers now feel the need to turn around and reject classes of immigrants based on religion, colour or alleged criminal tendencies. And this from a country whose most long-established families take pride in being descended from… convicts. Or, less romantically, economic refugees fleeing the Highland Clearances. Or, if they were lucky, Catholics, which carried a fine set of prejudices in its day.

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Politics: Racism and Moreland

Just thought I’d re-post this email that was just sent to me:

Moreland Community – Rally and March
Stand Up for Multicultural Communities

Racism will not divide us: Muslims are welcome

12pm SAT April 1st
Cnr Glenlyon and Sydney Rd (Outside Brunswick Town Hall)

supported by Moreland Council, Socialist Alliance, Carlo Carli MLA, Moreland Peace Group, Moreland Greens, Stop the War, Civil Rights Defense

After ten years of playing the race card, Howard and Costello have made recent comments singling out Muslims as antagonistic to
“Australian culture”. Tony Abbott, recently inteviewed on Lateline said that,” the purpose of multiculturalism is not to say that all cultures are equal”. These comments represents new heights in promoting community division.

This new wave of divisive politics deserves a community response. The Moreland area typifies multicultural Australia. Let set an example and send a message that Muslims and migrants are welcome in our community.

Just to add my two cents – I overheard a conversation on a tram yesterday about how the area is ‘no longer a good place to raise children’ and ‘not nice, like it was 15 years ago’ apparently in response to some local (admittedly annoying, but no more so than usual) teens of arabic descent making a lot of noise on the tram. I was fairly horrified, but as an eavesdropper, didn’t feel that I could respond. I’m wishing I had now. I am disturbed at the way racism seems to be becoming endemic in our culture…