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Sex is to pregnancy what racism is to genocide

  • 07 June 2013

This week was a funny time to learn that last year police officers in the Melbourne western suburb of Sunshine printed and distributed 50 racist stubby holders. Rather, it wasn't funny at all, especially if you are an Australian who has been mistreated by a police officer because of the colour of your skin, or if you care whether police officers are held to any kind of ethical standards.

The stubby holder in question shows a cartoon image of a mudfish, which references a racist slight for East Africans in the area. It is a slur on the 'bottom feeder' species that is eaten in Sudan and elsewhere. The baby blue foam cup says 'SUNSHINE POLICE: Whoever says Sunshine brings happiness has never worked here.' While an inquiry has been launched, the officers responsible remain in their jobs. 

And commentators keep telling us that racism is benign in Australia.

The past fortnight's events have kept race high on the public agenda. Everyone is talking. Can a 13-year-old be racist? (Yes.) Is what Eddie McGuire said racist? (Yes.) Does a culture of racism actually have an impact on how racialised people in Australia — people who are from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, or simply don't look white — get to live? (Ask someone who knows.)

When something occurs in the symbolic realm in Australia — say, the Opposition Leader appears to condone his female opponent being labelled a 'witch' and 'bitch', or a child calls an Aboriginal athlete a primate — we are offended. And we feel good about being offended, because it means we're better than the brutes.

What comes next is the analysis which says it's not all as bad as it looks. Columnists say things like, 'That's not racist; you should see what they do to Muslims in Burma!' Or, 'Haven't you read the Macquarie Dictionary lately? That's not what a catalogue of dead words says 'misogyny' is!'

Joe Hildebrand's column last week characteristically makes light of Australia's racism problem, stating that in some countries, 'racism leads to oppression, torture and genocide. In Melbourne its effect is to turn everybody into dribbling idiots.' It also leads to oppression and violence, allegedly perpetrated by police officers, in Sunshine, for example. But we won't talk about that.

Being white, I don't know much about racism. The way I look and talk is in line with a dominant social group, and there are innumerate ways that I