Dismantling Dutton's race-baiting

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Before I moved to Ireland with my family, we lived in Apex St, Dandenong. Yes, that Apex St. For a number of years as my daughter was growing up, she happily walked up and down the street to the primary school where she spent her days studying and playing with her Cambodian best friend Melissa, her Samoan neighbour Malachi and her Sudanese pal, Buom. We counted it a blessing to live in Australia's most multicultural city.

Immigration official says we're not taking any more Sudanese migrants unless they are an athlete or sports star. Cartoon by Fiona KatauskasSadly, my street is not famous for its diversity. For our current conservative and right-leaning politicians and journalists, my street is agitprop. It's supposedly the eponymous moniker of an African gang that's been wreaking havoc in the south-eastern 'burbs of Melbourne, along with others in a wave of African-flavoured crime.

So much so that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has 'real concern about Sudanese gangs', supporting Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton's telling Sydney-siders that their Melburnian cousins can't even enjoy an evening's fine-dining anymore. 'People are scared to go out at restaurants of a night time,' he explained, for fear they might be accosted by a roving African.

Except that the Victorian Crime Statistics Agency says crime has actually been dropping in the southern state, and that the Sudanese make up only one per cent of the 'unique offender population'. Melburnians are much more likely to be a victim of an ordinary 'Anglo' Aussie's criminal activity than that of a Sudanese or Somali-ancestry offender. Even the tragic killing of 19-year-old African-Australian Laa Chol last Saturday was unrelated to gang activity, according to police who specifically dismissed Dutton's suggestion of a Sudanese gang problem.

So why has this become such a hot topic, given the lack of empirical evidence? The answers are not very flattering to prominent members of the Liberal Party and the media outlets that support them. Either they are flat-out wrong, unable to read crime reports or understand what the police and other agencies are telling them (which leaves in question their ability to accurately and intelligently govern), or some apparatchik in the strategy back-rooms has decided it is a good way to garner votes with a 'tough-on-crime' campaign.

Given that Turnbull and Dutton have been attacking the sitting Victorian (Labor) Premier Dan Andrews as being in denial over the 'problem', my bet is on the latter.

But stigmatising a minority community to win votes is a terrible idea, even though Australia has a long and not-so-proud history of race-baiting and dog-whistling. Whether it was British colonial settlers treating Indigenous Australians as 'savages'; the enactment of the 1888 Chinese Exclusion Bill because of moral panic over Chinese miners; discrimination against Irish-Catholics as potential fifth-columnists; the internment of German, Japanese and Italian 'enemy aliens' during the World Wars; the obsession with Asian crime gangs in the 1980s; or the anti-Lebanese and anti-Muslim sentiment that fuelled the Cronulla Riots, Australia has spent most of its European-settlement era history demonising one group or another.

 

"Eventually their wellbeing is threatened to the point that it damages the very fabric of society."

 

But the effects of stigma are damaging, both to its victims and wider society as a whole. Stigma is an attribute — in this case African ancestry marked by black skin — that 'taints' an individual group in the eyes of others, particularly those who have more power in society. There has been much research on the effects of stigma on those who experience it, demonstrating links to poorer mental health, barriers to education, employment and housing, poverty, and even physical illness.

Human beings have a strong need to belong, and when a segment of the population is constantly told there is something wrong with them; when they are racially profiled by police and security agencies; when they battle experiences of prejudice and discrimination, from suspicious shopkeepers following them around, to muttered comments on public transport, to job applications being rejected for no apparent reason, to politicians demonising them as an election tactic; eventually their wellbeing is threatened to the point that it damages the very fabric of society.

Racism at its most cancerous becomes the Holocaust in Germany, the Rwandan Tutsi genocide and the Srebrenica massacre. But before that, it feeds into the social exclusion of immigrants in the French banlieues, White Nationalist violence in Britain, and Mexican children in American cages.

But I'm an optimist. What Turnbull and Dutton don't realise is that Victoria is a different political beast to those to our north. Tough-on-crime may have worked for Bob Carr (sadly, to the detriment of Lebanese Aussies in New South Wales), but it won't play as well to a state that prides itself on boasting restaurants of every ethnic cuisine imaginable. Turnbull and Dutton might even like to drop in on one for a meal some fine evening.

 

 

Rachel WoodlockDr Rachel Woodlock is an expat Australian academic and writer living in Ireland.

Topic tags: Rachel Woodlock, African gangs, Peter Dutton, Malcolm Turnbull, racism

 

 

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Existing comments

Thanks Rachel! I agree that "stigmatising a minority community to win votes is a terrible idea, even though Australia has a long and not-so-proud history of race-baiting and dog-whistling." So the logical response by voters is not to vote for politicians or political parties that are doing that!
Grant Allen | 24 July 2018


Victoria is different Rachel and I hope that we see these fear-mongering rabble-rousers from Queensland and NSW retreat with bloodied noses. Our Commonwealth is a federation with divisions of responsibilities and it's time our federal ministers focused on getting some of their federal responsibilities right and leaving the states to deal with state responsibilities.
Ginger Meggs | 24 July 2018


Well said, Rachel. Expect, though, to see this kind of rhetoric more frequently. These are trial runs of increasingly appalling attitudes being floated in the media to see what the response is and then taking it further and further. See this analysis for more: https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/fintan-o-toole-trial-runs-for-fascism-are-in-full-flow-1.3543375
Erik Hoekstra | 25 July 2018


I agree with your thoughts about racism and the shocking results on society, Rachel. Your children experienced, as I did in primary school in Brisbane, friendships with children from different ethnic groups and these friendships break down barriers. Messrs. Turnbull and Dutton hail from Sydney and Brisbane respectively, but that does not automatically mean that Sydney and Brisbane are not culturally diverse cities. It would be better to focus on what we have in common in Australia and work from there.
Pam | 25 July 2018


South Sudanese footballer, Nelly Yoa, injured in a machete attack in Melbourne in 2011 wrote, “It is a fact that South Sudanese are over-represented in crime statistics.” Sudanese may “make up only one percent of the ‘unique offender population’”, however crime statistics reveal that in Victoria, Sudanese-born people are 57 times more likely to be charged with aggravated robbery, and 33 times more likely to be charged with riot and affray, than their Australian-born counterparts. The denials by Victorian police and politicians follow a well-worn path. In the “biggest child protection scandal in UK history”, 1,400 young girls, many aged 12-14, were raped, abused and trafficked over 15 years while the police and authorities in Rotherham turned a blind eye. Political correctness had led to inaction by authorities who feared being called racist because the groomers were predominantly Pakistani-origin Muslims who preyed on vulnerable white girls. Australians rightly celebrate Sudanese such as AFL star Aliir Aliir and sprinter Mangar Makur Chuot. Their legitimate concerns about Sudanese crime should not be dismissed as “race-baiting…to win votes.” As Nelly Yoa wrote, “Nobody should ever try and cover up or defend this unacceptable behaviour—to do so is immoral.”
Ross Howard | 25 July 2018


Comment seen recently on social media in response to post about Turnbull/Dutton race-baiting: "Dear Peter Dutton, I'm a little 71 yr old lady who takes regular walks at night in Melbourne. I'll help guard you when you're too afraid to walk around on your own, you wuss!"
Richard | 25 July 2018


Thank you Rachel for this reality check. Unfortunately those who must read it, will probably never see it. They refuse to hear the Victorian Commissioner of Police; they are hardly likely to put much faith in an Australian academic living in Ireland, no matter what your earlier, long-term experience in Australia. I'm with Grant Allen - to not vote for political parties that use race-baiting to garner votes.
Ian Fraser | 25 July 2018


We've all seen the media footage of black gangs (dare I mention that offensive word 'black') smashing up a jewelry shop with baseball bats and taking anything they could grab. And this extremely violent raid happened twice to the same jewelry shop by what was described as the same type of gang. I haven't before seen media footage of anything more catastrophic as that, except on newsreels in the USA. Whose to blame? The media for televising it? Or the gangs themselves. It must be called out for what it is, and so the politicians have. Anyone with a brain in their head knows that these violent individuals are only a minority. But we mustn't offend the majority of innocent Sudanese by mentioning it, must we? Are we? I don't think so.
Peter Flood | 25 July 2018


Rachel, my sister who worked as a missionary in Cairo for 3 years, specifically helping the Sudanese, has also helped them for the past 10 years in Melbourne. Some of the parliamentary criticism is justified, especially about the Apex gang. Their violent attacks on jewellery and clothing stores and home invasions may indeed be a statistical minority but they are something Australia has never seen. The adage "the devil finds work for idle hands " rings true. Similar problems occurred with the West Indians in London in the late 70s and early 80s. I know, as I was teaching at Abbeywood. These aggressive youths need to be absorbed into sporting programs, teams, higher education, the forces and taught the value of assimilation and the privilege of living here. If Dutton wished to do something contructive for a change why not buy some second hand trawlers and get them earning their keep fishing in the Bay. The 10 fastest runners taken into the AIS athletics program. The 20 tallest taken into the AFL and 10 into the basketball clubs etc. 50 taken into Uni similar to the old reverse discrimination program. 100 taken in to armed forces. Think laterally for a change.
Frank Armstrong | 25 July 2018


Thanks for that "Irish Times" reference, Erik. Well worth reading. The rise of Nazism in Germany was a gradual process. Economic troubles and deep (justified) grievances about overblown war reparations were exploited by demagogic stirrers who would manipulate any “incident” from molehill into mountain. And above all, you’ve got to get the mix of ‘enemies of the people’ right. In comparison we are only just starting on this Autobahn, but the roadsigns are already up – the relentless government and conservative media propaganda against contrary views and advocates, the “alternative facts”, the denigration of science, research and true liberalism. Even “Do-Gooders” are portrayed by many conservative circles almost as Fifth Columnists working against the interests of “jobs and growth”. Scapegoating is the key to success. Find some groups everyone loves to hate, then pillory them for all you’re worth - in Hitler’s Germany the Jews, Communists, Gypsies and homosexuals. Our own stormtroopers enthusiastically lambast the “leaners” - the “dole bludgers” and welfare recipients and anyone fallen by the wayside. (“Moral laxity” of course!) Those we’re taught to look down on, we won’t listen to. But best is fear – Terrorists (Muslims!!), rampaging gang-members (Sudanese!!), now all migrants - “others” not like us!
PaulM | 25 July 2018


A thoughtful article, advocating a more rational and sober discussion, rather than the kind of blanket accusations against an entire community that Minister Dutton prefers. That the Prime Minister has joined in stoking anti-Sudanese, indeed anti-black African sentiment is truly reprehensible, and disheartening. Some of the comments here are equally disturbing. No one should condone violence and criminality but singling out a community, most of whose members are law-abiding and all of whom are vulnerable to stigmatisation, as members of highly visible minorities. Having admitted refugees/migrants from troubled parts of the world, Government and the citizenry need to actively foster their adjustment and integration. Excluding people, labelling them and denying them opportunity can only lead to alienation, and its negative consequences.In the 40 years I have lived in Australia, I have seen this pattern repeated from time to time. Surely, this is a lesson we should have learned. Instead there's a recurring pattern of singling out particular minorities to be blamed for the ills of the community/nation. I can recall a period when anti-Vietnamese/Asian sentiment was rife. Ugly posters appeared suggesting that unemployment, crime and other ills were caused by the influx of people from particular countries. As others have pointed out, there have been many examples of this scape-goating. Invariably, some politicians use these conditions, whipping up fear in order to garner support. Shameful.
Myrna | 25 July 2018


It’s far to easy to accuse a person of racism and when choose to label someone a racist we risk devaluing it’s meaning. If you don’t like the Governments tactics then that’s fine, but it’s hardly racist. It’s articles like this that cause people tonswtich off.
Greg | 25 July 2018


Opposing political race-baiting does not mean turning a blind eye to crimes committed by people of the particular community being racially slurred. Ross Howard and Peter Flood make an important point that is not forgotten by those of us who oppose the racist politicising by Peter Dutton and his supporters. We, together with the Victorian police, acknowledge the criminal activity of the so-called Apex gang, and probably some other gangs of young Sudanese immigrants. We also note the reaction of the Sudanese community in the affected areas of Melbourne, forming night patrol groups, working with the police to get young members of their community off the streets at night. Tarnishing a whole community with the crimes of its small criminal element is never justified; it should never be coming from the desk of the federal minister responsible for immigration. And, speaking personally, I expected better from Prime Minister Turnbull.
Ian Fraser | 26 July 2018


Nice work, Rachel! Keep railing against these ratbags. Scapegoating is the scourge of the age in which we live and those who won't call it out are as deeply complicit in it as our mealy-mouthed PM with one eye on this weekend's election results and the other on the right-wing troglodytes on his backbench waiting to rumble him.
Dr Michael Furtado | 26 July 2018


It's not Dutton's or Turnbull's racism to which I object greg, but their race-baiting. They are no different to the person who, in a crowed stadium, calls 'fire' when there is no fire.
Ginger Meggs | 28 July 2018


Cardijn Community Australia invited Mr Dutton via Alan Tudge , citizenship minister, to visit the various ED's at Melbourne hospitals and our world class medical research units to meet and learn about the origins of the people providing care and hope. My wife was cared for by fourteen different nationals from the same countries he tries to turn into villains. It worked on Pauline Hanson because after her imprisonment with aboriginal women , all her negative rhetoric about our first nations people stopped because fact and truth are always great teachers. We need to focus on all the good news stories like the African basketball teams and how well our refugees have integrated into country communities where ministers had stated red necked country people would never accept them. The Nhill model has shown what a farce this attitude to be and total ignorance of our history all over Australia.
WAYNE McGOUGH | 29 July 2018


Race baiting is nothing new and in Australia we have witnessed techniques or narratives of dog whistling that were refined in the US (post desegregation), by admirers of the white Australia policy (and frequent visitors), now informing UK, US and Australian politicians, advisors and media prone to nativist attitudes. From US NGO SPLC: 'The Social Contract Press (TSCP) routinely publishes race-baiting articles penned by white nationalists. The press is a program of U.S. Inc, the foundation created by John Tanton, the racist founder and principal ideologue of the modern nativist movement. TSCP puts an academic veneer of legitimacy over what are essentially racist arguments about the inferiority of today's immigrants.' https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/social-contract-press Part, or most of, their 'science' is described by their key people as 'passive eugenics' to retain the status quo.
Andrew Smith | 04 August 2018


Thank you Rachel for an excellent article on a matter of great importance to the Australian community. Most Australians support our very multicultural nation because of the great diversity and the opportunity to understand people from many backgrounds. So it is particularly galling when some Australians set about to undermine multiculyuralism It is even worse when key political leaders play the race card for their own political ends. This only contributes to the negative feelings that some have for particular ethnic groups and asylum seekers and undermines the fabric of our society. All populations have criminals. The effective way to manage this is for authorities to pursue the lawbreakers - not to pursue the members of ethnic communities who some bigoted politicians claim are responsible for the problem.
Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 07 August 2018


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