There’s been a little bit of navel gazing around what led to Australia’s recent export of extremism and racial hatred to New Zealand. Remarkably, some for good. First and foremost, a healthy, young white bloke from Grafton, wealthy enough to travel around the world for years, supported by a loving, united family and with good job prospects, just threw more shade on Peter Dutton’s border protection mantras than anyone could in a lifetime. Even Senator Handful-of-Votes struggled to pull off his ‘migrants are to blame’ segue or to elicit much sympathy for getting egged. David Koch lost his stack with Pauline Hanson, and then sought forgiveness from Kyle Sandilands, no doubt because of Kyle’s underrated ability to communicate with intelligence.
But some things remain business as usual for Australia. For one, the predictable assembly of white commentators scrambling to redefine racism, as if they are experts on the issue. Mainstream media jumped in, first with the ‘battler bloke’ card, and when that proved too much, turned to a conspiracy theory about the consequences of stemming free speech. We were presented with the anecdotal experiences of a few young, attractive Muslim women, appropriately garbed, who likely volunteered their time, unpaid. Rest assured, their involvement will be appropriately transient. We, of the coloured contingency, excluded as we are from any meaningful or enduring social representation or voice, are reminded that we are always ‘the other’ and, at the whim of our hosts, can be turned from monsters to victims, and back again.
Our Prime Minister, ever the advertising man, was quick to label this an isolated act of extremism, allegedly committed by someone who apparently no longer qualifies to be a human. That blew me away. How does that work exactly? When did this young man, with a loving family and a small business, living in salt-of-the-earth Grafton, become inhuman? Just two years ago, he may have read Andrew Bolt’s claim about the inevitability of vigilantes taking up arms, fighting for their God-given right to defend themselves against multiculturalism and Muslims. He could also have read Andrew’s heartfelt, loving, clarion call ‘who can blame them?’, with tears in his eyes and a fresh conviction to show the world just what that meant. In fact, like many of our politicians, he may have tuned into Sky News every evening and got a reassurance that he was very much on the right track. His actions were the expression of the white power identity politics that is rapidly spreading across the world. He was just outperforming the norm.
Since Howard shifted the ground on racial intolerance and xenophobia in this country, we have all been groomed into a greater acceptance of white superiority and white entitlement, and our politicians know it only too well. It is just a matter of gauging the limits of our tolerance or, to put it differently, what the progressive portion of the white population will stomach. Some things are obvious. Progressives won’t tolerate overt, violent, or intentional acts of racism, but everything else has become fair game—whether it be systematically excluding people of colour from all institutions of power, poking fun at names, culture and religious practices or just forcing us to listen to an hour of Jordan Peterson whining about traditional values.
There are literally hundreds of dots, but no one is joining them. When the Australian Human Rights Commission released a report showing that all but 2% of people of colour, despite comprising 25% of the population, have been excluded from any meaningful level of representation or engagement in our professions, public service or parliament, nothing happened. No engagement or commitment by the Federal Government to address the report. The conservative press took it upon themselves, somewhat ironically in the name of free speech, to shout down then Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, and make fun of his name. When Tony Abbott told our troops that ‘shit happens’ after one of them was killed in action, a significant amount of commentary was devoted, by white journalists, into second guessing and making sense of the maestro’s words. Not so when Yassmin Abdel-Magied tried to acknowledge the suffering of refugees from war-torn countries on ANZAC Day. We publish cartoons portraying male Muslim refugees engaging in predatory, sexual harassment of white nurses, but no cartoons are published to suggest that all white Catholic priests could well be pedophiles. We learn that, for over a decade, Indigenous children have been hogtied, strip searched, beaten and kept in isolation on the public purse, but order is quickly restored and the white progressive public reassured of the ‘complexity’ of the situation through one drawing depicting an inebriated Indigenous father who can’t remember his own child.
It is this underhanded, systemic racism which has had the effect of stripping people of colour of self-representation, advocacy, financial strength and social confidence, whilst feeding the motivations of people like the Grafton gunman and the general public’s ignorance of what constitutes racism today. One simply cannot exist without the other. Migrants know exactly how this playbook ends. We have seen it in the countries we flee from, and watched it unfold over 20 years since John Howard developed a political preoccupation with tying multiculturalism to the politics of fear. It is in that context that Waleed Aly and most people of colour are saying that we are not, in any way, surprised by the Christchurch terror attack.
There is a resulting blindside to this systemic racism. It is obvious to persons of colour that our judiciary, police force, parliamentarians, public service, professions, hospitals and education systems have a limited understanding of the systemic interaction between racism and power. Everyone is still looking for the whip-toting, menacing racist guy from Schindlers’ List, forgetting that Schindler could only have saved those on his list after his government, which he supported, quietly implemented laws that turned the Jewish people into numbered slaves, forced to either work for Schindler or die. Our laws, so seemingly benign, good for the economy and for restoring beloved neo-liberal traditional values, have slowly but surely excluded people of colour from having any influential and tempering voice in the increasingly racially charged environment in this country. Our Prime Minister, in the meantime, insists that this country is a multicultural success.
When it comes to the political gaming around racism, our politicians are in fact decades ahead of Donald Trump. In 2001, Howard pulled an unexpected landslide victory by demonising a faceless, voiceless exhausted new mother who had desperately fought to keep her infant alive, on a leaking boat, for months. He had already laid the groundwork for the claim, through shock-jock doorstops, by sympathizing not with Hanson herself, but with her supporters. A cavalcade of jubilant, vindicated talk-show noise stepped in to support his allegations, despite how outrageous (and untrue) they were at the time.
The timely release of Michael Daley’s Asian Phd Invasion speech should have been recognised as the Liberal two-card trick reminiscent of Howard’s refugee demonizing stunt. While Shorten MP, Plibersek MP and Sen. Penny Wong have kept their heads low, the Daley video was circulated to remind us all that the two major parties are really not that different when it comes to race-baiting. Daley could not have done or said anything to rectify those ill-uttered words, clearly spoken at an event at which no Asian migrants were present. At an event where, of all the things he could elect to discuss about the property and employment prospects for the young, white kids he seems so concerned about, he chose to single out highly qualified and intelligent people, identified only by their Asian heritage, as the overriding threat.
That in itself explains one of the key driving factors behind the self-entitlement fueling the hatred, anger and disenfranchisement of young white men like the Grafton gunman. They are angry not because they are missing out on the basis of merit. They are angry because they are missing out despite being white and male. Daley’s comments underpin the lived experiences of many highly qualified migrants in NSW who, in the name of diversity, have been replaced by less qualified but cheaper young, white women. All Gladys Berejiklian had to do to not alienate the white power groups that vote LNP, was to hobble around with trump card Howard in borderline (and racially charged) electorates for the last few days leading up to the elections.
Again, the NSW elections come as no surprise to us. It’s the case of better the devil you know, and the Prime Minister is counting on that for the upcoming federal elections.
The Christchurch shooting was indeed Mr Morrison’s Tampa moment. His faux offense at Waleed Aly was rewarded with an uninterrupted platform on primetime Channel 10, which he used to peddle textbook neo-liberal responses to the rise and rise of white power identity politics. He took the politically correct conservative stance on every question, from denying any government responsibility for promoting racial harmony, to recommending we adopt the USA style of individual philanthropy if we really want social change. In other words, systems are preserved, order restored, and those currently holding power will determine success and who deserves it.
As well-meaning white progressive journalists waste words trying to interpret his body language, Morrison artfully signaled to both his voting heartland and the swinging white ‘progressive’ voters that it is going be another case of better the devil you know. John Howard would be proud.
Bashi Hazard, lawyer, is currently working on a PhD in Competition Law at Sydney University.