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What I’ve been reading

December 10th, 2006

Multiethnic Australia by Celeste Lipow McLeod. It’s aimed at a US audience, and gives a potted history of Australia since European settlement, from a pro-multiculturalist point of view. More here. Written after the Cronulla riots, the book maintains an optimistic viewpoint, which I think is broadly consistent with our history in the long run.

It’s worth remembering in this context that until quite recently, resentment about immigration and multiculturalism was directed mainly against East Asians. This was true both of Pauline Hanson and of the previous big backlash in the 1980s led by among others, Katherine Betts, Geoffrey Blainey and John Howard. In the decade since Hanson’s famous maiden speech, this kind of prejudice has ebbed dramatically, even as the number of Australians of East Asian background has increased rapidly. And the still older prejudices against Southern Europeans have disappeared almost entirely, along with most of the feelings of resentment and exclusion that were once very strong among these groups.

It may be a while before we overcome our current problems, but I’m confident we’ll do so in the end.

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  1. conrad
    December 10th, 2006 at 17:15 | #1

    “In the decade since Hanson’s famous maiden speech, this kind of prejudice has ebbed dramatically, even as the number of Australians of East Asian background has increased rapidly”

    Given that you are a rich/middle class white guy hanging around universities with other middle class people most of the time, it might be nice to actually provide some evidence of this. I personally don’t think it is much different, excluding that the forms of racism may have changed, and the fact that you can now avoid it to some extent by living in certain areas. Thus simply because people don’t spray-paint “Asians go home” all over the place anymore, doesn’t mean to say they don’t believe it anymore. Some data about almost current day Australia is here:


    Table 6 and 7 tend are rather enlightening. I’d be interested to see if there is any data that shows that people’s attitudes (vs. behaviour) is any different than a decade ago, and whether any overall differences are simply because young people are less racist, rather than because adults who happened to have lived an additional decade are less racist.

  2. December 10th, 2006 at 17:37 | #2

    Well, I’ve mentioned my encounter with anything-you-like-so-long-as-it’s-curry before, that happened on a Melbourne-Adelaide train. Multiculturalism, bah, humbug (and humbug to strawmen too – much of the above condemntaion is a blend of misrepresenting positions and shooting the messenger).

  3. jquiggin
    December 10th, 2006 at 17:44 | #3

    Conrad, surely the relevant table here is Table 1, which shows that prejudice against Asians is about the same as prejudice against Jews. 70 per cent of people would be unconcerned if a relative married someone Asian and 20 per cent “slightly or somewhat”. Unless Hansonism was beaten up out of thin air, this suggests that such prejudice has declined a lot. No doubt, as you say, this is partly a matter of generational turnover.

    Tables 6 and 7 don’t give any useful breakdowns for our current discussion.

  4. jquiggin
    December 10th, 2006 at 19:40 | #4

    As an aside, I’m unimpressed when I read sentences like this in the abstract “Most Australians recognise the problem of racism, yet less than half recognise the cultural privileges that racism accords”. That is, respondents who disagreed that “British Australians are privileged” were marked “Wrong!” Dismayingly for the authors that included a large proportion of indigenous Australians.

    These guys are in important respects the mirror image of Blainey et al, determined to find that Australians are naturally racist, regardless of the evidence.

  5. James Farrell
    December 10th, 2006 at 21:47 | #5

    Thanks for the link to the Dunn paper, Conrad.

    John hits the nail on the head when he notes that the telling statistic is the 71.8% who would be ‘not at all concerned’ if a family member married an Asian. This is the classic test of racial prejudice. I bet the number was much higher in Australia thirty years ago, and is currently much higher in Western Europe.

    I’m also a white, middle class guy who hangs around universities. But I live in a working class suburb, and see nothing but harmonious and friendly behaviour in shops, offices, schools, and kids’ sports clubs. Groups of mates amongst undergraduate sudents are strikingly heterogeneous (though Asian overseas students hang out together of coure), and the sight of a mixed couple in the shopping mall is now too common to attract a backward glance.

    I found it unhelpful that Muslim was used as a racial category. If I was answering the questions I wouldn’t know if I was supposed to be thinking of an Arab or any kind of Muslim, and whether it referrred to active practitioners or simply people out of a Muslim milieu. Actually, I would be uneasy if my son married a practising Muslim, irrespective of ethnicity – or if he married an evangelical Christian for that matter.

  6. gja
    December 10th, 2006 at 22:03 | #6

    Most of the mixing I see is white guys and asian girls, and rarely/never the reverse.

  7. melanie
    December 10th, 2006 at 23:16 | #7

    Hanson had 15% of the vote in Queensland and much less nationwide. Her racism was linked to a particular brand of nationalism (in economics, for example) that really has little appeal. I think that recent immigrant communities tend to be more anti-immigration than others – maybe a result of feeling insecure. I see no evidence whatsoever, in places like Cabramatta, that racism is strong in everyday life. That said, the most recent wave of culturally different people has always copped the worst of it.

  8. Redmond
    December 11th, 2006 at 00:08 | #8

    “Racist attitudes are positively associated with age, non-tertiary education, and to a slightly lesser extent with those who do not speak a language other than English,…”

    I wonder whether Dunn can speak “a language other than English”. I can, and I have heard some hair-curling racist comments in LOTEs. The worst anti-Jewish attitudes I’ve met have been from European migrants.

    I agree with Melanie that the most recent wave cops it, and especially from the second to most recent. Those who were kicked now have someone to kick.

    James F doesn’t have to worry about his son marrying a practising Muslim. Islamic law commands Muslim women to marry only Muslim men. Muslim men may marry Muslim, Jewish or Christian women.

  9. Redmond
    December 11th, 2006 at 00:38 | #9

    Having read a bit more of the piece, I think his questions are flawed.
    He askes whether Australians from a “British background” are privileged.
    What are “British background” and “privileged” supposed to mean?
    Dunn uses British background to mean Anglo-celt, and if the truth were known, probably any white person born before 1950. He’d probably give Joh Bjelke-Petersen or Colin Thiele a “British” background.

    If someone asks Paul Keating whether he has a “British background”, will he say “yes”?

    Dunn also confuses race and culture, which are entirely different concepts.
    The question which “self-identified” the “racist” was “Are you prejudiced against other cultures?”
    So is recent human rights medal recipient Philip Adams a racist because he rails against Coca-Cola culture?

  10. December 11th, 2006 at 01:10 | #10

    I thought William Lines was on to something when he had this to write about multiculturalism on pages 182-183 of “Patriots” (RRP AU$34.95) published by the University of Queensland Press this year:

    Until the 1970s, Australian governments justified immigration in terms of defence, development, and economic growth. Then, under the influence of a very small number of intellectuals – most of them based in Melbourne – justifications changed. These academics, social workers, and migrant activists claimed a relation between immigration, humanitarianism, and equal worth. All these goals could be achieved, they claimed, under a policy of multiculturalism. Very quickly, the great majority of Australia’s most educated and most brainwashed people cast themselves as pro-multicultural. They saw multiculturalism and immigration as the means to uplift and morally transform a boring, dull, unenlightened, selfish, and bigoted Australian society. Most wonderfully, immigration furthered the cause of anti-racism. By implication, those who advocated immigration control were racist, narrow, self-seeking nationalists intent on cultural homogeneity.

    Anti-racism proved enormously emotionally satisfying to its advocates. A self-consciously anti-racist stance suited intellectuals predisposed to ‘black-and-white’ views. A new duality – a binary world of racists and anti-racists – replaced the Marxist dualities of capital/labour and ruling class/working class. Amoured in truth, anti-racists lived in a world that banished doubt, ambiguity, and subtlety.

  11. still working it out
    December 11th, 2006 at 06:38 | #11

    There is a real problem with young Lebanese gangs. In Sydney you would have to be pretty reclusive to not be aware of this. But it is so frustrating seeing this used as an excuse to beat up on multi-culturalism in general rather than being treated as a social and criminal problem.

    The issues that Sydney faces around this are the same as you tend to see in urban areas all around the world, especially in the inner city in the US although on a much smaller scale. The ease with which Lebanese youth could identify with the background of a reformed US gangster when he came out to Sydney to talk to them was a striking example of this.

    It is very frustrating watching the same pundits and politicians describing similar problems as social or issues of “law and order” when one ethnic group is involved (eg Macquarie Fields and Cronulla riots) and problems of multi-culturalism and religion/ethnicity when a different ethnic group is involved (gang rapes).

  12. conrad
    December 11th, 2006 at 07:50 | #12


    the real data needed is a comparison with a decade ago. Lots of people were saying exactly what you were saying when Hanson popped, and then lots of people over-stated the amount of racism because of it. Without this data, I might believe that attitues have changed since the mid 80s (although I’d still like to see longitudinal data from the same cohorts), but I find it hard to imagine any great change since 1996 (perhaps excluding country areas). My guess is that if 70% of people are not concerned about interracial marriage in 2006 then around 70% of people in the same cohorts were not concerned in 1996. That data must exist somewhere.

    As an aside, even if you don’t think it is a problem, a lot of Jews seem to think that racism against them is a problem in Australia. In the suburb I live (which has the largeset concentration of Jews in Melbourne), there is permanent security on all of their important religious buildings, and not without reason — Even if, say, 20% of the population outright hates you for no real reason, then it still causes a lot of problems, and this is the perception a lot of minority groups have.

  13. Andrew
    December 11th, 2006 at 10:05 | #13

    Redmond – I think you are spot on when you distinguish between racism and culturalism. I think this gets confused a lot. In my experience, most people are not racist but are very culturalist. I’m in that camp – I don’t care what the colour of your skin is or where you were born. But I will strongly argue that our Culture (the Australian brand of Western Liberal Democracy) is the best in the world. Where else would you rather live? In my view, our values of freedom, democracy, fare go for all, entreprenurism, mateship, and tolerance for others leave most other cultures for dust…

  14. December 11th, 2006 at 13:05 | #14

    Well, I’ve certainly never noticed any racism about Geoffrey Blainey over the time we’ve been acquainted.

  15. Sean Kellett
    December 11th, 2006 at 13:29 | #15


    I agree you need hard data. But as just one data point perhaps we can start with the change in attitude our prime minister has had towards Asian immigration from the mid-80s. Couple this with his present attitude towards muslims (not positive!) and the generally held belief that this man reflects current Australian prejudices, I think John Q may be onto something.


    Regarding racism/culturalism and the Dunn paper. I was heartened to see in table 4 that almost 15% of Australians recognise the plain fact that humankind is NOT made of “seperate races”. The belief that there exists seperate “human races” is itself a cultural artifact and so Andrew, I must disagree with you; it is not possible to distinguish between “racism” and “culturalism” in the way your suppose. By definition, “racism” is “culturalism”.

  16. Andrew
    December 11th, 2006 at 16:29 | #16


    I do not agree with that… in my view racism and culturalism are very different. I guess it depends how you define them – but I’d define racism as a view that an individual person is inferior/superior based on their ethnic background. I’d define culturalism as a view that a specific society’s cultural behaviours and values are inferior/superior to another’s. A key difference being the singular v’s collective. I’m not racist (I believe all human beings are equal regardless of which ‘race’ they’re from) – but I’m definitely culturalist, and I believe that everyone is to some degree. I’m obviously biased – but IMHO Australia has the best culture in the world. Just the right belnd of individual freedoms and free market policies, but very nuturing and caring and very tolerant of individual differences.

  17. rabee
    December 11th, 2006 at 16:47 | #17

    The only form of racism that I have noticed is in public discourse on immigration policy. We now see this kind of racism directed at Muslim Australians, and a few years back East Asians were its victims. I don’t know where this racist discourse comes from but some politicians must think that it will win them votes. There is a cycle of outrageous political advocacy on immigration in Australia that amplifies the experience of racism in this country.

    Racism in every day life is almost negligible as far as I can tell. Though I did once have a girlfriend in Darwin who was positively excited by the idea that her parents would disapprove of the relationship; she was quickly disappointed.

  18. December 11th, 2006 at 21:08 | #18

    Talking of reading, Charlie Stross made his novel Accelerando available for download,

  19. melanie
    December 11th, 2006 at 22:18 | #19

    Our current Prime Minister is as cunning as a s***house rat (JQ I know you’re against coarse language, but the policy is un-Australian IMHO). The present racism of our immigration policy dates from the Liberal Party realisation that Hanson, however tiny her vote, was eroding the Coalition margin of safety. There was some confusion at first because she had won Bill Hayden’s seat, so the message took a bit of time to filter through. But once it did, we had Tampa and children overboard and the media frenzy over gang activities that could be identified in racial terms rather than just gangs.

    I grew up in Australia in the 1950s and I cannot agree that the values then were as Andrew #13 describes them. It was a narrow, culturally poor and bigoted society. The ‘fair go’ et al were reserved for white male heterosexuals. And a racist immigration policy known as White Australia – abolished by the Whitlam government. People who were in some way different (talented, gay, merely eccentric) generally fled to London, Lisbon or Rome, if they could. Women had a ‘Bex and a good lie down’. At some stage in the 60s or 70s men who wore pink shirts or ordered anything other than beer at the pub stopped being called ‘poofters’. Women were allowed to have mortgages, get promoted at work and report domestic violence to the police. Immigrants played a large role in the transformation, although Melbourne intellectuals, Don Dunstan, the anti-war movement, feminists and the Beatles also did their bit.

    Multiculturalism has different meanings in different places. What I liked about the Australian version was that immigrants transformed us as we transformed them.

  20. Sean Kellett
    December 12th, 2006 at 07:22 | #20


    Definition is the key: when you say you define racism as based on ethnic background how do you judge “ethnic”? I suggest it is culturally based.

    Racism is just one aspect of what you define as “culturalism”.

  21. Andrew
    December 12th, 2006 at 08:50 | #21

    SK – well in very simple terms, ethnicity is usually manifest through visual appearance – skin colour, facial features, hair etc….. native Africans look very different to native Scandinavians and different again from Mongolians. So in simple terms I’d define racism as a predjucice against ‘individuals’ based on their appearance – there is nothing cultural about that. I’d define Culturalism as a view that one culture is superior/inferior to another…. and I’d argue that we are all culturalist. A simple thought experiment – if you had the choice to be part of any culture, born and bred into it…. which culture would you choose and why? How do you make that choice without making judgements about which culture is ‘better’? Melanie’s ‘different’ folk who moved to London, Lisbon or Rome in the 1950s were making cultural judgements about Australia at the time.

    Melanie – I’m a bit younger than you, I grew up in the 1970s rather than 1950s – but from what I’ve read and seen you are probably very right – the 1950s seem very culturally poor and bigotted. The old movies, TV shows etc almost make you cringe with embarrassment! It’s amazing what used to be seen as acceptable. We recently had a fancy dress party for our XMas party – theme was ‘black and white’. Do a google search on the “Black & White Minstrels” for a laugh at what used to be seen as acceptable entertainment!…. thankfully cultures change and mature and I think we’ve come a long, long way since then. There are still prejudices…. but our culture is a lot more tolerant than most. Try being female or gay in most other cultures!

  22. December 20th, 2006 at 01:53 | #22

    Pr Q says:

    It’s aimed at a US audience, and gives a potted history of Australia since European settlement, from a pro-multiculturalist point of view… Written after the Cronulla riots, the book maintains an optimistic viewpoint, which I think is broadly consistent with our history in the long run…It may be a while before we overcome our current problems, but I’m confident we’ll do so in the end.

    Its refreshing to see Pr Q don on a Panglossian cap for a change. But I think his traditional Cassandra cap sharpens his critical faculties.

    I share his cautious optimism about the integration of ethnic immigrants in Australia. But this is in spite, not because, of the “multicultural”* philosophy of settlement.

    The Cronulla riots were brought on because police, ministered by an ALP beholden to ethnic lobbies, failed to protect the local community from marauding ethnic gangstas. The riots themselves were an example of actual and existing “multiculturalism” ie ethnic groups (Anglic and Arabic) practising identity politics and gang warfare over turf. Charming stuff, but a bit decaff compared to the real thing that has been brewed up in places like Rawanda, Sri Lanka and Iraq.

    Pr Q says:

    It’s worth remembering in this context that until quite recently, resentment about immigration and multiculturalism was directed mainly against East Asians…In the decade since Hanson’s famous maiden speech, this kind of prejudice has ebbed dramatically, even as the number of Australians of East Asian background has increased rapidly.

    “Its worth remembering” that Aus has had some serious problems with some ethnics and their unruly issue since the advent of lax Southern hemispheric selection and multicultural settlement of immigrants. Major metro suburbs ravaged by drugs and crime gangs. Political assasinations, dysfunctional ethnic enclaves, proto-terrorist rings etc. I know one should accentuate the positive, but we should not eliminate the negative.

    Resentment against “Multiculturalism” could only have been aired during the period of expanded East Asian immigration. This is because this program was first implemented in the post-White Australia period. It proves nothing to conclude that criticism of a policy only came after its instigation.

    It is now perfectly possible to favour selective immigration of East Asians and stridently oppose “multiculturalism” at the same time. Pr Knopfelmacher (and yours truly) were the first to master this modest skill.

    Strocchi’s Law of Civil Integration: “The more multiracial the polity, the less multicultural must be the policy.”

    It is no accident that popular attitudes to East Asian immigration have improved under the conservative ministry of John Howard’s government, “even as the number of Australians of East Asian background has increased rapidly”. (has Pr Q’s sense of irony deserted him?) The populus have confidence in conservative handling of the ethnic issue. And the conservatives have repayed that faith by managing ethnic immigration based on economic criteria.

    It is true that some conservatives were misguided and mean-spirited about East Asian immigration. That their fears have been allayed should not give aid and comfort to the “multiculturalists”.

    East Asians are a socially successful migrant group for two reasons not likely to warm the cockles of the “multiculturalist” heart: they have native smarts and they are mostly conformists. They have a high IQ which makes them worthwhile from economic, never mind ethnic, reasons. Also, they prefer to integrate to a modernistic mode of life. The men tend to be techno-nerds and are good team players in corporations. The women wear outrageous mini-skirts, send the girls to PLC and go out with white guys. None of this would be music to the ears of “multiculturalists” who want people to cling to their old tribal ways.

    Pr Q says:

    And the still older prejudices against Southern Europeans have disappeared almost entirely, along with most of the feelings of resentment and exclusion that were once very strong among these groups.

    THe success of the first wave of post-war ethnic immigration in Australia was mainly achieved following a policy of integration and assimilation of ethnics (“New Australians”). This is the opposite of the differentiation and segregation implied by “multiculturalism”.

    The Mediterranean ethnics hailed from the Northern hemisphere and were Caucasian in race and Christian in religion. These brute facts eased their settlement, a fact easy to understand for anyone with a socio-biological neurone in their brain.

    It is easy to exaggerate the “feelings of resentment and exclusion” suffered by Southern Europeans. Sticks and stones etc. The exclusion could not have been too bad, given highish rates of exogamy amongst Southern and Eastern Europeans.

    Culture War is too important to be waged by cultural generalists. It would be nice if professional social analysts could at least mention these gorillas in the dining room, never mind flies in the ointment, rather than airily dismissing them as the product of fever-swamped right-wing imagination. Pr Q could do worse than take the following reality check for a glimpse of our future where tough-minded critiques of immigration rackets do not expose bogus self-appointed ethnic lobbies and oxymoronic conceptualisers:

    Two out of three charged with rape in Norway’s capital are immigrants with a non-western background according to a police study. The number of rape cases is also rising steadily. Unni Wikan, a professor of social anthropology at the University of Oslo, in 2001 said that “Norwegian women must take their share of responsibility for these rapes� because Muslim men found their manner of dress provocative. The professor’s conclusion was not that Muslim men living in the West needed to adjust to Western norms, but the exact opposite:

    “Norwegian women must realize that we live in a Multicultural society and adapt themselves to it.�

    * “multicultural” adj. A concept first cooked up by Konrad Heinlein, leader of the Sudeten Nazi ethnic seperatists. The brazen lunacy of this oxymoron eludes detection by those whose brains have been paralysed by politically correct neuro-toxins.

  23. December 20th, 2006 at 02:22 | #23

    A final bit of realism: Australia, for all the boilerplate about “multiculturalism” and multiethnicity is still predominantly a fairly white-bread, bland society:

    Caucasian race

    Most Australians are of British or Irish ancestry. In 1999, approximately 92% of the population was Caucasian. The Asian-born population tally stood at 7%

    Christian religion.

    Total Christian 68%

    As a famous immigration analyst once put it: “Numbers are of the essence.”

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