How not to be a white supremacist

September 4, 2018

 

This month in a maiden speech to Parliament, Katter Party Senator Fraser Anning rallied his white kin to rise up and defeat all enemies of white civilisation or risk its ruin.
 

Anning called for a plebiscite to secure support to return to the White Australia Policy—the restriction of non-European migrants practiced from Federation in 1901 until the 1970s. Anning also called for a total ban on Muslim immigration. He labelled this fight against these supposed enemies of Australia’s white identity, “the final solution to the immigration problem,” a naming which evoked the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” a Nazi plan that culminated in the systematic extermination of two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population.
 

Senators lined up to congratulate Anning. Bob Katter called the speech “solid gold.” I was relieved to see Anning’s overt racism widely condemned across Parliament in the following days, but it gave me a pause for self-reflection. Is voicing a dislike of Nazi ethnic cleansing the only prerequisite to not being a white supremacist? What else may be required of me? 


1. KNOWING HISTORY

 

Anning asked, “for what in the end is Australia?” and harked back to a speech given to the Federation Conference by Sir Henry Parkes in 1890, “The creation of a nation is an event that can never recur. There cannot be two birthdays of national existence. And, in this country of Australia, with such ample space, with such inviting varieties of soil and climate, with such vast stores of hidden wealth under the soil, with such unrivalled richness on all hands, and with a people occupying that soil unequalled in all the range of the human race, in nation-creating properties, what is there that should be impossible to those people?” Neither Parkes nor Anning mention the over 500 nations who possessed this “ample space” under their own laws and customs for over 60,000 years before those “unequalled in all the range of the human race” invaded to birth this nation we now call Australia. 

Throughout the history of the British invasion of each of these 500 nations run common threads of massacre, mass incarceration, endemic rape, stolen children, segregation, forced labour, and cultural suppression. The ‘nation-creating’ Parkes and Anning refer to was only made possible by the ingrained belief that the lives and culture of the people who already occupied this land were of lesser value than white Europeans. Shameless white supremacy undergirded the genocide, slavery, and apartheid of First Nations people.

Such was the belief in white supremacy that it was taught by Darwin’s new science of evolution that First Nations peoples were doomed for extinction. White supremacy was simply ‘survival of the fittest’ and the genocide unfolding natural justice.

By the 1800s, First Nations people who had survived frontier violence were herded into missions and reserves and closely controlled. Considered state property, they could not marry, work, or leave without permission. First Nations culture was prohibited and European culture enforced—even to the point they were forbidden to speak their own languages. This was not so survivors could later join the new colony, but short term charity as the British waited for them to die out.

But another ‘problem’ soon arose on the frontier—children of mixed race. It was feared their existence threated this natural course of evolution; instead of dying out, First Nations blood was polluting the white racial pool. So these ‘half-caste’ children were stolen and placed into institutions. Generations of stolen children were denied love, family, identity, culture, and language. In institutions children were abused, neglected, and some used in medical experiments. Trained as labourers and domestic servants, it was hoped ‘half-castes’ could be assimilated subordinately into white society where in time the black would be literally bred out of them and so Australia saved from permanent stain. No joke. Government documents from this time are bone-chilling in their intent on ethnic cleansing. The impact is horrific.

The UN defines genocide as "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group." Apartheid is defined as the discrimination and segregation of people based on race. A slave is a person considered the legal property of another and forced to obey them and work without proper payment. Genocide, apartheid, slavery—all unfolded within Australia.

Even peaceful colonists participated in a new world predicated on whites living and thriving and First Nations people diminishing and dying. Those of us who have migrated to Australia since then also unwittingly join this colonial project, conceding to the necessity of First Nations dispossession as a requirement of our own future building. Australia is a house colonialism built. The fabric of colonialism is white supremacy. You can’t reject white supremacy without first owning this truth. You can’t change what you can’t see.

When the Commonwealth of Australia was established in 1901, First Nations were not counted in the population. First Nations people had to campaign for inclusion, gained by referendum in 1967. The White Australia Policy was one of the first acts of Australia’s freshly minted Parliament. Our first Prime Minister, Sir Edmund Barton, said, “I do not think either that the doctrine of the equality of man was really ever intended to include racial equality. There is no racial equality. There is that basic inequality. These races are, in comparison with white races — I think no one wants convincing of this fact — unequal and inferior.” The Australian Government apologised for the stolen generations in 2008, but has left unacknowledged the invasion, stolen land, massacres, mass incarceration, slavery, stolen wages, and the harm this causes into the present day. No repentance. No reparations. No treaty. No reconciliation. Anning fears Australia is severing its racist roots. If only this were so.

If you’re a white Australian like me, you’ve probably caught yourself assuming that colonisation and civilisation unfolding are same-same. Our white supremacy is talking. Do you wonder why successive governments can win elections by locking up refugees in offshore concentration camps, using the torture of men, women, and children to deter future boat arrivals? This is white supremacy in action. Australians with any degree of Chinese heritage still get asked where they come from despite their ancestors calling these shores home for over 200 years, yet a white face unquestionably belongs. This is because white is Australia’s normalised frame. Ever watched the news and been tempted to think Australia has an ongoing Aboriginal problem that needs solving rather than First Nations peoples persevering through a white people problem that is never going to go away?

History can’t be remade but the future can.

Can something new be imagined?



2. ACKNOWLEDGING WHITE PRIVILEGE

 

First Nations did not suffer extinction. Survivors grafted into a society built on wanting them dead and gone. This resilience must be recognised, but so must the gravity of the harm caused, harm which reverberates into the present—the intergenerational trauma caused by stolen children, the present day inequality which has resulted from hundreds of years of dispossession and oppression, and every bit of harm triggered by living in a nation forged by denying the humanity of people of colour. Ingrained white supremacy echoes across Australian life, within our power structures, economy, and many of our dominant unconscious social contracts. This is systemic racism. Racism is racism. 

A conversation about male privilege is gaining momentum within Australia—the unconscious bias which leads women to be seen as having less worth than men. It is clear this bias causes endemic harm to women. Campaigns are arising to correct the ingrained gender inequality in our society and dismantle all enabling beliefs and structures.

All men, even the nicest of men, must confront male privilege. The same goes for white privilege for women and men. Systemic racism operates on a continuum, from a socially acceptable racist comment that enforces the perception that someone doesn’t truly belong, to the ways First Nations people are treated, past and present, which has caused First Nations people today to be at greater risk of arrest, incarceration, death in custody, child removal, entrenched poverty, lack of education, family violence, poor physical and mental health, and reduced life expectancy. But like systemic misogyny, systemic racism is also a pyramid, where our casually racist comments underpin grand scale injustice and violence.

It isn’t pretty when men are too fragile to examine the toxicity that has crept into their collective maleness. Are you white? Let’s not make the same mistake with our whiteness. We have much listening and learning to do. Ways we think and act will need to change. Inequalities which may benefit us require dismantling. Be brave.



3. SEEKING JUSTICE

 

What in the end is Australia? I hope we haven’t reached our end. Our beautiful land groans under the weight of cooperate and consumer greed. We all seem to be stuck working for the economy, forgetting that the economy is meant to work for us. The wealth gap is extending. We have working poor. Rates of depression and anxiety are on the rise. One woman a week is killed as a result of male violence. First Nations peoples have a life expectancy ten years lower than the rest of Australia. We seem content to torture refugees in offshore detention. Senators are standing in Parliament suggesting white supremacist solutions. 

Should this rot surprise us? How can a nation seeded from racist DNA on stolen land grow up healthy? Too often white Australia has fed itself the narrative that First Nations are dependent on white help to progress. What would it mean to drop this white saviour mask and see all Australia as a broken nation desperately in need of healing and rebirth?

In May 2017 over two hundred First Nations leaders met at Uluru and drafted a new vision of the future, the Uluru Statement from the Heart. It calls for a referendum to change the constitution to establish a First Nations council to advise Government on Indigenous affairs. It is a historic consensus, yet some First Nations leaders see it as too much a compromise. It is a modest change given all that has unfolded; it’s not a third body of Parliament, but an advisory board, a voice. A referendum is required so it can’t be reneged at whim by any subsequent regressive powers. But if embraced by all Australia, this could herald the close of an era of paternalistic control of First Nations and take a step towards self-determination.

The Uluru Statement also seeks to establish the Makarrata Commission, ‘coming together after struggle’—a process of treaty negotiations and truth telling about history. It seeks a new envisioning of this nation, where First Nations sovereignty of this land is recognised alongside the sovereignty of the crown, and the wisdom of the over 500 nations who have been custodians of this land for over 60,000 years embodied into Australia’s identity.

The irony is that the Uluru Statement is a grand injustice. It is not justice that the abused party should be burdened with the need to heal, yet they always are. It is a gross injustice when an abused party takes on any role in healing their abuser, yet with astonishing beauty the Uluru Statement arrives like a warzone medic to heal the wounds of all. It’s utter grace.

“We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future,” The Uluru Statement offers. Walk with us—the injustice of grace transforming a grand injustice into a just future. Repentance, restitution, redemption, reconciliation, restoration, resurrection, renewed creation—do you hear a familiar story?

I hear the heartbeat of God—work we are remade for in Christ.




4. A LITTLE HOMEWORK IF YOU ARE WILLING

 

 

Read: The Uluru Statement from the Heart. Share its vision.
 

Read: Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman. This Australian dystopia will blow your mind.
 

Listen: Brooke Prentis 2018 Tinsely Lecture “Brooke Prentis will accompany us on a journey through the colonial history of mission in Australia and introduce us to the way that Aboriginal peoples now see Christian mission. She will argue that colonisation still exists, but will outline a way out of this impasse for the Churches. She describes this as ‘reclaiming community’, drawing on the wisdom available from the insights and practice of Aboriginal Christian leaders, and believes that this understanding is vital for the mission and health of every church in Australia today.”
 

Explore: Common Grace, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice.
 

Join: Aunty Jean Phillips and Brooke Prentis invite you to join in a Gracious Conversation in Sydney, on Sept 8th @ Northside Baptist Church. “True healing in this land can only happen when we as Christians come together and talk about the issues we face as a nation, particularly for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. So, let’s get together and talk.”

 

Hello, I’m Laura Tharion, and I am passionate about spreading the joy and wonder to be found in living a resurrected life inside Jesus Christ. I enjoy tea, cake, history, hammocks, wild bushland, gardening, reading, and gifting my favourite books into the hands of others. I had the pleasure of studying at Sydney Missionary and Bible College before my three lovely little boys arrived to fill my days. Here I picked up the pet soap-boxes of mission advocacy and teaching the Bible as one unified story. I have a heart to write—sermons, studies, articles, meditations, poetry, and epic novels, all which aim to explore theology and encourage everyone to fully realise all they have been given and commissioned in Christ.

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