Indigenous Australia

The Oz cartoonist Bill Leak sparks social media outrage for racist cartoon

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Bill Leak's latest cartoon depicting stereotyped Aboriginal people has sparked controversy, with Leak being slammed as racist by Indigenous leaders and politicians including the under fire Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion. John Passant reports.

YESTERDAY WAS National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day. Bill Leak and The Australian celebrated by publishing a cartoon that was a racist stereotype of Aboriginal people, a stereotype that has its roots in the 228 years of genocide and genocidal dispossession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

It is racist because it defines a whole group as child abusers based on their skin.

It is racist because it depicts a whole group of people as alcoholics because of their skin. 

It is racist because it depicts Aboriginal people as Neanderthals, that is different to "real" humans.

As New Matilda points out, Leak has published a number of other racist cartoons on Aboriginal people.

It should come as no surprise that The Australian, the paper of the murdochracy and reaction, published it. It has been leading the media campaign of vilification against Aborigines and refugees and asylum seekers for a number of years. That campaign echoes and reinforces the vilification of refugees and Aborigines that governments of both persuasions have been pursuing. 

This racist sentiment is one the likes of “respectable” Aboriginal “representative” Noel Pearson give credence to.

On ABC’s Lateline recently Pearson said:

"Blackfellas have got to take charge and take responsibility for their own children. That part of the message really struggles to get traction." 

Paul Whittaker, the editor-in-chief of The Australian, used this statement to justify Leak’s racist cartoon. Rather than challenging racism, Pearson et al fertilise it. 

On ABC News yesterday, Whittaker claimed:

‘Too often, too many people skirt around the root causes and tough issues. Not not everyone, Bill Leak’s confronting and insightful cartoons force people to examine the core issues in a way that sometimes reporting and analysis can fail to do.’

Disingenuously shifting the debate to parental responsibility is the thinking racists’ response to the Four Corners’ revelations of just under two weeks ago that Aboriginal children were abused, beaten, tear gassed and tortured at Don Dale remand centre. 

Malcolm Turnbull announced a whitewash Royal Commission in response to the revelations, not to get to the bottom of the issues but to assuage our anger at the institutional and systemic racism that is Australia.

The Bill Leak cartoon is shifting the discussion – I was going to say debate, but you cannot debate with racists – further to the right. It is part of a deliberate strategy by the Murdoch press to feed the piranha – that section of society that is irrevocably racist – and to attract its periphery and widen its base.

On the same day Leak was demonising Aborigines, we found out that the racist One Nation won four seats in the Senate, making it the biggest bloc of Senators among the non-majors. Pauline Hanson’s running mate and new Queensland Senator Malcolm Roberts is a climate change denier who says the whole thing is a conspiracy by international finance (code for Jews) to gain world domination. He also throws in some stuff about the UN and climate scientists being in league to do this.

There is a reason for this madness. Bill Leak and Malcolm Roberts are one logical outcome of decades of demonising refugees and asylum seekers — from Paul Keating locking them up in 1992 to John Howard turning back the Tampa, to the brutality of the gulags on Manus Island and Nauru. The brutalisation is bipartisan.

When we couple that with the demonising of Aboriginal people (intensified through the Northern Territory Intervention) and with the Turnbull Government stoking fear and Islamophobia disguised as anti-terrorism, we have a clear indication that the “othering” is producing worse and worse results. Twenty years ago, Pauline Hanson’s target was Asians and Aborigines. Now her target is Asians and Aborigines and Muslims.

In Queensland, One Nation won 9.19 per cent of the vote, over two per cent more than the Greens. People in rural and regional Queensland – especially non-unionised workers – and sections of the middle class in that state, both threatened by globalisation and by the Great Recession now, with the end of the mining boom working its way through Australia, have flocked to Hanson. If the economy worsens and without a serious left-wing radical counterbalance, more will join her.

In light of the normalisation of overt racism that Leak, Hanson and others represent, it is urgent now that left wing and progressive forces unite. That doesn’t mean sitting around the camp fire, holding hands and chanting Kumbaya. It means organising protests that stop the racists.

There are a whole range of reasons why that progressive and radical left is small and powerless, not least because of the confusion that Labor’s neoliberal and racist policies have sown. There is something else as well. Labor in government has been able to hamstring the union movement through the Accord and enterprise bargaining and their disastrous consequences that continue to echo down the ages. The level of basic class conflict – strikes and other industrial disputes – are at near historic lows.

Without the reality of class struggle around us throwing up different ideas about society and making clear the basic division between labour and capital, the ideas and actions of the Left will find it difficult to gain any traction except among small sections of society, including those in the ideas industry such as University students. This is especially so without any significant Labor or Greens politician making the arguments about a better society á la Jeremy Corbyn.  

Our immediate task is to unite to fight the racists wherever they are. Our longer term task must be to build an alternative vision of society that rises above despair and racism and offers us hope.

Read more by John Passant on his website En PassantYou can also follow John on Twitter @JohnPassant.

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