OPINION: by Dr Anthony DillonNews Weekly
Claims of racism more damaging than the real thing
, April 12, 2014
It is time for some plain talk about racism, vilification, offence, hurt feelings and personal responsibility, given recent discussions about section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
Jeremy Jones of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council recently wrote that “racism is, unfortunately, a reality in contemporary Australia” (The Australian, March 18, 2014).
That is true. But does that mean Australia is a racist country? There is a huge difference between saying that racism exists in Australia (as it does in most countries) and that Australia is a racist country. The question we should be asking is: how frequent and severe is racism in Australia?
Political correctness, with regard to people who identify as Aboriginal Australians, has reached the ridiculous stage where one can be accused of being racist simply by questioning the motives of some people who identify as being Aboriginal.
Or there is the obvious elephant in the room. Why is it that someone with multiple ancestries chooses to build their identity around being Aboriginal, when having only one of your 16 great-great-grandparents being Aboriginal qualifies you to claim being Aboriginal? People are free to identify how they wish, but they should not be surprised when they are questioned about it.
And those who question should feel free to do so without being branded a racist, even if someone claims, “you hurt my feelings”. Such a claim is really saying, “those who question me have more power over my emotions than I have over them”.
While claims of being a victim of racism can result in one being elevated to the status of hero, the myth that Australia is a racist country prevents important discussions from taking place: discussions about how to tackle the tough problems of sickness, poverty, alcohol abuse, poor educational outcomes, unemployment.
Accusations of racism are, for a few, a convenient distraction from tackling real problems. They can elevate the status and careers of a few.
People avoid addressing these tough issues because they are difficult to tackle and are problems for which Aboriginal people must be part of the solution.
For far too long, a very vocal group of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians has been insisting that the problems faced by Aboriginal people are to be solved by the government.
While government certainly has a role to play, Tony Abbott was correct when he recently stated in the Closing the Gap report: “We have to stop pretending that a government policy or program on its own can overcome indigenous disadvantage … government programs alone will never close the gap.”
Promoting the message that Australia is a racist country comes at a cost; people will see no need to take responsibility for their lives. Claims of racism provide a perfect excuse for not having to make the lifestyle changes necessary to improve quality of life.
They reinforce the victim mentality, where Aborigines are presented as victims of a racist country. Propagating such myths is far easier than addressing the tough problems mentioned previously.
Yes, racism exists in this country. But we are not a racist country. There is an enormous amount of goodwill towards Aboriginal Australians and other ethnic groups. Claims of racism where it does not exist are more damaging to reconciliation and the health and well-being of Aboriginal people than real racism.
If we are to get tough on racism, shouldn’t we also get tough on people who promote it where it does not exist and accuse others of being racist simply because they have a message that may not be popular with a few?
Anthony Dillon is a post-doctoral fellow at the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education at the Australian Catholic University. He identifies as part-Aboriginal Australian. This opinion piece originally appeared in The Australian, March 27, 2014.