Buy This Issue
The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 11 February 2017
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 11 FEBRUARY 2017 25 COMMENT US President Donald Trump on the phone in Washington with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. For decades, Australia and the US have enjoyed the cosiest of relationships, collaborating on everything from military and intelligence to diplomacy and trade. Yet an irritable tweet Trump fired off about Australia and a dramatic report of an angry phone call between the leaders proves that the new commander in chief has changed the playing field for even America’s staunchest allies. PHOTO: AAP VIA AP/ALEX BRANDON. The conscious and subconscious hating comes in various forms, including in a legitimately-felt sense of superiority – where truly people feel that their way of living and cultural content are superior to those of others. That’s still dangerous because it pits people against people, denying a polycultural diversity, and that’s the precursor to eugenic type policies by the dominant or the oppressor, depending on who you are within the dichotomy. If anyone believes that ‘social engineering’ is a thing of the recent past then they’re mistaken − social engineering occurs in every bit of policy making. Without racism, there would be no Ku Klux Klan. Without racism there would have been no Jewish Holocaust. Without racism there would be no Palestinian crisis. Twentytwo years ago, in 100 days of genocidal slaughter, the Hutu majority government was responsible for the slaughter of 800,000 Rwandans, mostly of Tutsi heritage. Without racism this tragedy would not have occurred. People should never be pitted against each other. There should be no place for pitchfork standoffs in political and national conversations. If sincere comingtogether discussions on racism and the ways forward had occurred decades ago there would be no One Nation party. Trump’s rise to Washington needed a narrative of blame and a narrative of hate. But the opportunity had been sowed by his political predecessors, who themselves sold division and hate to justify or excuse or, more aptly, to disguise their suite of ulte- rior motives and deeds. John Howard and Kim Beazley were abominable in nurturing fear among Australians with the Tampa incident, with the SIEVX. They put personal political ambition before the national interest. In the late 1970s and 1980s, moral leadership was demonstrated by the then government in assisting Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees who came in what appeared to be waves of boats. My sister-in-law, just a baby, came from Vietnam on one of those boats, which nearly sank. Children who arrived from these countries without the English language and without possessions came to my school. I became friends with some of them. One of them, a landmine victim, profoundly dragged his right leg. During this period Andrew Peacock led the way, telling his government he would resign if people fleeing Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge killing fields were not assisted. Similar compassionate support came from Fred Chaney and Malcolm Fraser and ensured an adequate level of humanity. Mandatory detention was enacted as legislation by the Keating government in 1992 but ‘indefinite’ detention was not its intention – it was intended as a ‘quarantine’ check. But the lazilycrafted legislation raised an ugly spectre a decade later. But let’s not romanticise the reception of refugees in the 1980s; it was harrowing, however, not as unwelcoming as our contemporary state where we have gone so far backwards that many are surprised. In the 1980s there were also forms of offshore processing, but as regional collaboration. There was Galang camp in Indonesia and Hei Ling Chau camp on a Hong Kong islet. These were places with horrific conditions, of deprivations and human misery. However, there were UNHCR personnel at the camps to assist with resettlement. Galang Island refugee camp opened in 1979 and was closed in 1996 after all the refugees were resettled. It had two camps – one for newly-arrived refugees and another for those approved, who received English classes and cultural information about the country of their resettlement. Most of the refugees at Galang preferred Australia for resettlement and Australia took a significant proportion of them. This was because Australia had shorter waiting periods and less bureaucratic red tape. The USA and Canada took in large numbers, too. However, their waiting periods were longer. Australia had committed to taking in 40,000 and in the end without any fanfare took in 70,000. Babies were born in Galang and people died there. Alongside the UNHCR, Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children maintained a neardaily presence. Hong Kong’s rocky islet of Hei Ling Chau maintained a closed camp with razor wire. Many of the refugees broke down, many died. However, Hong Kong refused to push boats of refugees back out to sea, as on occasion the Thais did. The poison of racism now toxically pollutes humanity with the evident reality that it will unleash upon the fu- tures of our children and their children tsunamis of cruelties and abominable times that today still remain relatively unimaginable. The neoliberal project is predominately white-owned but its root causality is a disguised elitism, benefit to the very few. To meet this exploitation even the white masses must be mobilised. But whether black, brown or white, no right-minded individual would subjugate their mattering to the grossest wrong-doing. Martin Luther King touched on the roots of racism that are found in its use as a tool for exploitation. America wants to be great again, but America was never great – a country that has dished out brutality the world over, more than 100 military engagements since World War II, and its subversion of the internal affairs of other nations is well known. Racism is always used as part of the propaganda package. In the centuries before World War II, the America that sells itself as the land of the free built its economies on the back of black slavery – for a long time 90 per cent of the American economy was intertwined with slavery. The poor white masses were taught not to dissent at their own starvation level wages or the slave would replace them. This narrative of the self is sold by Trump, Golden Dawn, the One Nation Party, but is reinforced by counter-narratives such as John Howard’s Tampa response, the turning back of the SIEVX (353 drowned) and mandatory detention. The reinforced narrative has been brought home in all its racist fury by back-ped- alling politicians in the Rudd and Gillard governments. In the racist mire there are conscious understandings but also unconscious. The white was sold their superiority over the black, that as Luther King said, “when (the white’s) wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide … a psychological bird told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man”. Australia’s roots to its racism are no different, one built on white privilege. Wherever we turn for political leadership on countering racism, there is no-one, only arguers of this and that, not of racism per se. My old political alma mater, the Greens, are not the answer – they may tinker with social justice but only on the edges of the neoliberal project, they do not have the courage to stand up and radicalise the national discourses. They remain a party of putrid white privilege, like all Australian political parties – Labor the best of a bad lot. When Greens NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon spoke up for Palestine she was shut down viciously by the Greens. When she wanted to lead the Australian Greens, the party apparatchik panicked and corralled her. There is no political party in Australia that is doing away with white privilege, that is standing up to racism and that understands racism. The racists I grew up around, the schoolyard racists, they now fill our parliaments – they hide behind the sorcery of lies, a false language of reconciliation, but if they were to wear their hearts on sleeve as does One Nation there’d be less difference between them than is publicly portrayed. There is no default position to Australia’s racism, because as long as white Australians deny the demography of this nation to fairly reflect Australia at every level of engagement in this nation, as long as white Australia denies the fact of our brotherhood and sisterhood, denies an embracing of each other in the highest offices, then every Australian covenant is one of racism. The only journey other than to retreat and endure is to fight the struggle for change, to rise and be heard and to inspire. Many Australians will attack me, will deride me as a stirrer, will be hostile in the denial of racism – this I have endured since I was a young child but even more so during each year of the last two decades, where we as a nation have betrayed the expectations that many of us in the 1970s and ‘80s believed was a fast-approaching future. But the chattering classes, predominately made up of white Australians and a smattering of the assimilated, will be the ones who will argue that all is well and that we are some sort of ‘great nation’. But millions of black, brown and Asian Australians know very differently. * Gerry Georgatos is a suicide prevention and prison reform researcher and advocate with the Institute of Social Justice and Human Rights. He is a member of national projects further developing suicide prevention and prison to hope to well-being to education programs. He is also a prolific writer on the ways forward from racism.
4 February 2017
18 February 2017