The deplorable word (updated)

Back in 2004, I wrote that

There is only one real instance of political correctness in Australia today and that is that you are never, ever allowed to call anyone a racist. It’s OK to say that Adolf Hitler was a racist, and that apartheid was racist, but the idea that any actual Australian could be a racist is utterly taboo.

  • (Update): 1. That hasn’t changed. As the comments to this post illustrate, even describing the taboo is sufficient to violate it, as with a superinjunction.
  • 2. As is always the case with pejoratives, those who don’t like them being used object on the grounds that the terms aren’t clearly defined. So, I’ll define racism as “seeking the preserve the dominant position of your own racial/ethnic group, typically by means including stoking fear, hatred and derision of others.
  • 3 That definition clearly applies to everyone mentioned by name in this post, as well as to apartheid and Southern US segregationism. To forestall objections, remember that neither apartheid (separate development) nor Jim Crow (based on the Plessy v Ferguson “separate but equal” decision) claimed superiority for whites, so this claim is not essential to racism (End update).

Fifteen years later, the taboo is still in place, but has become increasingly untenable with the rise of overt racism, in Australia, the US and elsewhere. It’s worth thinking a bit more about why it’s so hard to name racism when we we see it.

The central point I think is that nearly everyone gives at least verbal consent to the view that racism, and racists (as defined above), have no place in public life. To call someone a racist, then, is to say that they are unfit to hold public or elective office or to be given a media platform of any kind. A string of US politicians found to have worn blackface or shared racist jokes have been forced out of public life.

That’s bad, but not nearly as bad as the serious advocacy of racism that has re-emerged with the rise of Trumpism and related movements. What we see is continuous pushing of the boundaries of acceptable debate. To avoid the obvious inference that the person involved is unfit for any public role, the media reports these events with euphemisms like “racially charged”. Every now and then, however, one of these racists crosses the (invisible and shifting) line.

This has played out in the cases of Fraser Anning in Australia and Steve King (Iowa Republican) in the US. These two have reached the point where they can be described as “racist”, in news reports and by other politicians, without any pushback from their former allies. The result is that their position in public life has become untenable. Anning was expelled from the Katter Australian Party, and his vote in the Senate is clearly tainted, though that won’t stop the government accepting his support. Similarly, King was stripped of all his committee positions and will face multiple primary challenges in 2020.

The problems is that there is hardly any distance between the racism of Anning and that of Pauline Hanson (who put him into the Senate), or between King and Donald Trump. But the LNP in Australia can’t break with Hanson and her supporters any more than the Republican party can dump Trump. So, the application of the word “racist” to Hanson or Trump implies that the entire political right in Australia and the US is complicit in a position that is supposed to be beyond the pale.

That’s not true universally. In Germany, Merkel has refused to deal with the racists of AfD and Pegida, and in Sweden the parties of the right have gone into opposition rather than form a government with the Sweden Democrats. And, after some hesitation, the LNP broke with Hanson on her first go-round in the 1990s. It’s a pity they didn’t do so this again.

54 thoughts on “The deplorable word (updated)

  1. t in the spirit of balance, let’s also call out the deeply entrenched antisemitism of the left in the Anglo sphere. Of Labour in the UK and of the Greens in Australia. My point is not “what aboutism”, it is that human nature tends to tribalism and a need to stigmatise and marginalise those who don’t belong to my group. Trump, Hanson, Le Pen, Brexit, Dansk Folke Parti, the Swedish Democrats, the Five Star Movement, and numerous other growing right wing populist revolts represent the failure of the “globalised” to understand that “ethnicity” matters to people, especially when they feel threatened.

    To smirk at this is to double down on the consequences.

  2. Seriously.

    Just watching Media Watch mentioning so many issues in passing, such as rebates for people who don’t pay tax and the mess Australian rightist dominated media presents as a now tangible threat to democracy itself.

    Let’s get a few critical issues sorted, then worry about swamping an already swollen Labor market and further imbalancing the deteriorating opportunities available for working people already pretty much robbed of hope here.

    As I said above, all that needs to happen to help tens of millions of offshore workers is for the Big Power oligarchs to stop wasting $trillions blowing whole deserts to dust (along with more than few people in the process) to get the fossil fuels.

    If there is a problem, approach these sorts of people rather than people trying to prevent themselves from becoming meat in the sandwich for neo-liberal wedges.

    If you feel peoples attempts not to be patsied as somehow “racist” rather than sane self-preservation,, there is not much more many of us can say, but please think further on this without contempt prior to investigation.

  3. @Duncan Rather than quibbling about the definition, I suggest you consider these points
    1. Does racism, in my definition, render someone unfit to take part in public life?
    2. Are the people I mentioned, by that definition, racists ?
    If so, then the fact that you’d prefer a different definition isn’t really relevant.”

    I choose 1. No your definition does not render someone unfit to take part in public life.

    On an unrelated note I find your post stokes fear, hate and derision is others. In particular Pauline Hanson. I cant stand her myself as she’s racist, but for other reasons than your definition.

  4. I have to admit to racist thoughts in my past. But I work every day to eliminate such thoughts from my present self. If that still makes me a racist then I must wear that as a stain on my character. But I will keep trying to get rid of all racist tendencies on my part. Only then will I be able to criticize other people.

  5. Andrew talks guff.

    That the left worries about is the “antisemitism” of jingoist Zionism vis a vis Palestinians and other middle easterners, an extension of Western colonialist racism.

  6. Ernestine said ” Is this an observation that belongs to the notion of racist behaviour in practice and, if so, who is behaving like a racist?”

    I am unsure even if anyone has touched this question.

    I am still cogitating. Tricky one. Love the way it transfers the framers to have to switch views though.

    Any answers?

  7. Re: Ernestine’s post

    “Questions have been raised as to the definition of ”racist”.

    xth generation white Australians don’t like shops in Chatswood (suburb of Sydney) having all information, including name of business, written on the shop front in Chinese only. Is this an observation that belongs to the notion of racist behaviour in practice and, if so, who is behaving like a racist?”

    I’d probably just ignore it. As a consumer and old monolingual English speaker (not likely to learn a new language now), I would probably think, “Well, they don’t want my business. Fair enough, that’s their choice. I will shop elsewhere.”

  8. Has anyone asked this Q in Australia? What would happen if the Labor party asked? Or Sally McManus? Or four corners… are they listening?

    “Asked To Ignore Racism: 4 Reporters Tell Their Stories

    We asked journalists to share instances when they were asked to use a euphemism instead of “racist” or “racism.”

    “After Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) questioned why “white supremacist” and “white nationalist” were considered negative terms, NBC’s standards department emailed the network’s reporters, urging them to avoid characterizing King’s remarks as “racist.”

  9. Reading the comments thread, it’s striking that there is extreme concern that rightwingers might be unfairly accused of racism, and quite a few tu quoque attacks against the left, no one seems to think that rightwing racism is actually a problem. That’s how the taboo works.

  10. You have misread me, at least, grievously. I am wounded, except that I’ve grown a hard if scarred hide after all these years doing blogs on the internet.

    For my part I plead ignorance,am a babe in the woods.

    My biology and inscripting course through my system like the Cosmic Hum, so ubiquitous I am scarce able to detect manifest and manifold faults in my own apparent possible psychopathy unaided. I guess I identify flaws microscopically in all others, so it is not beyond the realm of probability that I have acquired some myself…

    My concern is that the power of correction in identifying deliberate malicious speech is not spent in ceaseless exposure of minor or not deliberately offensive minor comments, so that resistance develops, as with antibiotics overprescribed. Then push back comes and the technique is eventually resistant in the public for purposes of effective exposure of genuine malfeasance.

    I suppose academics are keen to have cruel or culturally reinforcing traits eliminated in students and maybe this inadvertently crosses over in conversation involving older people used to regime a little less rigorous than that current.

  11. Sorry, it genuinely mortifies this writer than anyone could see him as endorsing of the likes of Dutton, Cash, Anning or the cretin Hanson and a fair bit of the current government, let alone the vicious tabloid press and mass media.

    It is true Professor Quiggin, I find these surreptitious creatures as repulsive as I presume you do.

  12. Ernestine, the descriptor ‘xth generation white Australian’ is itself ridiculously loaded. As for Chatswood, the demographic shift is persistent and of some standing. The 2016 Census shows that 49% of people in Chatswood are of Chinese ancestry (usual residence basis) and 4.5% of Australian ancestry. I guess the signage would probably be the market at work, no? In 2001 the shares were 29.6% and 13.4% respectively. So Chinese background people have outnumbered Australian background people (for all values of your x) for some time. What is the basis of the complaints about signs anyway? Can the complainants express the source of their frustration in a way that doesn’t ultimately reduce to a dislike of the nationality involved? I can’t say I’ve ever heard such a complaint (or associated ones about languages spoken) except from people whose accompanying remarks dripped with bovine Hansonesque bigotry. The good news for these snowflakes is that they can easily go shopping somewhere more in tune with their fragile sensibilities. The combined share of people with English or Australian ancestry in Willoughby is nearly twice that of people of Chinese ancestry. Roseville, for example, has the English/Australian share at 50% on 2016 numbers, and 60% if your complainants could accept the Irish. That might suit them more readily.

  13. “That’s how the taboo works.”

    Nah it’s not about the racism think. I think I have realised what bothers me about this post. It’s this:

    “have no place in public life”

    What does that mean? It sounds very ominous. That once you have been branded with an “identity” you can be dismissed forever. No way to come back.

  14. Wylie Bradford, I maintain the expression “xth generation white Australian”, is a serious attempt on my part to be as precise and as neutral as possible, considering there are indigenous Australians who are not white but against whom racist remarks are still being made in public; there are white Australians who were borne in Chatswood who know their grandparents were born in Chatswood or in Atarmon close by.

    Your notion of ‘the market being at work’ seems to be uninformed by the work of the Danish economist, the late Professor Karl Vind, among others.

    Prof Q stressed the role of public officials – politicians. Hanson may have the ability to pick up some social discontent about changes in society but she fails to convey this into a policy framework aimed at reducing social and ethnic tensions (eg proposing to require all businesses – a form of a public institution in the sense of being open to the public) to provide elementary information about the business in English, while allowing the same information to be presented in various foreign languages in say sub-title form). Instead she is making statements, which may be classified as racist, even though it may be due to ignorance or whatever.

    I don’t wish to respond to the rest of your comment.

  15. As always I bow to the wisdom of Ernestine Gross. My only contribution to her post is that I live in Chatswood but know my parents were born in North Queensland. They lived in the same towns as large groups of indigenous peoples. They were kind people but had racist notions imbedded in their speech. Neither supported Pauline Hanson politically. Strangely one supported the Liberal Party and the other supported the ALP. But both understood what Pauline Hanson was playing at by using race to get votes. Politicians in the Twentieth Century did it all the time. Bob Menzies used the “yellow peril” scare tactic often. Still he was not the only politician kicking the racist can until it became politically incorrect. .

  16. Ernestine’s term “xth generation white Australian” is not necessarily loaded. It can be an accurate descriptor. It describes me for example. I am a 5th generation white Australian (64 y.o. male). Like many males and females who fit that description and generation I am monolingual, speaking and reading English only. I have a tiny smattering of German words (50 words?) which certainly does not make me functionally bilingual.

    Would I somehow feel ostracized and excluded if my entire high street featured shop fronts only in Chinese characters? It’s possible I would. My reaction, as I noted higher up, might be to think to myself “Well, they don’t want my business. Fair enough, that’s their choice. I will shop elsewhere.” One can immediately notice the passive-aggressive nature of such a response. It is not overt racism but it might demonstrate vestigial racism. Equally, does the attitude of Chinese shopkeepers who only put up signs in Chinese in “my” * country, where English is the official language and lingua franca in general, demonstrate a certain passive-aggressive implicit racism and unconscious bias? Are they unaware or uncaring about how they might make old monolingual white residents feel (older than me and unable to adapt any longer)?

    Noel Pearson once wrote (IIRC), that everyone is a racist. There is no doubt some exaggeration in this statement for the purpose of making a point. The substantive point is that many people can carry racism or at least vestiges of it from their upbringing. This is certainly true of my generation and demographic. These are issues involving implicit racism and unconscious bias. These certainly exist in many persons of a 1950s and 1960s education and formative enculteration. Our education was racist by omission if not by commission. White Australians of this vintage who pretend they don’t struggle with at least vestiges of these problems are in a state of denial plus moral narcissism.

    I do think we need to be careful of using the word “racist” in a manner which constitutes calumny (false charges or misrepresentations maliciously calculated to harm another’s reputation). This care needs to be taken even by left wingers when attacking right wingers. Taking care does not mean never making the charge. It does mean only making the charge when it is supported by ample direct evidence, beyond any reasonable doubt, of overt racism and/or of advocacy for institutional racism.

    * Note: Of course, it has to be said that this is “my” country only because my forebears stole it from the aboriginals. When young, I thought it really was my country because of the biased British Commonwealth Imperialist education I received as the default and only education at the time. I had no idea the country was stolen (as opposed to “discovered”, “settled” and “civilized”) until reeducated at late secondary and tertiary levels. Intellectual reeducation is one thing. Fighting against vestigial internal implicit racism and unconscious bias is quite another.

  17. Wylie Bradford. You write:

    “is itself ridiculously loaded.”, making John’s point again.

    “Can the complainants express the source of their frustration in a way that doesn’t ultimately reduce to a dislike of the nationality involved?” Yes if it is about a vaccum cleaner.

    ” I guess the signage would probably be the market at work, no?”. So you’re saying these non snowflakes don’t want 4.5% more turnover or they are racist or are ‘us’? Please confirm.

    “So Chinese background people have outnumbered Australian background people (for all values of your x) for some time.” So what. Chinese background people (Uighur. Muslims?) sounds pretty loaded to me. Does it to you?

    “they can easily go shopping somewhere more in tune with their fragile sensibilities.”. I am a dyslexic paraplegic and my australian carer (from china originally – 3rd gen) was sacked as the ndis provider went into receivership due to racist comments postd to a blog. A wylie comeback.

    “except from people whose accompanying remarks dripped with bovine Hansonesque bigotry. ” Please point out Ernestine’s dripping bovine hansoneque (your spell checker or brain capitalises hanson?) bigotry, for all us snowflakes.

    The rest reads like … i’d better take Ernestine’s advice and not bother.

    The depressing proof of JQ’s op is… i searched [ duckduckgo of course] Macquarie Uni for a logic course  … top of results page… link below. I then searched same replacing logic with racism. NO mention on first page. Says it all really. I may be wrong. Please correct me.

    “… People disagree about all sorts of things, but are there some claims and arguments that any rational person must accept? If so, what is special about those claims and arguments?”

  18. I just twigged to the title of this post re the ‘d’ word. Someone (always) said it better than I.

    “You can coddle your rage, or you can fully engage.”
    Tony Cleaver, A Chain of Flames

    Thanks for allowing us to engage.

  19. When Liam Neeson responds to a friend being raped by finding out the rapist was black, and deciding on finding a black victim for ‘retaliation’, that was plainly racist. He was not trying to find the perpetrator: he was using ‘race’ as the justification for planning to attack someone completely different. (And he repented of the violence he planned: but not the racist targeting.)

    When Kerri-Anne Kennerley attacked demonstrators against the date of Australia day as having to eliminate sexual violence in remote Aboriginal communities before they would have a right to protest, that was plainly racist. She does not propose, and has never proposed, that demonstrators on other topics have, as a precondition, to have ended a different social problem entirely as a condition of being heard. Only Aboriginals have such a burden, which has only a racial justification. Again, as with Neeson, people are held collectively responsible on racist grounds for something with which they have no other link.

    When ‘anti white racism’ comes up as a claim, that is plainly racist too. On examination, there are no claims of ‘anti white racism’ that have any content beyond the observation that others object to racist oppression historically and presently carried out to assert and preserve white privilege. The judgment on the ‘anti white racism’ defence set out by Mark Latham leaves no room for any non-racist characterisation of his claims, which had no content capable of being maintained as a defence by him.

    When a commenter on this blog set out that supporters of European community free movement had no concern about grooming girls and instanced a recent set of cases, that was plainly racist. The instance chosen was one in which the groomers were mostly taxi drivers, from the Indian sub-continent; only on racist grounds could this be suggested to have anything to do with EC free movement, and only on racist grounds could grooming by a particular group be singled out from other instances of such grooming, including by leaders of the white racist groups in England.

    When Menzies dismissed a gently worded question about racism in his policy on immigration, he responded that everyone in politics gets accused of racism. In context, he was clearly dismissing any concerns about racism as a slur, to avoid addressing any content in the issue. The Menzies example illustrated Professor Quiggin’s post perfectly – it didn’t provide any sort of counter example.

    We should identify, and oppose, racist positions. They are, as the post said, positions that seek to ‘preserve the dominant position of your own racial/ethnic group, typically by means including stoking fear, hatred and derision of others’ on account of their racial/ethnic groups. They don’t become legitimate by pretending to ‘unfortunate realities’, as Hanson did in starting her career, claiming that ‘Chinese’ and ‘Vietnamese’ were somehow incapable of becoming part of Australian society in the way other groups had done; Hanson has moved seamlessly to make the same assertions against ‘Moslems’ and ‘Sudanese’, without ever acknowledging that her previous slurs were baseless and have proved false. Geoffrey Blainey did the same, and on the same baselessly racist grounds (see ‘All for Australia’).

    We should identify as racists people who adopt and defend racist positions on racist grounds.

    We should deny cover to those who claim to be concerned about ‘social cohesion’ that might be imperilled by the presence of victims of racism, or to be concerned about ‘bad behaviour’ called out only when it can be attributed to those being racially attacked. The methods of racists are bad whatever pretended social concerns dress them up.

  20. Chrishod +1

    Deplorable. I also posted this comment to the deplorable thread as I believe the cdp fits with ‘we can’t mention the r word’. Appropriate imho.

    “Of 1,000 surveyed participants, 21% felt their community was better off since the Community Development Program was introduced, but 36% said the community was worse off and 32% said their community was the same as before it began in 2015.”

    “The CDP is also expensive. For every dollar that a CDP recipient receives in income support, approximately 70 cents is spent administering the scheme. It costs five times as much per participant as Jobactive and twice as much as the scheme it replaced.

    The achievement of 2,682 part- and full-time 26-week employment outcomes each year must be put in the context of the overall CDP scheme, which costs about $360 million per year to operate. That amount could directly employ 19,700 people for 26 weeks full-time.”
    Not at $11 / hr with 3.5% breach penalties, job NOT guaranteed. 

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