Human rights

Dutton, Sunrise and the invisible system of white privilege

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Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton (screen shot via YouTube).

Dr Jennifer Wilson discusses the ethos of white superiority and entitlement in recent comments by Peter Dutton and Channel 7's 'Sunrise' panel.

HOME AFFAIRS MINISTER PETER DUTTON last week postulated the interesting notion that white farmers in South Africa are in need of urgent rescue from the vagaries of their Government.

He suggested that as a civilised country, Australia should design a special category of visa that enables those fleeing that country to be fast-tracked through our immigration system and resettled.

Dutton is brutally unconcerned about the welfare of all asylum seekers and refugees who are "not-white". In support of that assertion here are links to the Nauru Files and a report from the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) on Manus Island Detention Centre. Despite the majority of asylum seekers and refugees detained on Nauru and Manus having fled persecution – and in some instances certain death – Dutton has shown them no compassion, certainly not of the kind he is offering to white South African farmers.

I use the negative term “not-white” deliberately because I believe it to be at the core of a conservative ideology that defines others by what they are not, rather than what they are. It’s a definition that inevitably places the other in a position of lack and therefore inferiority. That someone is “not-white” defines her or his worth or rather, the perceived lack of it. Dutton and his supporters across politics and media begin their defining of others from the white supremacist belief that those who are not-white are less worthy, for no reason other than the colour of their skin. Feminists resent Freud for similar reasons — that is, his negative defining of female psychology by our lack of a penis, rather than our possession of a vagina. It isn’t an acknowledgement and acceptance of difference. It’s a grim and weighted hierarchy of entitlement.

Also last week, Channel 7’s Sunrise show included a segment in which an all-white panel discussed the advantages (as they perceived them) of revisiting the long-discredited and unquestionably inhumane "Stolen Children" option, in which Indigenous children are removed from their families and “adopted” by white saviours. This discussion sprang from a suggestion by Assistant Minister for Children and Families David Gillespie, who, post the Sunrise segment, claimed he had been misquoted.

Prue MacSween, a member of the panel, recently made news with her statement that “Aborigines were reasonably well-treated” at the time of invasion, as well as with her threat to “run down with her car” writer and activist Yassmin Abdel-Magied for making comments on Anzac Day with which MacSween disagrees.

A white woman may make public threats to run down with her car a brown Muslim woman, simply because she disagrees with her. If you are white and have a platform, you can threaten people of colour with violence, injury and death merely for speaking words you don’t like. There are no repercussions for the white woman. Had it been the other way around, there would have been serious consequences. Indeed, Abdel-Magied was horrifically abused by conservative media for many weeks because they did not like her words. Unlike MacSween, she threatened no one.

This is but one example of the invisible system of unearned privilege enjoyed by whites such as MacSween.

The day after the Sunrise contribution to global white supremacy, a demonstration was staged by Indigenous groups and supporters outside their studio, which is usually back-dropped by live coverage of Martin Place, Sydney. Instead, Channel 7 broadcast stock footage of the area concealing the protest, creating the false impression that no protest was occurring, and implying that it was just another ordinary day in Martin Place. An outstanding example of how the representation of reality is manipulated by mainstream media to serve its own ends.

This attempt by Sunrise to deny the presence of Indigenous Australians protesting MacSween’s call for another Stolen Generation scenario is a visual metonym for White Australia. It is a total effacement of the not-white. It’s the intentional construction of a safe, white, everyday world outside the studio for white Sunrise viewers when in reality those scenes were of righteously angry not-white demonstrators.

A crowd of Indigenous people protesting your recommendations for a cultural genocide renaissance is not what your viewers want to see as they consume their Weetbix and bananas. So, protect them from what is actually happening with nice footage of nice people going peaceably about their daily business in the nice Sydney CBD.

Sunrise has form.

As host Samantha Armytage declared in a 2015 segment on bi-racial twins, it is far, far better to be white like your dad than brown like your mum:

"Lucy got her dad’s fair skin – good on her!"

Dutton’s reach-out to white South African farmers serves to confirm what many of us have long believed: Dutton’s end-game is a return to a White Australia policy based on the belief that there is a hierarchy of races, headed by whites. Our first prime minister, Edmund Barton, declared:

There is no racial equality. There is that basic inequality. These races are, in comparison with white races – I think no-one wants convincing of this fact – unequal and inferior.

Dutton’s offer confirms that his empathy is reserved only for those with whom he is capable of making an identification. It is not the plight of humanity that stirs his emotion, but the plight of a specific white humanity, whom he thinks of as people like him.

White supremacists have lately taken to complaining that the descriptor “white” is a racial slur, but only in certain circumstances, as writer Ruby Hamad observes:

The myth of racial superiority – and it is a myth – is used to justify discrimination against not-whites with catastrophic consequences, individually, nationally and globally. Skin colour is weaponised in a system that privileges whiteness.

It isn’t difficult to understand why persons such as Dutton and MacSween and Armytage take such grandiose pride in the colour of their skin. Lacking intelligence, sensitivity, empathy, wisdom and imagination, the colour of their skin is all they’ve got to reassure them of their superiority.

It’s nothing they achieved, nothing they earned, nothing they studied or fought for, but a mere accident of birth. It’s a particularly stupid measure of worth, and only the particularly and dangerously stupid pat themselves on the back for that which they can take no credit. Samantha Armytage gave us a perfect example of this attitude when she congratulated the child, Lucy, for being born with her father’s fair skin — unlike her twin, who has inherited her mother’s not-whiteness.

Dutton’s scheme is unlikely to grow legs, however, as Jason Wilson observes in his excellent piece in The Guardian, the cause of white South African farmers has become a focus for white supremacists around the globe. On U.S. far-right and conspiracist websites you’ll find a petition protesting the “Genocide of whites in South Africa”. South Africa is regarded as the “canary in the coal mine” for “white-genocide,” conveying the apocalyptic message that white people are being gradually replaced by people of colour through displacement, “race mixture”, immigration and murder. This far-right obsession is now being adopted by conservatives such as Dutton and his supporters, in a move that will only embolden racist activism around the globe. South African farmers are central to this narrative.

The increasingly aggressive global assertion of the supremacy of whiteness is making our being on this planet, unbearable. No one can remain unaffected by the rampant entitlement and exceptionalism demanded by whites because we are white. Nobody remains unaffected by the selfishness, the narcissism, the greed, the vanity of those who believe that being white is an infallible indicator of superiority in all things and comes with a birthright to rule. All of us are trapped in a system that privileges whites, and that system is complicated further by gender and class — both of which operate on a comparable ethos of superiority and entitlement.

Australia is a racist country. We are a nasty little fortress of whiteness and it is the goal of our Government to ensure that is what we remain.

You can follow Dr Jennifer Wilson on her blog No Place for Sheep or on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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