The R word, fifteen years on

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.

Of course, the same was true in the US. But after two and a half years of an openly racist Trump Presidency in the US, the taboo seems finally to be open to challenge. Opinion writers and individual Democratic politicians have been calling out Trump’s racism for some time, but news reports have stuck with lame euphemisms like “racially charged”, or saying that “critics have called it racist”

In the wake of the House resolution condemning Trump latest racist tweets, the ground may have shifted, at least a little. Quite a few news organizations have used the R-word, in their own voice, to describe Trump’s “go back to where you came from” tweets, and others have tiptoed towards the line.

Most notably. CNN political reports are now referring to Trump’s “racist jabs” in matter-of-fact terms, noting that Trump sees them as politically advantageous and discussing the implications for the 2020 campaign. (Hat tip: Daniel Quiggin). 

There’s still quite a few steps to go before the taboo is ended. Even moving from “Trump’s racist tweets” to “Trump’s racism” will take a fair bit of courage. And so far only CNN has used the word routinely. The NY Times hasn’t even got past “widely seen as racist.” . (For that matter, it’s still calling Trump’s lies “falsehoods” to avoid feeding ” the mistaken notion that we’re taking political sides.”

This isn’t just a matter of rhetoric. It’s difficult to do any kind of political analysis clearly if one of the main political tendencies can’t be named. Trump’s re-election hopes depend to a large extent on motivating racist Republicans to vote and on peeling off the remaining racists from the Democratic Party. Try to make this obvious point without using the R word and you end up with obfuscation or worse, such as the use of”working class” as code for racism.  

59 thoughts on “The R word, fifteen years on

  1. @hugo, if the modern issue of racism is about a subconscious bias that the vast majority of people exhibit, then what useful information is being posited by calling any particular individual or group “racist” in this regard?

    Is it helpful to fail to rhetorically or morally distinguish between the intrinsic human psychological and sociological mechanisms that translate statistical realities into subconscious biases and the explicit ideological belief systems that were used to justify the horrors of slavery and genocide?

    @AleD, firstly, I reject the Judaeo-Christian concept of inherited sin, so I reject that I or any of my generation hold guilt for things done in the past. Secondly, morally judging people for a lack of action on a complex and challenging issue, where experience has shown that action is as likely to cause harm as do good, to be misguided.

  2. desipis: “What exactly do you mean by that?” “some degree of subconscious racial bias”

    Did you happen to watch the documentary on Adam Goodes, The Final Quarter? It’s currently available on 10 Play if you create a free account. There was absolutely nothing subconscious about the racism Goodes endured. It could not have been more overtly expressed.

    Football clubs have always been hotbeds of racism. Private schools have always been hotbeds of racism. You can see the worst of both on display in that documentary, with idiots like Alan Jones and Sam Newman and Andrew Bolt and countless others leading the charge, and whipping up our very own Trump style “stadium mobs”.

  3. Nick,

    you have a problem
    Goodes was not the only other aboriginal playing AFL. there wee some 70 others who were not booed.including some in his own team.

    Goodes was not booed because he was aboriginal . He was booed because he was a tosser.

  4. despise “I reject the Judaeo-Christian concept of inherited sin”

    And this is your excuse for not wanting to distinguish between right and wrong.

    What makes you believe that your generation is better than those of the past (the past ones thought exactly as you do).

    The issue is too complex so this justifies your inaction and refusal of acknowledgment of wrongdoing.

    You think that sweeping the issue under the rug makes it go away and makes you look good. It doesn’t.

  5. The military is probably the worst of all. It is practically part of your training and conditioning to become racist. To create an enemy out of the foreigner, to demean and sub-humanise him (gooks, towelheads, etc). To hate and despise him. It’s difficult to get people to kill strangers mercilessly and unquestioningly without first teaching them to be racist.

  6. Conclusion?
    Australians are not racist, as found out by a small group of australians on this blog.
    THE END

  7. *disclaimer: The small group will not have or accept any liability, obligation, or responsibility for any damage resulting from this finding (now, then or later).

  8. AleD, Your suggested conclusion does not follow from the discussion on this thread. It is a fact that the past cannot be undone. Therefore to make people feel guilty (as distinct from recognising historical wrongs; more on this later) for something they have not done is, in a sense, the same as racism. Just as anybody borne with a white skin or a black skin or whatever colour, the descendants of slave owners cannot change this fact; it is beyond their control.

    Recognising historical wrongs means to me in the first instance acknowledging facts and evaluating them in terms of current moral standards but avoiding rush judgement before examining the historical context. (How would you have acted if you had been transported to say Australia against your wish and found yourself in an alien natural environment meeting people you had no idea existed and had no influence on the command structures at the time?) Then the question becomes, what can be done now to ameliorate the wrongs of the past; that is stop the accumulation of the negative consequences and try to improve things now and the future, not because of a feeling of guilt but because people want to do the right thing now. This wish to do the right thing now isn’t always successful. But this is no reason to give up.

  9. Nick,

    how nay other aboriginals were booed?
    none

    Just how was booing Goodes racist?

    Racists dislike all aboriginals in this instance not one.
    This is clearly a revision of history.

  10. nottrampis, of course you haven’t watched the documentary and choose to remain ignorant.

    But fwiw, how many Aboriginal fans were booing Goodes? Why were thousands of white Australian fans across the country booing Goodes every time he received the ball?

    Why did they dislike this one Aboriginal man so much?

    What was it he said or did exactly?

  11. oh dear now we have selective racism now do we.

    Racists decide only to boo Goodes and not the other 70 aboriginals.
    do you realise how absurd you are appearing?

  12. This documentary made me cringe – not being a footy follower I was unaware of the specifics until this production joined all the dots.

    The issue of booing Adam Goodes was well covered in the documentary. The film is to be made available to every school and sporting club in Australia.

    The line that he was booed because of his playing, not his race, was employed by Devine, Newman, Bolt, McGuire and others and is still be used today.

  13. I have a mate who is a swans fan. I am not as I s consider AFL with gridiron the most ludicrous of winter sports. He booed him.
    He was in clear decline in his final year. His actions to get free kicks or whatever they are called in AFL was seen as unsportsmanlike.
    In a game such as football he spear like projections at fans would have earned him a yellow card.
    I do note you have yet to specify on why fans were racist at Godes but mute at every other aboriginal AFL player.
    NRL fans did not boo aboriginal players either.

    so the boos were only aimed at Goodes.
    It is lubricious to describes this booing as racist

  14. nottrampis, you’re saying he was singled out for being an ageing player at the end of the career? Yet you accuse others of revisionist history…

    Why was Adam Goodes made Australian of The Year in 2014? Did you think that a well-deserved award? I thought his acceptance speech was excellent. What did you think of it?

    https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/adam-goodes-deserves-respect-and-civility-says-tony-abbott-20150731-giofde.html

    Are you saying Tony Abott was wrong to say about the booing:

    “Adam Goodes is a good bloke and he’s a great player and I hope he’ll get treated with respect and civility”

    “I can understand why he’s upset because no-one should be subject to taunts, they particularly shouldn’t be subject to racial taunts”

  15. Homer

    To continue to offer commentary, on a film you haven’t seen, on a sport you don’t like, on a sport you don’t follow, apparently based on the opinion of “a mate” is ludicrous.

  16. “The film is to be made available to every school and sporting club in Australia.”

    rog, I’m really glad to hear that btw. I think a lot of good will come from it.

  17. no Australian of the year is well deserved!

    Goodes is black and thus booing at him was racist!
    no reason is given why the other 70 odd aboriginals were not booed nor even of his aboriginal team-mates just of Goodes.
    Do you realise how silly your reasoning is.

    Rog,
    I am not commenting on the film but on the booing which was well documented at the time.

  18. This blog is a racism-free zone, and that includes defences of and apologetics for racism

    1.Desipis, you’re permanently banned.

    2.Nottrampis, take a week off and never comment on any topic related to racism again. Any dispute will lead to a permanent ban,

  19. If a mob lynches one black person, but leaves other black people unlynched, it’s possible the lynching was not racist, but it’s not proof that the lynching was not racist.

    If a crowd boos one black footballer, but leaves other black footballers unbooed, it’s possible the crowd wasn’t racist, but it’s not proof that the crowd was not racist.

    It’s possible to be a racist without being on duty all the time.

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