Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"I'm Not Racist, But ..."

Perhaps one of the more sobering things to come out of the day when Australia finally said sorry is the realisation that an undercurrent of racism still pervades Australian society. I've been reading some of the comments under the ABC news stories and while there seemed to be a great deal of support for the apology, there are still many individuals who resent the fact that the apology even occurred in the first place. The most common statements seemed be: (1) Aborigines already have a pretty good deal; (2) Aborigines should just get on with their life / should stop playing the victim; (3) It's just all about compensation; (4) What have I done wrong? and (5) I've struggled in my life and fought through it, so should the Aborigines. On this last point I remember a conversation with a friend about a well to do associate who made comments to this effect, lamenting the fact that his parents never bought him a car and how he had nonetheless worked his way up from nothing.

Many people opposed the apology on the grounds that it would be divisive. Strictly speaking, these people are right. It is at times when such grand gestures are made that people will be provoked to react to what they regard as "political correctness". It is during these times when latent racism begins to surface and rear its ugly head. However, the mere fact that such sentiments are expressed is not a compelling argument against such gestures because made. To do nothing because we are concerned about creating consternation is to argue for the status quo, which is frequently unacceptable. More importantly, submerging racism so that it becomes largely dormant does not solve the problem, nor prevent new problems from springing up. I cannot imagine that a single person in Australia would have become racist as a result of the apology and Rudd's speech. Rather the speech gave rise to the dormant racism that already existed in the hearts and minds of some Australians.

So, what do we about those that resented the apology? Well, unfortunately there are always going to be people would are not interested in moving forward as a nation and nothing will make their marginalised, white, male, Anglo-Saxon, middle-class existences more bearable. However, for most attitudes will change through time, in the same manner that it did for issues like slavery and the role of women. In this respect education, patience and persistence is the key.

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