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Rock the boat


The Governor of Florida, Republican Ron DeSantis, is reportedly pushing for a bill that would make it unlawful for schools and workplaces to make people feel uncomfortable when providing instruction on discrimination in US history. The bill is part of a wider debate in both the US and Australia over the teaching of critical race theory — a debate that has been used as a proxy for an ongoing culture war over the nature of racism and systematic injustice. This wider debate raises many important issues, but one I am particularly interested in here is the issue of discomfort, because it permeates so many of the current debates around injustice and social change.

When children marched peacefully for climate justice, for example, our Prime Minister admonished them for not being in school and said, ‘What we want is more learning in schools and less activism in schools.’ When a local conservation NGO used litigation to force the Minister for the Environment to actually follow the law when considering an application to approve the Adani coal mine, our then Attorney-General accused them of illegitimate green ‘lawfare’. When NFL players quietly took the knee to draw attention to systemic racism in the US, President Trump called on them to be fired.

In all of these examples, the real target of the critique was the underlying cause. The Prime Minister did not agree with criticism of his government’s record on climate change, and nor did the government agree that the Adani coal mine poses an unacceptable risk of damage to the local and global environment. Similarly, President Trump is an unashamed defender of white supremacist ideology, and underlying this new Florida bill is a fundamental refusal to acknowledge any problem with the systemic nature of racism in the US or the responsibility of white people to challenge it.

However, as fundamentally problematic as all these examples are, what I find particularly insidious are those critics who profess to support activist causes, but still insist that their activism should avoid causing discomfort. We see this all the time, such as in the civility policing of Grace Tame, whose principles and activism are apparently less important than the Prime Minister’s self-serving photo opportunity, or in the hounding of Adam Goodes for not being more gracious to football fans who booed him and shouted racist epithets. We see it in the (incessant) cries of #NotAllMen from men who claim to support campaigns to end violence against women by are more offended by any language that might appear to implicate them, the good guys, as being part of the problem.


'You may well disagree with the actual agenda of protestors, whether they be from Extinction Rebellion or the Anti-Vaccination Convoy. If so, have the courage to debate their ideas rather than hiding behind a critique of their methods.'


This same attitude is also evident in the calls from liberals for protests not to inconvenience fellow citizens (by, for example, disrupting traffic), or in the recent debates around the boycott of the Sydney Festival for accepting a prominent sponsorship deal with the Israeli government. Ben Adler and Nawfel Alfaris, for example, argue that Palestinian activists should have confined their activism to non-disruptive forms of free speech — such as speaking to organisers behind the scenes — because art should ‘unite’ us or, as festival director Olivia Ansell put it, ‘everyone has the right to feel safe’ (where ‘everyone’ apparently does not include Palestinian people).

The consistent theme here is that challenging the status quo is fine unless and until it actually threatens to make anyone uncomfortable or, you know, to disrupt the status quo. Fundamentally, this is an underhanded means of silencing people while refusing to debate the merits of their cause. Of course, you may well disagree with the actual agenda of protestors, whether they be from Extinction Rebellion or the Anti-Vaccination Convoy. If so, have the courage to debate their ideas rather than hiding behind a critique of their methods (so long as they are not hurting anyone) or complaining that their approach makes you uncomfortable.

Avoiding discomfort is a privilege only enjoyed by those who benefit from the status quo, and civility policing is fundamentally about protecting both that privilege and the status quo itself. Confronting the reality of injustice in both our past and our present should be uncomfortable, and no one is entitled to immunity. A corollary of this is that no matter how far removed you may wish to be from the struggle, you are not entitled to sit comfortably on the sidelines. As the late, great Archbishop Desmond Tutu, my absolute favourite rabble-rouser, once said, ‘If you are neutral in the face of oppression, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’ The only option left is to rock the boat.



Cristy ClarkDr Cristy Clark is a human rights specialist. Her work focuses on the intersection of human rights, neoliberalism, activism and the environment, and particularly on the human right to water.

Main image: Illustration by Chris Johnstone.

Topic tags: Cristy Clark, Activism, Protest, Justice, AusPol


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DeSantis stopping schools making “people feel uncomfortable”? Like the 7-year-old girl in Tennessee who came home crying saying, “I’m ashamed to be white…Why am I hated so much” and needing therapy because she didn’t want to go to school. Or where the New York teacher made white kids go on a “privilege walk” and apologise to black kids.
In true Orwellian fashion, Critical Race Theory (CRT) instils racism by calling it anti-racism. It segregates people into victims and oppressors based on skin colour. Black parents like Quisha King says, “Telling my child or any child that they are in a permanent oppressed status in America because they are black is racist.”
As for “silencing people”, the National School Board Association requested the Attorney General to classify parent protests as “domestic terrorism”.
Then a black man, Darius Sessoms, 25, shoots white kid, Cannon Hinnant, aged 5, in the head. A supporter on Facebook wrote, “Blew his little white privileged brains clean out of his head! #BlackLivesMatter.”
CRT covers up the hoax perpetrated on blacks by “progressive” education. “Progressive” cities have appalling black/white achievement gaps (Washington DC—reading proficiency, 83% whites:23 % blacks). Most conservative cities have closed the gaps.

Ross Howard | 09 February 2022  
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Ross, cite your evidence in relation to the first two allegations or admit that you come to this discussion with a biased view!

And what might conservative state results have to do with identity politics? Cite your sources and you'll find they are centres of White Privilege! These exist in Washington DC itself, where I have an Australian friend with an Indian wife and two high-achieving daughters, the point being that they live in Georgetown and lead lives of unabashed privilege.

Black Lives Matter is about the poor, among the poorest of whom are the descendants of slaves, subjected until recently to a denial of their civil rights in respect of voting, housing and equal employment opportunity, and now in regard to having foisted upon them the cultural disadvantage of a history curriculum that is palpably one-sided and portrays a view of the world that .

Not to additionally present a view from the underside is to conspire to oppress the downtrodden as well as to support the blissfully ignorant. It also offends against the one principle that all historians of integrity uphold, which is to call propaganda out wherever it exists.

Michael Furtado | 17 February 2022  

MF, you demand evidence from me, but then state that my sources “are centres of White Privilege” and that “Black Lives Matter is about the poor” with no evidence of your own. When the chief priests and scribes refused to give Jesus their authority, He said, “Nor will I tell you my authority.” Mark 11:33.
However, I’ll recommend to Dr Clark a good black history book:
“Red, White, and Black: Rescuing American History from Revisionists and Race Hustlers”, edited by Robert. Woodson Sr:
“We acknowledge that racial discrimination exists…But we dissent from contemporary groupthink and rhetoric about race, class, and American history that defames our national heritage, divides our people, and instills helplessness…[we] reject victimhood culture.”
Conservative blacks see welfare dependency promoted by the Left, as the new slavery. But like the old plantation overseers, Leftists use enforcers to keep blacks in their place. Any who leave the plantation, like Clarence Thomas and Ben Carson are figuratively whipped and denigrated as “house negros” or “Uncle Toms.”
Similarly, in the UK, Katharine Birbalsingh started a new school, Michaela, threw out 50 years of Left-wing ideology, and her students, mostly black, poor and disadvantaged, scored 4 times better than the national average.

Ross Howard | 18 February 2022  

"Telling my child or any child that they are in a permanent oppressed status in America because they are black is racist.”

Telling ATSIs they will always need a Voice to Parliament that is, for all practical purposes, an irremovable constitutional structure, is surely to tell them they are in a permanently oppressed status.

The solution has always been to educate the children of the underprivileged so they can break into the economic middle class, particularly into STEM-related jobs where the value of the end products are easy for all to see and to describe. Drifting into academic cultural studies just produces the sight of a section of the population stuck to a public trough, and drifting into art and sport just makes this same section a permanent class of pets.

Even the night watchman state of neoliberals has a self-interest in social programs which strengthen the family unit by promoting life-long marriage and the household as a permanent haven for children and youth, and a school system run under a voucher system so the subsidiarity for effective educational choice rests with parents rather than the happenstance of where a family which cannot afford private schooling finds itself living.

roy chen yee | 19 February 2022  

Tame policed herself by shaking the PM’s hand. The PM is expected to ‘civility police’ because he is trained in the concepts of the Westminster system where the concepts of Her Majesty’s Government and Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition are civility policing and a maturation from the bloodshed by factional force of arms that it replaced.

Like most non-canonical prudentialities, ‘civility policing’ has a place in some situations and no place in others. There are many situations where parties ‘agree to disagree’ and it is not always the case that to pout while agreeing to disagree is in the spirit of agreeing to disagree. In some future synod where discussion is face to face, surely those who wish to turn the Catholic Church into the Episcopal Church of the United States will be the first to insist that debate must be ‘respectful’ and that pointing out that they are being termites is not ‘respectful’.

roy chen yee | 09 February 2022  

Is there anything at all of value to be learnt from America?

john frawley | 09 February 2022  
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As in, 'Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?'

The answer, simply, is 'Come and see' although 'see' is not as simple as it 'sounds' because, of the pair of eyes we all have, it's the eyes from the spirit that we have to find before they can be used.

The discussion threads in ES are replete with examples of people who claim to find their eyes of the spirit in their 'conscience' and others who believe it safer to rely on the eyes of the Magisterium.

roy chen yee | 12 February 2022  

And who is to decide their provenance, Roy? You?

Michael Furtado | 17 February 2022  

It can’t be me. If I said so, I would be imitating your frame of exclusion in declaring from your private seat of Moses that Citipointe College Christians are only Christians by approbation and self-arrogation, when the Mind of the contemporary Seat of Moses, larger than the minds of any one of its adherents, has the humility merely to say that if a Citipointe adult or teenager has been baptismally defined by the correct words, which express a correct understanding, s/he is in spirit and in truth a Christian.

The purpose of words to define something is also important in another case. The same Mind includes Muslims within the family of co-worshippers of the same God because textual comparison shows they affirm the existence of Abraham as Jews and Christians understand him, and profess to hold his faith.

The Magisterium’s frame of inclusion uses words to find commonality with others when commonality can, in truth, be said to exist. If it didn’t strive to find commonality, it would not be able to believe that, for the unbaptised, God will practise his desire that all should be saved by doing all that he should to save them.

roy chen yee | 21 February 2022  

"no matter how far removed you may wish to be from the struggle, you are not entitled to sit comfortably on the sidelines .... The only option left is to rock the boat."

First, there are many struggles and no one can be active in all of them. If someone doesn't appear to be an enthusiastic supporter of your favourite causes, perhaps they are using their energy to support others, or simply other individual people. Second, rocking the boat is not the only way to achieve change, and it isn't suited to everyone. Maybe it's best to model the change you want to see, rather than tell people what they should be doing.

Russell | 09 February 2022  
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Russell, Cristy Clark is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Canberra. before assuming her current position Cristy was a Lecturer at Southern Cross University.

Here's her published CV, easily accessible from the internet:

2020–Senior Project Officer, ACT Government
2019–Principal Research Officer, Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights
2014–2019 Lecturer, Southern Cross University
2003–2004 Solicitor, Freehills

UNSW, PhD (Human Rights Law) 2013
UNSW, Masters in International Social Development 2005
ANU, BA LLB 2002

Still a young academic, and at an early stage of her career, she has ten internationally peer-reviewed publications, all of them based on action research.

Please tell us what qualifies you to advise her or, on the basis of your experience, what flaws you detect in her proficiency and suitability to write this article.

Michael Furtado | 17 February 2022  

It can be argued that as a lawyer, Cristy Clark should know that the Westminster system, in fact, any system of political liberal democracy, cannot work without ‘civility policing’ and the current situation in the US Congress seems to suggest a breakdown of civility policing between the parties (or perhaps that's just the media magnifying a molehill to keep itself interesting to its consumers).

roy chen yee | 19 February 2022  

You raise a good point, Roy, and then your cynicism, best reserved for your uniquely entertaining take on theology in regard to sexual morality, badly lets you down.

The instrumentalities of democracy, especially in the US, which prides itself on the modern Jeffersonian definition of that term, have let the American people down very badly.

This is because their political system denies power to elected authorities to ameliorate the condition of the citizenry, preferring to leave the equilibriating forces that we have in, say, Australia in times of crisis, to the influence and control of the 'For Profit' sector.

Thus, the denial of the right to exercise just electoral control of the state, especially in circumstances of crisis, such as the loss of the car industry and the Covid occurrence, has led to a breakdown in the civility that you and I properly regard as a binding moral obligation by virtue of our status as citizens.

Such a democracy - in name but not in spirit - and which the US seeks to export all over the globe, has hardly met with unbridled success except in a few propped-up subaltern states. Politics is mostly run by Big Business 'State Capture'!

Michael Furtado | 11 March 2022  

I enjoy your articles a great deal, Cristy, although I do, at times, disagree with some of what is in them. In this one I would agree with you totally on what you said about 'discomfort' being used to silence opponents. 'Critical race theory' is something I feel a little chary about. There is no doubt the concept of scientific racism, as exemplified in the supposed 'Evolutionary Tree of Man', often graphically illustrated in books of the Victorian Era, was used as an intellectual justification for Empire. Intellectuals at Cambridge University, some clerics or sons of clergy, had no discomfort putting this theory forward till well into the 20th Century. Some Cambridge colleges would rarely accept an Indian student even in the 1930s, others, like Trinity, welcomed Nehru. I have a deep personal interest in India and the Independence movement. It is probably not sensible comparing this with the current race situation in America or the position of ATSI people here. I was edified to see recently, on YouTube, a debate at the Oxford Union on the Partition of India. The President of the Union and two of the debaters were both ladies of South Asian origin and dressed in saris and looked superb. It was a wonderful, sane, witty and civilised debate. The general consensus was that Partition, with all the horrible bloodshed involved, was a bad thing. I wish all debates connected with race could be conducted in such a civilised manner.

Edward Fido | 09 February 2022  
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‘The general consensus was that Partition, with all the horrible bloodshed involved, was a bad thing.’

Only because of the bloodshed, otherwise it would have shown that Muslims can be democratic ---- if they’re living in somebody else’s democracy as a minority. Left to themselves, given some exceptions like Malaysia which probably only functions democratically because there’s been no serious challenge to the Malay party, coups, bloodshed and other dysfunctions continue.

Anyway, observation tells us that today’s pitiable outliers can become tomorrow’s in-group thugs, so while prudence is ballast for sympathy, sympathy can be lead in the saddlebags of prudence.

roy chen yee | 10 February 2022  

Great post, Edward; but the comparison is hardly apposite. The Pandit came from a highly privileged family, who could afford to pay for him to go to Harrow and Trinity and, of course, his daughter and grandson as well, both of whom eventually succeeded him to the position of the Indian Premiership, an attainment, in the world's largest democracy, hardly without regard to the privilege and wealth of their background and the high degree of nepotism embedded in the political culture of the Indian Congress Party leadership.

It happens too that the higher up the Indian caste and class ladder one looks, the lighter-skinned the political and other 'actors' become, often with a substantial admixture of European and, these days, White-American genetic ingeritance.

Regardless of their sporting a sari, the participants in this well-publicised debate came from highly privileged families in India and Pakistan, where the real lives that matter are still those of the dirt poor, who while perhaps as not as easily marked out by their colour as the descendants of African American slaves, would be considerably more appreciative of your genteel commentary in ES were it to focus on the critical question of justice that Cristy raises.

Michael Furtado | 17 February 2022  

£100 in 1905 is about £12,955.64 today, sterling having had an average annual inflation of 4.24% between then and now. Harrovian cadet ‘Joe’ Nehru might have cost his dad, say, £300 pa, boarding and tuition being about £42,000 pa today.

Fortunately, Joe consented to return to an India which was destined to be a democracy, as opposed to the hapless Bashar Al-Assad who possibly felt constrained by family responsibility to leave a morally neutral (perhaps even morally excellent if he did pro bono work) career as an ophthalmic surgeon in London to become, as destiny would have it, a genocidist, or Kim Jong Un, who was, in a short scheme of time, once an (overall) morally neutral if gormless teenager in Switzerland and now, if not quite a genocidist, not far off from one.

Hapless, as that indefatigable Accuser lurking around the Pearly Gate might chuckle. I wonder if the Church has a secret team somewhere whose only job is to pray by name for those who, by objective perception, at least, must be on a hiding to nothing.

roy chen yee | 23 February 2022  

While leaving Roy to his comparison of Nehru on the one hand with Bashar Al-Assad and Kim Jong Un on the other, I would add this.

Firstly, the 'civility-policing' American interference, in Syria as prior to that in Iraq and in the Middle-East generally over the last half century and continuing in Iran from the time of the Shah till the relatively recent assassination of Quassim Suleimani, has no bearing on this conversation other than to confirm Cristy's point that while all violence is wrong, boat-rocking, especially by those locked out of civil discourse, constitutes a noble and commendable form of political participation.

Beyond this, democracy itself, as I have shown, can be used by democratic leaders to pursue objectives anathematic to the cause of peace and justice.

Nehru himself, of highly privileged part-Kashmiri background, put his personal prejudices ahead of his people by refusing to implement the plebiscite called for by the UN in Kashmir and which the Muslim majority would almost certainly have won to secede from India.

As for Kim Jong Un, what can I say, except to observe that the God-like status he commands bears all the characteristics of the absolutist clericalism that Roy applauds.

Michael Furtado | 27 February 2022  

'comparison of Nehru on the one hand with Bashar Al-Assad and Kim Jong Un on the other'

As usual, you misrepresent.

The comparison is between India on the one hand, seeded with Westminster System liberal democracy by the British, and Syria and North Korea which didn't have the good fortune to be colonised by the British so that they might also have developed into liberal democracies.

'the God-like status he commands bears all the characteristics of the absolutist clericalism that Roy applauds'

There is a difference between Kim and the 'absolutist' clerics. Kim's magisterium, like yours, isn't a canon but a shapeshifter between the ears.

roy chen yee | 28 February 2022  

Nifty foot-work, Roy! Careful you don't trip over the fuse-wire you lay for others. The point I made about democracy is that it doesn't always serve the interests of the poor and unjustly-treated who, as Cristy correctly observes, will take to the streets if the paraphernalia of parliamentary democracy is used as a smokescreen to obscure the scandal of the system failing to deliver outcomes that the harassed and put-upon have come to justifiably expect.

The genteel sheep's cough on elegant show in these columns - except for yours because there's nothing genteel about it - are camouflages employed by those bourgeois contributors to this discussion who prefer not to be disturbed by why the have-nots take to the streets when democracy fails to deliver the goods that they themselves have benefited from.

Nice to know that some people are happy and content, but a little bit of checking would reveal the source of their politeness, respectability and contentment.

This is easily gleaned by looking at the schools they went to, the degrees they took, where they reside and the kind of well-modulated tone they adopt to establish their superiority over others, without revealing the source of their positional advantage.

Michael Furtado | 11 March 2022  

Responses to protests have as much to do with our own subjective opinions as they do with any intrinsic value of the protest. One conservative called Grace Tame’s unsmiling face next to the PM a “tantrum”. She would never win approval from that quarter. On the tantrum Richter Scale it hardly rates, but it was an expression of how she felt, so why should she have to deny it to please people who are generally unsympathetic to her?

Fair enough to ask us to debate ideas rather than critique methods, and most of us are at some time part of the “status quo” that sometimes is inconvenienced by protests. But the status quo varies with the protest and most people are more sympathetic to protests/arguments that concur with our own world views. The idea that “I disagree with what you say but will defend with my life your right to say it” diminishes with the vigour of how the other view is expressed. Sympathy by the people of Canberra for the recent anti-mandate protestors dried up very quickly, largely because of the way the protestors treated the local community. The method overwhelmed the debate. Give respect to earn respect.

Or burning the front doors of Old Parliament House. Vandalism sucked the oxygen out of the objective of the protest. Ironically, one of the exhibitions in OPH that suffered most from the fire and subsequent water damage was “The Right To Protest”.

Brett | 25 February 2022  
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Brett, why didn't you observe that stiff upper-lip you're so famous for and take the dog out for a walk instead of posting this? There can simply be no civility to police when the instruments of representation have been so corrupted and removed from their original purpose in the Athenian polity of yore as to deny vast sections of the community the right to be heard.

Take a look at the politics of 'state capture' and the extent to which parliament has become irrelevant to policy making and accountability.

The oligarchs are everywhere with entire industries built around them as influencers to ensure delivery of desired policy outcomes.

I saw and participated in a discussion about this last night in regard to school funding policy: much misinformation, amidst soothing words, on all sides. I know from research experience how influential unelected interests participate in 'state capture'.

The result is the current overall funding-policy hotchpotch. Maybe that's all we can agree upon: democracy as the art of the possible, given that the masses are precluded from participating in it.

Check out Crikey.com for policy decisions arising out of power-abuse and back-room deals. Its no time for 'true believers', Brett. Be outraged!

Michael Furtado | 11 March 2022  

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