Monday, August 03, 2009

Janet Albrechtsen, So Over Racism, while others are so over Albrechtsen

(Above: an image of Obama circulated by Dr. David McKalip, Florida neurosurgeon, member of the American Medical Association's House of Delegates, energetic conservative opponent of health-care reform, with the tag "Funny stuff").

Strictly speaking there being a limited number of races, racism is a term which should be limited to those races. But ethnicism or religiousism haven't caught on in the same way that sexism is used to evoke prejudice on the basis of sex, and even then sexism doesn't conjure up homophobia.

But the implications are clear enough. I grew up in a gently racist household. My mother assured me that blacks were generally dirty and untrustworthy, while my father added the bonus notion that calling Rockdale wogdale was harmless fun, especially as wogs needed to be treated with the same supicious distrust as a meal which might contain garlic (or even worse chilis).

This was in the abstract - my best friend at school happened to be Greek, and across the road the Chinese family that ran a restaurant and sent us left over fried rice and soup made up a different reality where personal contact removed, but didn't entirely resolve, differences. I remember my friend once being told she was okay, for a wog. For a wog.

But of course if you're in the superior grouping, calling people names is just a game which doesn't hurt that much. Sticks and stones and names will never hurt me, and so on. It's always an interesting experience to have the shoe on the other foot - to watch the insular Japanese for example go about the business of discrimination and exclusion, and if you can get them talking about gaijin, to learn of the deep seated distrust of dairy smelling, cheese eating whities, or to try to get a seat in a Japanese only restaurant, bathhouse or shrine. 

There's that poignant moment as you stand at the door of the shrine, shoes in hand, and a tough very short old lady looks at you and your white face, and effectively tells you bugger off gaijin. 

Australia has the same festering amount of racism as most countries - you can only explain away the Cronulla riots and recent bashings of Indian students as something else by tucking your head into the sand like an ostrich (not that ostrichs actually do this, nor is it the intention of this site to indulge in species slander).

But of course it's always the great pretence by great pretenders that racism doesn't have much to do with anything, and it comes as no surprise that Janet Albrechtsen is leading the charge with Claiming racism behind every ill.

On the basis of a couple of examples - in particular the Henry Gates affair in America and a couple of actors being refused entry to a Sydney nightclub called Hemmesphere (a name which should surely rule out any desire to be let into it) - Albrechtsen goes into a rant which gets racist about claims of racism. To wit:

Racism is nasty. No doubt about it. We draft up laws to combat the evil. But so is falsely accusing someone of racism. Should we draft up some laws to stop that too?

Surely I cannot be the only person in Australia to have grown so weary of the endless playing of the racism card as to believe antidote legislation may be required. Sure there will be accusations of hypocrisy about anti-nanny state Janet wanting more laws. But maybe extraordinary measures are needed to deal with this scourge.

But then to get to the next point, Albrechtsen has to make the usual absurd leap in logic for which she's rightly famous:

This is not to suggest that racism does not exist or is not repulsive. Yet, for reasons ranging from greed to envy to stupidity, racism is now identified as the all pervasive root of every evil.

By whom is racism identified as the all pervasive root of every evil? Well anyone who disagrees with Albrechtsen would presumably be a good starting point. Like President Obama or a couple of actors refused admission to a club who claim their middle eastern appearance was an issue.

Of course racism might actually be about whites who instinctively dislike black people (or blacks who don't like whites). But Albrechtsen wants enough already. First having set up the straw dog - racism is blamed for everything - the next illogical step is to demand that this blaming racism for every evil be stopped.

There are a multitude of reasons for this desire to find racism behind every ill. Mostly it happens because it is an easy and popular response which can be trotted out without thought and with little fear of being corrected. Sometimes it is deliberately used as a justification of claims for more money, resources or power. There is a whole industry of lawyers, consultants and human rights activists who use it in this way. Whatever its cause, it is now a scourge.

Well yes now there's a black man in the black house, everything is just hunky dory. Stop scourging me already.

And just to show she's serious, Albrechtsen naturally takes the opportunity to indulge in a little gratuitous black bashing, followed by an ingenious flip flop which allows conservative Australia to claim its wildly supportive attitude to women and homosexuals is treated as a way of demonising Muslim minorities.

It has meant we have long grown used to every failure of service delivery to indigenous people being attributed to racism rather than any of the myriad other causes of indigenous disadvantage. Any questioning of immigration policy is now routinely met with claims of racism. The merest hint that we are entitled to insist on equal treatment of women or homosexuals is described as an attempt to demonise Muslim minorities.

If I hadn't read that argument, I would have blinked. Suddenly the conservative commentariat are insisting on the equal treatment of homosexuals. Where oh where were they when it came to the recent ALP conference which continued the ban on gay marriage?

Oh you mean equal but not that equal. Like equal pay for women. Hey it's coming but in the meantime 84 cent for every dollar a man earns seems fair enough. Well women are the weaker sex after all.

Albrechtsen even evokes Godwin's Law, though she doesn't actually mention it by name, which leads me to suspect she doesn't know what she's talking about, since to argue Godwin's Law in the context of a debate about the implications of racism is surely a fatal breach of Godwin's Law and means she should be ruled out of the game.

The use of the word “racist” has now become so debased it is akin to the game about the Nazi word. As soon as you use the word, you lose the argument. Using it demonstrates you have run out of arguments and have descended to meaningless epithets.

You have to suspect that deep down Albrechtsen - who gives all the appearance of being a blonde - has never actually been black in a racist country, nor even taken the trouble to do a minstrel act or an Eddie Murphy routine, dress up as black and take a walk on the wildside. Because the notion that racism is a debased notion, a meaningless epithet could only occur to someone not black, to never having experienced racism. It's been around a long time, as Othello reminds us:

Iago. ’Zounds! sir, you’re robb’d; forshame, put on your gown; 
Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul;
Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise!
Awake the snorting citizens with the bell, 
Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you.

But let's not get into an irritating tendency to use racism as a substitute for deeper analysis:

More importantly, the emphasis on racism has gone beyond an irritating tendency to be used as an all purpose substitute for a lack of deeper analysis. More and more race-based policy is now actually destroying lives. As Noel Pearson has pointed out so forcefully over the years, abused children don’t care if banning alcohol and pornography from aboriginal communities is racist. They just want the abuse to stop.

Well yes, but call Noel Pearson a black bastard, and see how he likes it. I'd guess in much the same way as black footballers have taken somewhat forcibly to objecting to being called black cunts on the football field. But then I guess if you haven't been called that kind of despicable word - it happened yet again this season in rugby league on the field - you'd tend to think of it as an irritating tendency lacking deeper analysis. Why you might even react with your gut instinct.

Why if you're Piers Akerman, you might even chortle that Keysar Trad was called by Justice Peter McClellan in the NSW Court of Appeal a dangerous, dishonest racist person and unbelievable lair. (Trad has been trashed by justice). Then you might start wondering if a hatred of Jewish people, women and homosexuals was in the strict sense racist - if you were inclined to tedious, detailed analysis - remembering that the semites are a broad based tribe, and religion is not a descriptor of race. Or alternatively you just might think that Trad was a prejudiced git and be happy with calling him a racist.

But that would just be giving you a license to defame:

We have arrived at the point where the word racism is now a barrier to solutions, not a useful descriptor. It is frequently little more than a licence to defame. While accusing another person, without due cause, of illegal conduct is often greeted with a claim for libel, it seems that baseless claims of racism are allowed. Surely the “teachable moment” from the saga over Sergeant James Crowley and Professor Henry Louis Gates is that it is time for people to use the racism word with considerable more care, thought and maybe even something approaching evidence?

Well if you're a black in America, you might not be so sanguine as Albrechtsen. And for an alternative view, you might read Bob Herbert's piece Anger Has Its Place, in the The New York Times.

If Professor Gates ranted and raved at the cop who entered his home uninvited with a badge, a gun and an attitude, he didn’t rant and rave for long. The 911 call came in at about 12:45 on the afternoon of July 16 and, as The Times has reported, Mr. Gates was arrested, cuffed and about to be led off to jail by 12:51.

The charge: angry while black.

The president of the United States has suggested that we use this flare-up as a “teachable moment,” but so far exactly the wrong lessons are being drawn from it — especially for black people. The message that has gone out to the public is that powerful African-American leaders like Mr. Gates and President Obama will be very publicly slapped down for speaking up and speaking out about police misbehavior, and that the proper response if you think you are being unfairly targeted by the police because of your race is to chill.

But then Herbert lives in a country where the KKK still goes about its business, and he remains as mad as hell:

I have nothing but contempt for that message.

Black people need to roar out their anger at such treatment, lift up their voices and demand change. Anyone counseling a less militant approach is counseling self-defeat. As of mid-2008, there were 4,777 black men imprisoned in America for every 100,000 black men in the population. By comparison, there were only 727 white male inmates per 100,000 white men.

While whites use illegal drugs at substantially higher percentages than blacks, black men are sent to prison on drug charges at 13 times the rate of white men.

Most whites do not want to hear about racial problems, and President Obama would rather walk through fire than spend his time dealing with them. We’re never going to have a serious national conversation about race. So that leaves it up to ordinary black Americans to rant and to rave, to demonstrate and to lobby, to march and confront and to sue and generally do whatever is necessary to stop a continuing and deeply racist criminal justice outrage.

But I guess it's easy if you're a privileged columnist for The Australian to sit down and scribble out how outraged you are about people using racism as a debating point. Why the next time there's a race based riot in Cronulla, I'll make sure to blather on about socio economic disadvantage, and the right of Australia to reserve the country for Australians.

And in the meantime, Albrechtsen can continue to rail about the racism of evoking the notion of racism, especially as she doesn't have to walk a mile in anyone's shoes except her own.

Take it away Whitey Ford:

We’ve all seen the man at the liquor store beggin’ for your change
The hair on his face is dirty, dreadlocked and full of mange
He ask the man for what he could spare with shame in his eyes
Get a job you fuckin’ slob’s all he replied
God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in his shoes
‘Cause then you really might know what it’s like to sing the blues
Then you really might know what it’s like

(Below: more images relating to Obama. Not that there's racism or that it substitutes for deeper analysis of the Albrechtsen kind but if you want a slideshow of these images, go here Social Networks Help Republican Racism Go Viral).

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