I need to be clear – this is not a video from The Onion, The Shovel or The Chaser. It is not a parody. Difficult to believe I know.
I need to be clear – this is not a video from The Onion, The Shovel or The Chaser. It is not a parody. Difficult to believe I know.
George Orwell warns us in his dystopian novel 1984 that authoritarianism begins with language. In the novel, “newspeak” is language twisted to deceive, seduce and undermine the ability of people to think critically and freely.
Donald Trump’s unapologetic bigoted language made headlines again Thursday when it was reported he told lawmakers working on a new immigration policy that the United States shouldn’t accept people from “shithole countries” like Haiti. Given his support for white nationalism and his coded call to “Make America Great (White) Again,” Trump’s overt racist remarks reinforce echoes of white supremacy reminiscent of fascist dictators in the 1930s.
His remarks about accepting people from Norway smack of an appeal to the sordid discourse of racial purity. There is much more at work here than a politics of incivility. Behind Trump’s use of vulgarity and his disparagement of countries that are poor and non-white lies the terrifying discourse of white supremacy, ethnic cleansing and the politics of disposability. This is a vocabulary that considers some individuals and groups not only faceless and voiceless, but excess, redundant and subject to expulsion. The endpoint of the language of disposability is a form of social death, or even worse.
As authoritarianism gains strength, the formative cultures that give rise to dissent become more embattled, along with the public spaces and institutions that make conscious critical thought possible.
Words that speak to the truth to reveal injustices and provide informed critical analysis begin to disappear, making it all the more difficult, if not dangerous, to judge, think critically and hold dominant power accountable. Notions of virtue, honour, respect and compassion are policed, and those who advocate them are punished.
I think it’s fair to argue that Orwell’s nightmare vision of the future is no longer fiction in the United States. Under Trump, language is undergoing a shift: It now treats dissent, critical media coverage and scientific evidence as a species of “fake news.”
The Trump administration, in fact, views the critical media as the “enemy of the American people.” Trump has repeated this view of the media so often that almost a third of Americans now believe it and support government-imposed restrictions on the media, according to a Poynter survey.
Trump’s cries of “fake news” work incessantly to set limits on what is thinkable. Reason, standards of evidence, consistency and logic no longer serve the truth, according to Trump, because the latter are crooked ideological devices used by enemies of the state. Orwell’s “thought crimes” are Trump’s “fake news.” Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” is Trump’s “Ministry of Fake News.”
The notion of truth is viewed by this president as a corrupt tool used by the critical media to question his dismissal of legal checks on his power, particularly his attacks on judges, courts and any other governing institutions that will not promise him complete and unchecked loyalty.
For Trump, intimidation takes the place of unquestioned loyalty when he does not get his way, revealing a view of the presidency that is more about winning than about governing.
One consequence is the myriad practices by which Trump gleefully humiliates and punishes his critics, wilfully engages in shameful acts of self-promotion and unapologetically enriches his financial coffers.
Under Trump, the language of civic literacy and democracy has become unmoored from critical reason, informed debate and the weight of scientific evidence, and is now being reconfigured and tied to pageantry, political theatre and a deep-seated anti-intellectualism.
One consequence, as language begins to function as a tool of state repression, is that matters of moral and political responsibility disappear and injustices proliferate.
What is crucial to remember here, as authoritarianism expert Ruth Ben-Ghiat notes, is that fascism starts with words. Trump’s use of language and his manipulative use of the media as political spectacle are disturbingly similar to earlier periods of propaganda, censorship and repression.
Under fascist regimes, the language of brutality and culture of cruelty was normalized through the proliferation of strident metaphors of war, battle, expulsion, racial purity and demonization.
As German historians such as Richard J. Evans and Victor Klemperer have made clear, dictators like Adolf Hitler did more than simply corrupt the language of a civilized society, they also banned words.
Soon afterwards, the Nazis banned books and the critical intellectuals who wrote them. They then imprisoned those individuals who challenged Nazi ideology and the state’s systemic violations of civil rights.
The end point was an all-embracing discourse of disposability — the emergence of concentration camps and genocide fuelled by a politics of racial purity and social cleansing.
Echoes of the formative stages of such actions are upon us now. An American-style neo-fascism appears to be engulfing the United States after simmering in the dark for years.
More than any other president, Trump has normalized the notion that the meaning of words no longer matters, nor do traditional sources of facts and evidence. In doing so, he has undermined the relationship between engaged citizenship and the truth, and has relegated matters of debate and critical assessment to a spectacle of bombast, threats, intimidation and sheer fakery.
This language of fascism does more than normalize falsehoods and ignorance. It also promotes a larger culture of short-term attention spans, immediacy and sensationalism. At the same time, it makes fear and anxiety the normalized currency of exchange and communication.
In a throwback to the language of fascism, Trump has repeatedly positioned himself as the only one who can save the masses — reproducing the tired script of the model of the saviour endemic to authoritarianism.
There is more at work here than an oversized ego. Trump’s authoritarianism is also fuelled by braggadocio and misdirected rage as he undermines the bonds of solidarity, abolishes institutions meant to protect the vulnerable and launches a full-fledged assault on the environment.
Trump is also the master of manufactured illiteracy, and his obsessive tweeting and public relations machine aggressively engages in the theatre of self-promotion and distractions. Both of these are designed to whitewash any version of a history that might expose the close alignment between his own language and policies and the dark elements of a fascist past.
Trump also revels in an unchecked mode of self-congratulation bolstered by a limited vocabulary filled with words like “historic,” “best,” “the greatest,” “tremendous” and “beautiful.”
Those exaggerations suggest more than hyperbole or the self-indulgent use of language. When he claims he “knows more about ISIS than the generals,” “knows more about renewables than any human being on Earth” or that nobody knows the U.S. system of government better than he does, he’s using the rhetoric of fascism.
As the aforementioned historian Richard J. Evans writes in The Third Reich in Power:
“The German language became a language of superlatives, so that everything the regime did became the best and the greatest, its achievements unprecedented, unique, historic and incomparable …. The language used about Hitler … was shot through and through with religious metaphors; people ‘believed in him,’ he was the redeemer, the savior, the instrument of Providence, his spirit lived in and through the German nation…. Nazi institutions domesticated themselves [through the use of a language] that became an unthinking part of everyday life.”
Under the Trump regime, memories inconvenient to his authoritarianism are now demolished in the domesticated language of superlatives so the future can be shaped to become indifferent to the crimes of the past.
Trump’s endless daily tweets, his recklessness, his adolescent disdain for a measured response, his unfaltering anti-intellectualism and his utter ignorance of history work in the United States. Why? Because they not only cater to what historian Brian Klass refers to as “the tens of millions of Americans who have authoritarian or fascist leanings,” they also enable what he calls Trump’s attempt at “mainstreaming fascism.”
The language of fascism revels in forms of theatre that mobilize fear, hatred and violence. Author Sasha Abramsky is on target in claiming that Trump’s words amount to more than empty slogans.
Instead, his language comes “with consequences, and they legitimize bigotries and hatreds long harbored by many but, for the most part, kept under wraps by the broader society.”
Surely, the increase in hate crimes during Trump’s first year of his presidency testifies to the truth of Abramsky’s argument.
The history of fascism teaches us that language operates in the service of violence, desperation and troubling landscapes of hatred, and carries the potential for inhabiting the darkest moments of history.
It erodes our humanity, and makes too many people numb and silent in the face of ideologies and practices that are hideous acts of ethical atrocity.
Trump’s language, like that of older fascist regimes, mutilates contemporary politics, empathy and serious moral and political criticism, and makes it more difficult to criticize dominant relations of power.
His fascistic language also fuels the rhetoric of war, toxic masculinity, white supremacy, anti-intellectualism and racism. But it’s not his alone.
It is the language of a nascent fascism that has been brewing in the United States for some time. It is a language that is comfortable viewing the world as a combat zone, a world that exists to be plundered and a view of those deemed different as a threat to be feared, if not eliminated.
A new language aimed at fighting Trump’s romance with fascism must make power visible, uncover the truth, contest falsehoods and create a formative and critical culture that can nurture and sustain collective resistance to the oppression that has overtaken the United States, and increasingly many other countries.
No form of oppression can be overlooked. And with that critical gaze must emerge a critical language, a new narrative and a different story about what a socialist democracy will look like in the United States.
There is also a need to strengthen and expand the reach and power of established public spheres, such as higher education and the critical media, as sites of critical learning.
We must encourage artists, intellectuals, academics and other cultural workers to talk, educate, make oppression visible and challenge the common-sense vocabulary of casino capitalism, white supremacy and fascism.
Language is not simply an instrument of fear, violence and intimidation; it is also a vehicle for critique, civic courage and resistance.
A critical language can guide us in our thinking about the relationship between older elements of fascism and how such practices are emerging in new forms.
Without a faith in intelligence, critical education and the power to resist, humanity will be powerless to challenge the threat that fascism and right-wing populism pose to the world.
Those of us willing to fight for a just political and economic society need to formulate a new language and fresh narratives about freedom, the power of collective struggle, empathy, solidarity and the promise of a real socialist democracy.
We would do well to heed the words of the great Nobel Prize-winning novelist, J.M. Coetzee, who states in a work of fiction that “there will come a day when you and I will need to be told the truth, the real truth ….no matter how hard it may be.”
Democracy, indeed, can only survive with a critically informed and engaged public attentive to a language in which truth, rather than lies, become the currency of citizenship.
Overnight in Geneva, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) began its two-day review of Australia, asking government representatives to explain their progress in promoting racial equality and tackling racism.
The CERD notified the government in advance of the key focus areas of the review. Not surprisingly, these include the situation of Indigenous people, and of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees; racist hate speech and hate crimes; and human rights and anti-racism protections in Australia’s laws and policies.
Australia has ratified seven of the nine core human rights treaties. Each treaty has its own treaty monitoring body, like the CERD, comprised of independent experts who are nominated by governments but do not represent them.
These bodies monitor states’ compliance with their international law obligations as set out in the treaty, primarily through periodic reporting.
Most recently, Australia received criticism from another one of these bodies, the Human Rights Committee, which highlighted shortcomings in relation to Indigenous rights, treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, and the lack of a national bill of rights.
Read more: UN slams Australia’s human rights record
It is often overlooked that of these nine core treaties, the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), was actually adopted before any of the others. The CERD became operational in 1970, and ICERD is now the third most commonly ratified UN human rights treaty, with 177 states signed up.
The CERD last reviewed Australia’s record in 2010.
The recommendations made in 2010 contained 21 specific actions for the government. These included the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as First Nations Peoples, supporting the proper performance of the Australian Human Rights Commission, appointing a Race Discrimination Commissioner, and addressing Indigenous contact with the criminal justice system.
Like many other UN human rights bodies, in 2010 the CERD also recommended that Australia review its mandatory detention regime of asylum seekers, with a view to finding an alternative to detention and ensuring that the detention of asylum seekers is always a measure of last resort.
Another recommendation in 2010 was that Australia criminalise the dissemination of racist ideas and incitement to racial hatred or discrimination.
In this regard, Australia has formally limited its obligations by having a reservation to the relevant article of the treaty. Reservations allow states to commit to treaty obligations, but with caveats.
Despite criticisms of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and suggestions that the federal parliament may even have exceeded its external affairs power by going further than was required by the ICERD treaty, the reality is that Australia lacks comprehensive criminal sanctions against incitement to racial hatred. Many other countries have such criminal laws in place.
On Tuesday in Geneva, the government will continue to seek to convince the CERD that it has made progress on these recommendations. It could refer to the appointment of a Race Discrimination Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission, for example Where it has not made good progress, it will be expected to provide explanations.
The last two reviews of Australia by the CERD in 2010 and 2005 were carried out in typical diplomatic mode – the review is called a “constructive dialogue”.
However, Australia’s review by the CERD in 2000 is famous in human rights circles, as there were unusually heated exchanges between Philip Ruddock and one of the committee members.
… if a United Nations committee wants to play domestic politics here in Australia, then it will end up with a bloody nose.
The Human Rights Committee, one of the aforementioned seven treaty bodies, is sometimes confused with the Human Rights Council – a completely separate UN human rights body. The Human Rights Council is the key UN human rights body, a more politicised entity.
Being subject to reviews by international human rights bodies is important for the upholding of human rights in Australia – we are currently the only sestern democracy lacking a statutory or constitutional bill of rights.
Also, unlike many other states, we are not part of a regional human rights framework.
Several interested parties made submissions to the CERD and delegates are in Geneva for informal briefings with the committee members. They will inform the committee of the key concerns they have about the government’s progress. NGOs have already made the committee aware of the situation on Manus Island.
My research has found that such submissions can be quite influential and help shape the recommendations eventually delivered by the committee. However, mechanisms to ensure the government implements the recommendations are lacking.
Therefore, those in civil society with an interest in racial equality, NGOs, academics, trade unions and others should be aware of the recommendations and encourage the government to progress their implementation.
The CERD will finish its review of Australia today, which should be available to view via webcast.
In a few weeks, the committee will hand down its concluding observations, containing recommendations for the Australian government.
Although racism online feels like an insurmountable problem, there are legal and civil actions we can take right now in Australia to address it.
Racism expressed on social media sites provided by Facebook and the Alphabet stable (which includes Google and YouTube) ranges from advocacy of white power, support of the extermination of Jews and the call for political action against Muslim citizens because of their faith. Increasingly it occurs within the now “private” pages of groups that “like” racism.
At the heart of the problem is the clash between commercial goals of social media companies (based around creating communities, building audiences, and publishing and curating content to sell to advertisers), and self-ascribed ethical responsibilities of companies to users.
Although some platforms show growing awareness of the need to respond more quickly to complaints, it’s a very slow process to automate.
Australia should focus on laws that protect internet users from overt hate, and civil actions to help balance out power relationships.
At the global level, Australia could withdraw its reservation to Article 4 of the International Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Such a move has been flagged in the past, but stymied by opposition from an alliance of free speech and social conservative activists and politicians.
The convention is a global agreement to outlaw racism and racial discrimination, and Article 4 committed signatories to criminalise race hate speech. Australia’s reservation reflected the conservative governments’ reluctance to use the criminal law, similar to the civil law debate over section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in 2016/7.
New data released by the eSafety Commissioner showed young people are subjected to extensive online hate. Amongst other findings, 53% of young Muslims said they had faced harmful online content; Indigenous people and asylum seekers were also frequent targets of online hate. Perhaps this could lead governments and opposition parties to a common cause.
Secondly, while Australian law has adopted the European Convention on Cyber Crime, it could move further and adopt the additional protocol. This outlaws racial vilification, and the advocacy of xenophobia and racism.
The impact of these international agreements would be to make serious cases of racial vilification online criminal acts in Australia, and the executive employees of platforms that refused to remove them personally criminally liable. This situation has emerged in Germany where Facebook executives have been threatened with the use of such laws. Mark Zuckerberg visited Germany to pledge opposition to anti-immigrant vilification in 2016.
Finally, Australia could adopt a version of New Zealand’s approach to harmful digital communication. Here, platforms are held ultimately accountable for the publication of online content that seriously offends, and users can challenge the failure of platforms to take down offensive material in the realm of race hate. Currently complaints via the Australian Human Rights Commission do elicit informal cooperation in some cases, but citizen rights are limited.
Taken together, these elements would mark out to providers and users of internet services that there is a shared responsibility for reasonable civility.
In addition to legal avenues, civil initiatives can empower those who are the targets of hate speech, and disempower those who are the perpetrators of race hate.
People who are targeted by racists need support and affirmation. This approach underpins the eSafety commissioner’s development of a Young and Safe portal, which offers stories and scenarios designed to build confidence and grow skills in young people. This is extending to address concerns of women and children, racism, and other forms of bullying.
The Online Hate Prevention Institute (OHPI) has become a reservoir of insights and capacities to identify and pursue perpetrators. As proposed by OHPI, a CyberLine could be created for tipping and reporting race hate speech online, for follow up and possible legal action. Such a hotline would also serve as a discussion portal on what racism looks like and what responses are appropriate.
Anti-racism workshops (some have already been run by the E Safety commissioner) have aimed to push back against hate, and build structures where people can come together online. Modelling and disseminating best practice against race hate speech offers resources to wider communities that can then be replicated elsewhere.
The Point magazine (an online youth-centred publication for the government agency Multicultural New South Wales) reported two major events where governments sponsored industry/community collaboration to find ways forward against cyber racism.
The growth of online racism marks the struggle between a dark and destructive social movement that wishes to suppress or minimise the recognition of cultural differences, confronted by an emergent social movement that treasures cultural differences and egalitarian outcomes in education and wider society.
Advocacy organisations can play a critical role in advancing an agenda of civility and responsibility through the state, the economy and civil society. The social movements of inclusion will ultimately put pressure on the state and in the economy to ensure the major platforms do in fact accept full responsibilities for the consequences of their actions. If a platform refuses to publish hate speech or acts to remove it when it receives valid complaints, such views remain a private matter for the individual who holds them, not a corrosive undermining of civil society.
We need to rebalance the equation between civil society, government and the internet industry, so that when the population confronts the industry, demonstrating it wants answers, we will begin to see responsibility emerge.
Governments also need to see their role as more strongly ensuring a balance between the right to a civil discourse and the profitability of platforms. Currently the Australian government seems not to accept that it has such a role, even though a number of states have begun to act.
The Cyber Racism and Community Resilience Project CRaCR explores why cyber racism has grown in Australia and globally, and what concerned communities have and can do about it. This article summarises the recommendations CRaCR made to industry partners.
We live in a richly diverse country, populated by Indigenous Australians, recent immigrants, and descendants of relatively recent immigrants. Some feel threatened by this diversity; some relish it.
Most of us, I think, are unsure quite how to talk about it.
We have many words to describe diversity. We ask people about their ancestry, their ethnicity, and – most awkwardly – their “background”. We seem least comfortable asking people about their “race”, and with good reason.
Read more: The markers of everyday racism in Australia
Racial classification has been used to justify some of the most heinous crimes of modernity, including those committed on our own shores. Asking people about their “race” can make you sound a bit, well, racist.
Yet “racial” classification is still commonplace. Many articles in The Conversation use the term “race” to describe human diversity. For example, one asks what’s behind racial differences in restaurant tipping?, while another tells us that infants learn to distinguish between races.
What justifies the continued use of racial classification? Nothing, or so I argue in Replacing Race, an open-access article published recently in the philosophy journal Ergo.
I argue that there are no races, only racialised groups – groups that have been misunderstood as biological races.
The reader may object – “surely, I can see race with my bare eyes!” However, it is not race we see, but the superficial visible biological diversity within our species: variation in traits such as skin colour, hair form and eye shape. This variation is not enough to justify racial classification. Our biological diversity is too small, and too smoothly distributed across geographic space, for race to be real.
This is not merely an opinion. From a scientific perspective, the best candidate for a synonym for “race” is “subspecies” (the classification level below “species” in biology). When scientists apply the standard criteria to determine whether there are subspecies/races in humans, none are found. In chimpanzees yes, but in humans no.
Racial classification is unscientific. However, humanities scholars have their own justifications for race-talk. Many argue that while there are no biological races, there are social races. Race, as philosophers put it, is a social kind.
In my view, the redefinition of race as a social kind has been a major mistake. Most people still think of race as a biological category. By redefining it socially, we risk miscommunicating with each other on this fraught topic.
Not only is the redefinition of race as a social kind confusing, I argue that race does not exist even as a social kind. Racism is real, in both an interpersonal and a structural sense, but race is not.
Once the idea of race is divorced from biology, strange things start happening, conceptually. What makes a group a “race”, if race is social, rather than biological?
We could say that races are just the groups that are labelled as races, but this doesn’t work. Just as witches are not women accused of being witches, races are not merely groups labelled as races. There has to be something more to the group for it to qualify as a social kind.
Nobody has put their finger on this “something more”. Some tie “race” to “essentialism”. Essentialism is the view that groups have essenses: fixed traits that all members of a group have, and which are unique to that group. “Social races”, on this view, are groups treated as if they have some unchangeable essence.
This move fails. While racialisation is often essentialising, it is not always. If you look at current “scientific” racism, you’ll see that it’s all about alleged inborn average differences between the so-called “races”, not racial essences (which does not make it any less horrid, or more plausible).
Moreover, essentialist thinking is not only applied to racialised groups. Gender is also essentialised, and so is ethnicity.
Remember when I said strange things start happening when race is defined socially? Well, if races are social groups subject to essentialism, we would have to accept that men and women constitute de facto races!
We should abandon attempts to save the category of race. There is no good way to make sense of the category from a biological or a social perspective. There are no races, only groups misunderstood as races: racialised groups.
Racialised groups are not biological groups, in the sense that they are not biological races. Yet how you are racialised does depend on superficial biological characteristics, such as skin colour. That is to say, racialised groups have biological inclusion criteria, vague and arbitrary as they may be.
These biological inclusion criteria are determined by social factors. Philosophical debates about “race” have relied on a dichotomy between the biological and the social. However, this is a false dichotomy: the biological and the social interact.
In racialisation, the biological and the social interact with a number of other factors: administrative, cultural, economic, geographic, gendered, historical, lingual, phenomenological, political, psychological, religious, and so on. I call this view “interactive constructionism about racialised groups”.
The category of the “racialised group” can be of great value, politically. It offers a way for those who have historically been treated as members of “inferior races” to assert and defend themselves collectively, while distancing themselves from the negative and misleading associations of the term “race”. “Race” is not needed for purposes of social justice.
According to researcher Victoria Grieves in her article Culture, not colour, is the heart of Aboriginal identity,
Being of Aboriginal descent is crucial because this is our link to country and the natural world. But at the same time, Aboriginal people do not rely on a race-based identity … continuing cultural values and practice are the true basis of Aboriginal identity in the whole of Australia today
The category of race is not needed for cultural identity or political action.
We need to be talking about racism, racialisation, and racialised groups, not “race”. Given that “race” fails as both a biological and a social category, let’s consign it to the dustbin of history’s bad ideas.
While Australians value equality, our multicultural nation contains markers of racial discrimination. Some are so innocuous we may not recognise them.
Experiencing racism is part of the everyday lives of many Australians. What is it like to negotiate daily life in a material world that often excludes you, or selectively seeks to control you?
Let’s try to understand the experience of everyday racism by negotiating the material world of an Aboriginal person in northern Australia. You have come into Katherine, Northern Territory, from a remote community. It might be say, Barunga, 80 kilometres away, or Bulman 300 kilometres away, or Lajamanu, 600 kilometres away.
You shop for food at the Woolworths complex. You use your Basics Card to pay. This is a bit embarrassing as it declares you to be living on managed government money. You understand that this card is a legacy of the NT Intervention, designed to ensure that Aboriginal people spend half their government benefits on food and essentials. You understand that this “income management” signals a lack of faith in your ability to budget your own money.
You purchase some power-cards to pre-pay electricity in your home. You hope you won’t have to share them with friends or family who run out of electricity. You understand that power cards are not the norm in towns or cities of the NT, only in Aboriginal communities.
After shopping, you need to go to the toilet. It is the tourist season and the toilets in the Woolworths complex charge $1 per person. There is a guard at the front to collect the money. Throughout the town, the toilets have “closed”, “staff only” or “patrons only” signs. Often, the public toilets in the main street are out of order.
You want to meet some relatives in town. It is difficult to meet at the Woolworths complex due to the “no loitering” signs.
You understand that these signs are not intended for townspeople, who have homes to go to, or tourists, who are staying in hotels or caravan parks. You understand that they are aimed at you, and people like you.
There are other signs that are not aimed at you. Those signs, such as the lead photo for this article, depict variations of “ideal” white Australian families. Such signs exist throughout Australia. Inadvertently, they exclude those who do not fit the proposed ideal.
There is a nice sitting area at the tourist information centre but it is fenced. You would have to be a bit braver than you feel to go in. So you sit on the ground outside the fence, next to the car park. You watch tourists eating their lunch in comfort at the tables inside the fence. You wonder if they wonder why you don’t come in.
Like most Territorians, you enjoy a beer in hot weather. The bottle shop has police officers stationed at it. You have to show your address and explain where you will drink the beer. However, your address is that of a remote Aboriginal community, one that does not allow alcohol consumption. You do not have a town address, and for you to buy beer the police officer has to believe you will not consume it in the town’s public areas.
You’ve convinced the police officer that you will drink your beer at the unofficial “drinking spot”, 25 kilometres from your community.
On the way there, you pass the rest area for tourists, replete with lights, toilets, water tanks, tables. You could stop here, but you wouldn’t feel comfortable – and you would be moved on if a tourist complained to the police. At the Aboriginal drinking spot, there are no such facilities. You are expected to sit in the dirt, drink from the creek and go to the toilet in the bush.
There is no light either. While sitting at the drinking spot, you think about the people who have been killed here by vehicles driving at night. You are aware that there is no mobile phone coverage to call in an emergency.
On your way to the community, you pass road signs with Aboriginal people depicted in a cartoon-like fashion. You are glad the graffiti on the Liquor Act sign, “This means Niggers, too” has been erased. You pass the “prescribed area” sign, which warns against bringing alcohol or “prohibited materials” into the community.
Erected in 2007 as part of the Intervention, the original signs were more explicit: “No Liquor. No Pornography”. Somehow, these signs seemed to imply that everyone in your community wants to get drunk or use pornography. You wonder how people in the cities would feel if they had a sign like that at the entrance to their suburb.
Archaeology can provide unique insights into how material culture can reflect racism. However, racism is not the only form of discrimination. The Scanlon report on Mapping Social Cohesion in Australia found that experiences of discrimination on the basis of “skin colour, ethnic origin or religion” increased to 20% in 2016. The report does not provide figures for Indigenous Australians, but records an increase in negative sentiment towards Muslim people.
Nevertheless, the report argues that Australia is characterised by strong social cohesion. We may have problems, but it seems that we are a long way from the treatment of Muslim women who want to wear Burkinis on the beaches of France.
Racism occurs in everyday life. It happens to everyday people in everyday locations. It can be redressed through everyday practices.
There are reasons behind the differences described in this article. Townspeople have had bad experiences with some community children leaving a mess in public toilets (itself a reflection of the dearth of adequate working bathrooms in Aboriginal communities). Rest areas are under different government jurisdictions. The Basics card helps people to budget (and now it is being rolled out in wider Australia).
But while there are explanations for individual practices, taken together they create a system of control and exclusion. The outcomes include mental health issues for individuals, barriers to economic participation and a weakening of Australia’s social fabric.
Minimum standards of courtesy, safety and equality should be maintained for all Australians. The systematic discrimination of everyday racism diminishes us all.