Anthems, cartoons and systemic racism

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Brave 9 year-old Harper Neilsen took a stand against our undeniably racist national anthem and has been pilloried as a result (Meme via @RasmusRaabjerg)

Three recent events reveal the racism and historical ignorance that infects our society, writes Canberra correspondent John Passant.

I watched Question Time on Wednesday. More than anything it reminded me of WWE Wrestling. It was about entertainment, not enlightenment. The Opposition and Government backbenchers asked their predictable questions and over-acting ministers gave their set piece answers. 

There was no reflection at all on the systemic racism that is the essence of Australian capitalism. The history of Australia is a history of racism, othering and xenophobia. The list of "others" the ruling class uses to try and bind workers to them is almost endless. The Chinese, the Russians, The Germans, the Japanese, the Reds, Catholics, the Irish, Muslims, terrorists, refugees, Asians…. On and on, the list goes. And of course there is the eternal other of Australian capitalism, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Indeed, Question Time, through its questions about the lie of keeping our borders "safe" (from non-whites), both reflects and reinforces the othering that has been our history.  

Three recent events reveal the racism and historical ignorance that infects our society. At school, a young girl, Harper Nielsen, refused to stand for the national anthem, Advance Australia Fair.

Let me quote her words to explain why:

"When it says 'we are young', it completely disregards the Indigenous Australians who were here before us for over 50,000 years. When it was originally written, Advance Australia Fair meant advance the white people of Australia."

For expressing this truth, the school punished her. Now, politicians and shock jocks are attacking her. Pauline Hanson wants her expelled and has threatened this 9 year-old with violence.

For those of us in independent media, who speak truth to power, this treatment will be familiar. Anyone who questions the dominant lies – I was going to call it narrative but that implies some relationship with the reality – is ostracised and ridiculed. 

Then there is Mark Knight’s racist cartoon in the Herald Sun attacking Serena Williams. Of course, Serena’s behaviour warrants discussion and debate. But this sort of response, drawing her as an ape, is not discussion or debate. It is racism. It is a continuation of the oppression of people of colour.  

Many African Americans have condemned the cartoon. Drowning out the voice of those who suffer daily racism in words and actions, invariably by white apologists for the cartoon, including large numbers of people who consider themselves left-wing, is itself racism.  

Those who deny the cartoon is racist deny history. Denying history is Australian capitalism to a tee. You can see this quite clearly in the pages of many Murdoch publications in Australia.

Our ruling elite use racism as the glue to bind workers to them and their system.  It is often successful, as the othering of refugees and asylum seekers by both major parties shows. When we join with the 1% in bashing refugees and asylum seekers, we are diverted from defending our jobs, our wages and our public services from their attacks.

The "it’s not racist" response of many leftwing people shows that they too are not immune from the racism that is inherent to Australian capitalism. It shows the success of Australian capitalism that so many leftwingers can dismiss the views of African Americans and instead impose their own view — in many cases, a view of the cartoon that is born of a life not subject to racism.

Racism is so pervasive in Australian society we might call it the grundnorm of Australian capitalism. Ideas of racial superiority arise from the colonial settler state and its genocide of Aboriginal society — a genocide it hides with either overt racism (from 1788 to around the 1960s and 1970s), or covert racism since then.  

While much of the media and many Australians were defending the racist cartoon, they have ignored yet another example of systemic racism. Two Aboriginal boys drowned in the Swan River a few days ago. They were jumping fences and then running away from police. Their crime was to be Aboriginal and, like too many Aboriginal people, they paid or their Aboriginality with their lives.

Where is the outrage? Where is the questioning? Where is even a hint of understanding that the genocide of Aboriginal people – their dispossession and death, and the theft of their children – is ongoing and integral to the system? It is killing Aboriginal people today.

We need to continue the fight against racism and call it out wherever it occurs. However Australian capitalism is irredeemably racist. It is in its DNA. That means to defeat racism, we have to overthrow the system of racism. That means also fighting for a new society based on real democracy and satisfying human need, one where we can all breath the fresh air of freedom as equals.

You can follow Canberra correspondent John Passant on Twitter @JohnPassantSigned copies of John's first book of poetry, Songs for the Band Unformed (Ginninderra Press 2016), are available for purchase from the IA store HERE.

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