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. PrQ – “To call someone a racist, then, is to say that they are unfit to (…) be given a media platform of any kind.”

    A case in point:
    https://www.theguardian.com/media/commentisfree/2018/sep/07/steve-bannon-backlash-as-four-corners-interview-splits-the-abc

    Nil search returns for “Bannon” in this blog, one for “Breitbart”:
    https://johnquiggin.com/2011/05/24/reality-based-journalism-in-the-us/

    “What of the implications beyond the US? In all the English-speaking countries, there is a large section of the conservative commentariat (most obviously, but not exclusively, the Murdoch Press) whose business consists mostly of importing and retailing Republican/conservative/propertarian ideas. If these ideas become the subject of consistent ridicule in their home, they will be steadily harder to sell abroad.”

    How about our msm Overton window shift since 2011? And their ABC’s?

  2. They keep getting away with it. They have found the sillier, the more implausible the idea the better since their techniques keep succeeding.

    They have drowned out dissent as dumb down continues apace, eliminating contrary arguments facts and the ability to think about either.

    Its seems very dystopian to me and I am glad I am older rather than younger, because the people who run variations of the system across the globe are all obsessed with (computerised now) control, surveillance, brainwashing and conditioning.

    Unless someone convinces me otherwise we are on a rapid and direct path to the Middle Ages and Feudalism.

  3. On the assumption that Prof Quiggin has calmed down after last week’s tanty, may I point out that Pauline Hanson’s One Nation:

    (1) ran an Asian candidate in 2017 in WA, named Tshung Chang. Tshung Chang is now the party’s WA treasurer.
    (2) is running a Lebanese Muslim female plumber named Emma Eros in NSW.
    (3) One Nation intended running an Asian lady, Shan Ju Lin, as a candidate at the last Queensland election but dumped her because of her ….. anti-gay comments.

    Hanson might be a tad racist but the fact that people of all races flock to her party tells me things may be more complex (and interesting) than some are suggesting. Can we go beyond labels and slogans and do nuance, peoples?

  4. Hugo. Take a bex and calm down, your projecting which shows you’re trolling. Not even worth jqs time. But I have a tad of time.

    You’d fit right in with any label of any persons (far far left or right of a bell curve) using taunts to get a reaction. Can’t remember the name for this method of incitement – incitement Hugo.

    I’m a tad pregnant as I said up thread… your biased brain cant process it though.

    Oxford. a tad; To a small extent; somewhat. Origin Late 19th century (denoting a small child): origin uncertain, perhaps from tadpole. The current usage dates from the 1940s. Do you date from the 1940’s?

    You are acting like a small (conceptually) tadpole.

    3examples is a VERY small subset of different birds in her “flock”. Definitely no murmeration.

    As I’ve asked you before, please provide some link to a checkable source, not THREE outliers.

    And I very much doubt “Asian lady, Shan Ju Lin” (I’d bet she would pick you up on this description – asian lady! ) has been awarded the title of Lady by Liz. Tony Abbott maybe.

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