Preppy Prep Schools in Sydney’s Snore (North) Shore

I have had the unfortunate experience of being introduced to ‘Prep Schools’ in Sydney’s North Shore out of pure lack of choice for schooling due to our catchment area.

In the Snore Shore they are particularly popular with the English crowd and I suspect a similar schooling system takes place in the UK for perhaps the upper middle class. Whatever the socioeconomics of its origins, it has certainly taken on an aspirational and dare I say ‘white privilege’ connotation in Sydney. I know, I’m such a racist according to Pauline Hanson for calling out ‘White privilege’.

My first experience was with my daughter. It became very clear from the distancing of parents from me and my daughter that we were not welcomed at the school. Teachers were often very biased, and bullying was rife. Not that the teachers did anything about the bullying of course because the perpetrators’ parents sat on the P& C and donated heavily to the school building fund. I quickly took her out of the school to the more ‘normal’ experience of an out of area public school.

My second experience was with my son. The parents were a little friendlier at this school but most definitely aspirational and very good at fake corporate civility- a deft skill in Sydney’s Snore Shore given the number of finance corporate types. It also comes with the territory of aspiration and lifestyle.

This prep school did a bit more to encourage diversity and the large numbers of Indian and Chinese students certainly put on a good show of inclusion. But scratch the surface and the fake corporate civility remained. People didn’t go beyond outward displays of inclusion. Cliques with friends formed, cliques with parents formed and suddenly my son found himself with all the ethnics.

One particular boy in his group was a son of a well-known corporate person and a thug. This boy was aggressive and physical and apt to choke, hit, punch and lash out physically at boys when he didn’t get his way. His mother a blond type of the ‘I don’t spread my legs for less than $500K’ variety, was not that great with boundaries and discipline- no doubt that was the school’s problem not hers. When my son defended himself from this violent child who do you think got punished? Yes, my son. Because prep schools will always defend the powerful and in Australia power is represented by a white person. Yes, please call me racist for calling out white privilege. I’ll gladly wear that hat if it means I get the freedom of speech to tell my truth.

At this same school my son was the recipient of teachers picking on him and turning a blind eye when others were abusing and bullying him. His class teacher often ignored his attempts to participate in class and he was overlooked for much of his short (thank goodness) time at the school. If it had not been for me and my husband my son would be so academically behind in class despite the $17K we spent per year in his education there.

What erks me the most is the tokenism displayed at these schools. Holding international food markets as an attempt to be inclusive doesn’t quite get to the heart of bias and prejudice. Just because I have now included dumplings to my steak and three veg diet doesn’t make me a tolerant and respectful person to difference. Maybe workshops on examining your innate bias in everyday situations would be far more effective.

I know it could be far worse for me and my kids and I understand some progress has been made in the world, but we still hang onto archaic power structures of former colonial and imperial powers. This blog is all about being at the receiving end of those structures- it’s about being in the ‘out’ group, the group who is put down due to fear, threat and plain ignorance all stemming from white people needing to be on top. It hurts more when it’s your own children at the receiving end of  centuries old power structures. When I see white helicopter mothers with their neurotic anxiety over their albino boys, I sigh. I feel like saying to neurotic mother ‘take a chill pill love, he’s a white boy in a first world country.’ Look at Donald Trump, the red carpet will be laid out for him, bias will be in his favour and all he needs to do is learn to tantrum when he doesn’t get his way. My kids will just need to learn the virtues of maturity, resilience and affiliation with those who matter and ‘ hope’ that one day, their group will be on top.
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Handmaids Tale, Stepford Wives & Snoring

I live in Sydney’s North Shore , an area I now call ‘The Snore Shore’. It puts many noses out of joint when I label their beloved area of status, privilege and standing as the most boring part of Sydney. Worse than boring in my over 30 years of being well acquainted with the area, attending a private girls school and now living in the area, I have come to realise there is an insidious patriarchal racist conservatism at play in these parts.

Let me explain. When I attended high school there wasn’t much diversity. I was one of five girls who one would label ‘ethnic’. School was full of covert racism and bias.  The celebrity girls (daughters of well known politicians, tennis coaches etc) were automatically put on a pedestal, ended up with high university entrance scores due to doing a large number of ‘subjective’ subjects like English, History and the like and getting special treatment for a sudden onset of anorexia during the High School Certificate Exams. I would be invited home to these precious parcels’ abodes and parents would raise their eye brow and no doubt questions of my identity asked once I left. Needless to say there were no more ‘play dates’ after that.  I was the poor ethnic migrant. I should be taking a seat at the back of the bus. I had no right to be with these people. Think Pia Miranda in ‘Looking for Alibrandi’. I had to be smart to outwit the ones placed on the confidence pedestal , easy with a quip knowing full well their wit and whiteness would land them easily in professions like law if not by their own merit,  than by ‘daddy’s work connections.’

Worse for me was the apparent stupidity and complicity of these blond haired blue eyed wonders. They were to become wives for their private school boy counterparts. They were to become the Stepford Wives and Handmade’s Tale of male domination, where a man is seen as a ‘financial plan’  and the woman’s currency was her thinness and blondness that made for attractiveness that suited an ambitious male’s ‘lifestyle’ and would provide him with children and domestic servitude. He was in control at all times as the financial drip could be pulled at any time. The counter to this however was that a prime female, the ‘catch’, had her minimum requirements as well. Domestic abuse is tolerated as women in these parts don’t spread their legs for less than $500K. Here’s a related article on wives in guilded cages. Yes honestly, I’m not making things up! …https://www.smh.com.au/business/the-economy/the-super-wealthy-wives-trapped-in-a-gilded-cage-20181107-p50eg3.html

If you don’t comply in this role the judgements and double standards come flying. The Stay At Home Mums and Working Mums war begins. The Whiteness vs Ethnicity bias quicks in.  As an ethnic, you suspend your authenticity in order to become one of the White Mum cliques. The ones with the ‘I don’t spread for less than $500K’ mantra look down on those poor heathens who don’t quite fit the patriarchal list of attractiveness and god forbid might actually have a brain and a career/profession. It’s a really judgy world one enters into and you may hasten to say that this post wreaks with judgment; well I’ve had many years of being at the receiving end of it.

Perhaps it’s the history of the area that has perpetuated this conservatism and patriarchal penchant. Historically, this was a place where legal, finance and banking people brought their families to and today there is a large number of people in the area employed in banking, finance and corporate.  The finance industry is traditionally conservative, very white male and attracts the hyper-capitalist. Money is their God and Christianity helps hide its vulgarities and offers Charity to ‘others or them’ relieving guilt. I wonder too how many of these men belong to secret men’s clubs like the Freemasons and the like? The man is the breadwinner and the woman attends to domestic duties. So hyper-capitalist stockbrokers and finance people see the leafy area with good train access and schools as an ‘investment’. Part of the portfolio, part of their ‘lifestyle’ and the Blond Stepford Wife, completes the feeling of status, wealth and privilege. Both genders playing their part in the hyper-capitalist lifestyle, both commodities to be traded with each other and children help to keep her trapped until she finally realises her prison, if that ever happens.

So why am I still here? At the end of the day the area is safe and I have children to educate and keep well until they are old enough to enter the world themselves. I’ll put up being the outsider and the snore boring conservatism of the place until my children are done with it. I will ‘use’ this area and trade on its benefits for my own family and partake in the capitalist ‘ What’s in it for me’ attitude. I will become one of them on the outside but forever sniggering at the entertainment it affords me.  A puppet show of pretense and fake corporate civility. Popcorn anyone?

Realised and Rewarded Aesthetics for Some Only

I write this as an aging ethnic female with passions and desires for a creative outlet that of course have not been and will never be realised. Domesticity, responsibility, societal norms, and yes limited self esteem have shaped my life to a predictable existence and an existence contained within the parameters of my gender, race and socioeconomic standing. I should not ever think my life could have ever been different when white women themselves struggle to be artistically realised as equals and those who have, usually have a short shelf life. I speak of actresses, directors, musicians, writers, in short all story telling artists here.

What has spurned this rant ? I’ve had an intense past two weeks of admiring Mr Depp and I’ve always had an admiration for those who Story-tell by film, especially those who’ve managed to play the game and still hold their creative truth (love Wes Anderson, Tim Burton, Cohen Brothers). I’ve admired them for being able to realise their talent and find their expression, knowing full well being a white male helps. In short I’m a sucker for Hollywood Marketing and the Film Industry be it in the US, UK or Australia. But I also know who gets noticed, who gets ‘picked up’ and who the Media Machine will deem which actor beautiful and talented.

Case in point here is Australia of course. Look at who gets exported to Hollywood? Nicole Kidman, Melissa George, Cate Blanchette, Bella Heathcote, Toni Collete, Rachel Griffiths. All pale of the palest white, good Australians, will only be known as Australians because Australia was always a white country and we’re not about to change our identity now are we? All those Heath Ledger Scholarships and Nicole Kidman Grants go only to their own kith and kin, unless someone cares to prove me otherwise? Haven’t seen a lot of indigenous actors in Hollywood of late, have you?

Cast your minds to Janeane Garofalo vs Reese Witherspoon, Kirsten Dunst, Kate Hudson, and you get the picture of where  Hollywood’s beauty disparity runs. I am being selective here but I wonder why do average plain Blond women always trump the average plain ethnic ones? Thank you Hollywood , thank you mass media.  Drugs and alcohol anyone? Anyone?  And yes, I get it. We all want eye candy to look at, not our mothers and the local supermarket check out chick.  One actress who debunks my rant is Frances McDormand, Ms Plain Jane Blond Chick with Loads of Talent & Integrity, not afraid of aging, I love her.

My recent ‘get-sucked-in-crush’ is Johnny Depp, crush version 2.0 seeing as I loved him in the 1980s, 21 Jump Street. He would have liked me back then (given Mr Depp’s penchant for younger women), as I was pre-pubescent and he well in his twenties . Flash to now,  I watched all his movies, saw all his interviews, bought books and interviews about him because in my mid life crisis, boring Sydney suburbia he provided an alternative and an escape. He was different from the rest of them. He didn’t want the teen idol-sex symbol stereotyping roles. He seemed drawn to the weird, the occult, the strange, the outsiders. He loves music, loves art, loves reading. As one blogger wrote, Johnny Depp is the ‘thinking girls’ actor (given his recent marriage and divorce, I don’t quite know if that is what Mr Depp looks for in a woman). He looked like one of ‘them’ and sided with them emitting truth, integrity and honesty. With his dark features, mixed race look, he was siding with me.  Something more to him than meets the eye and yes don’t the eyes get an amazing specimen of a man when they feast on Johnny Depp?

But coming down from my airy loft of fan-in-awe, he is after all the makings of the Hollywood film industry. Would he really be where he is a fat unattractive male? Would he be making as much money if he were an African American? Then I got thinking, he’s not that different to what we expect in Hollywood. He’s still more white than he is ethnic, he takes photos well and he is ‘marketable’. He has eyes only for whippet looking white women (naughty Mr Depp for perpetuating the anorexic ideal as attractive) and as much as he is a ‘gentlemen’ to fans, he is apt to temper , drugs, alcohol and an extremely indulgent white male life of excess, choice, riches and folly. And that’s just how we like it. After much deep thought and many fantasized moments of romantic chance encounters with Mr Depp (read Barnabas Collins) and a deep convincing that he and I would connect on no other level he’d ever experience with another human being, I reluctantly concluded, he’s really like the rest of them and he would never ever give an ethnic woman in her forties, slowly growing fat with stress and age even a moments glance. Bang! A hard hit down to reality, with only my fat butt as protection.

Johnny in his mid-fifties looking like a 1930s hobo magician/drunkard muso may now be experiencing the aging reality like the rest of us. Lucky for Depp he’s a white male, no double standard to contend with. Word of advice Johnny, you don’t need to have the latest and greatest hanging off your arm. I’m not going to comment about his recent marriage and divorce but I will dare him to be with someone who gets him and will look after him regardless of what she looks like. The paradox of the entertainment industry and ‘truth’ is that all that is superficial, light and glitzy often distracts and often doesn’t present with what it appears, much like ‘fake news’ . When you’re too cool, that might be a harder lesson to learn.

That abruptly brings me to the issue of body image and the gender ‘Double Standard’ of beauty.  The double standard of how men can age and women still need to look pre-pubescent in movies, media and the general public in order to be deemed attractive.  The awful, awful mental illness of anorexia and bulimia, if you ask me, a symptom of patriarchal desire. The desperate need to diet, exercise, botox, undertake plastic surgery and every other regime one can find to reverse the aging process. It has made some look like buffoons. Serves them right if their vain excesses have made them appear more feral than real. Why do we let these people dictate what is beautiful in the world anyway? Is it because it’s now an industry? Money is involved? How dare an industry tell us who is beautiful and who isn’t? People of the world, we should rebel!

So next time you want ‘luck’ to get you somewhere in the creative industry in a first world country, be sure to look the part first and start when you’re twelve years old and be blond. Preferably be someone who did modelling first because school was too hard. Try then to act the part. Then actually get paid well for it. The rest of us are hanging around with our hands outstretched for the charity of knowing who can have and who can’t have, who is attractive and who isn’t, working hard for the spare change to fall our way because our genes and happenstance in the world would never allow us near that privileged grail of paid creativity leading to fame and fortune. Unless of course you have no integrity, reality nor dignity….

Hairy Nose White Men Know Best

I love it when a privileged white man tells the rest of us that our experiences can’t be true because they have never experienced it. That lack of Theory of Mind is almost bordering on being autistic.  Jacqueline Maley, one of my favourite Australian journalists, dares to shine the light on Mr Ian MacDonald’s absurdity.  Mr MacDonald, I invite you to engage with anyone of colour and ask ‘Has racism impacted on your daily activities of living in Australia? ‘ then I’d like you to sit and LISTEN. Yes, LISTEN.

If you think Australia has a racism problem, you’re the racist

Senator Ian Macdonald is the Father of the Parliament, which is a nice way of saying he has been there longer than anyone else.

With experience, allegedly comes wisdom, and this week the Queensland senator shared some of his when he declared that racism doesn’t really exist in Australia.

Not since Bob Katter asserted there were no homosexuals in his electorate has such a bold claim been made by a Queenslander.

But, lest you think such a general assertion might be spurious, or at least open to conjecture, consider the evidence Macdonald offered to back it up: two senior ministers in the government are not “white Australian males”, and also, the Aboriginal rugby league player Jonathan Thurston is extremely popular in North Queensland.

Thurston is like a “king”, said Macdonald, and everyone would like to recruit him to their political parties. That’s how un-racist we are: we venerate black sportsmen.

“I might live in a bubble perhaps, but I find it very difficult to find any but rare cases of racism in Australia,” Macdonald told the Senate committee hearing.

And then: “There are obviously isolated aspects of racism in Australia but I would think across the board they’re very isolated.”

Macdonald was arguing that there is no need to appoint a new race discrimination commissioner, and, although unkind observers might say that Macdonald’s best political days are behind him, on this subject he is right on the zeitgeist.

The current commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, will step down in August after a five-year stint and Attorney-General Christian Porter will soon assess applicants to appoint as his replacement. He has dismissed calls not to appoint a successor to Soutphommasane.

Soutphommasane’s tenure was marked by some controversy. He campaigned strongly (and ultimately successfully) against proposed changes to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which makes it unlawful to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” on the basis of race.

In doing so, Soutphommasane lined himself up against then prime minister Tony Abbott, many Liberal MPs, the Murdoch press and conservative think-tank the Institute of Public Affairs, which took out full-page newspaper advertisements to lobby for the anti-18C cause.

The Murdoch press was particularly opposed to the section because its star columnist, Andrew Bolt, famously fell foul of it.

Later, so did its star cartoonist, Bill Leak. In 2016, Leak drew a cartoon for The Australian depicting a drunken Aboriginal father who had forgotten his child’s name. A complaint of race discrimination was made, and later withdrawn, with one of the complainants saying  she felt bullied by The Australian’s coverage of her.

When Leak died of a heart attack in 2017, some of his supporters reportedly blamed the stress of the complaint as a contributing factor.

Soutphommasane’s critics say he tweeted “soliciting” complaints following the cartoon’s publication, and that he promoted more division than harmony.

Porter seemed to nod to these criticisms when he gave an interview saying the next commissioner would need to have “an understanding and empathy not merely for minority groups but for middle Australian values”.

Macdonald is surely capable of forming his own views, but it was an interesting coincidence that his declaration of Australia as racism-free and not requiring a race discrimination commissioner came in the same week the Institute of Public Affairs circulated a “research brief” to parliamentarians arguing “Australia must not appoint a commissioner for racial division”. (Macdonald’s office said the senator had not read the brief when he made his comments, “however [he had] read some Spectatorarticles that had been raised with him by constituents, enriched by his own experiences”.)

The IPA believes the entire Human Rights Commission should be abolished, and asserts that it has abused more human rights than it has redressed.

But until that happens, it argues the government should leave the race discrimination commissioner role empty.

The IPA paper asserts that “refusing to appoint a new race discrimination commissioner would be an acknowledgement that race has no place in Australia’s national institutions”.

This point of view is an interesting one and an increasingly prevalent one among hard conservatives (it’s worth remembering that the IPA is a feeder for Liberal politics: MPs James Paterson, Scott Ryan, Tim Wilson and Tony Smith were all associated with the institute pre-politics).

People who mention race at all, or note racism, or racist incidents, are told that they are the racist ones.

To name race as a factor in social conflict is to stoke social division. To call out the problem is to be the problem.

It is a tricky rhetorical move, because it forces us to go back to first principles, as though we were drafting the “affirmative” case in a year 7 debate entitled: “Does racism exist in Australia?”

That opens the way for people like Macdonald – who has served in the Senate since the early ’90s yet doesn’t concede he lives in a “bubble” – to claim that there is no racism because he has never seen it.

By that logic you could declare me a bacteria-sceptic, or a gravity denier.

Some people have a hard time accepting the concept of subjective experience, particularly when that subjective experience is very different from their own, as subjective experience so often is. It shouldn’t have to be said, but the best witnesses to racism are probably not going to be Anglo-Saxon “lifer” senators who live in largely white communities.

 

Macdonald might ask himself why, if racism was no problem, there was such a strong electoral backlash from ethnic communities over the 18C issue, so strong it turned toxic for the government, which was forced  to dump its pledge to amend the section.

Macdonald’s comments were made the same day The Daily Telegraph published comments from NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley that an influx of refugees into western Sydney, notably Fairfield, has lead to a “white flight” of “many Anglo families” from those suburbs.

The Labor movement, and the ALP, have a long, ignoble tradition of xenophobia and racism but these days it’s rare to see it so openly expressed.

Foley later apologised, claiming he had no idea the term “white flight” might be offensive to some. He says he was only arguing that those regions need proper resources to cope with the surge of new arrivals.

Why, then, would he single out “Anglo families” as being the ones so adversely affected they “have” to leave?

Premier Gladys Berejiklian, the proud daughter of immigrants, savaged him in NSW Parliament on Thursday, saying his comments were “divisive, dangerous and nasty”.

For a country that has no racism, racism seems to make the news a lot.

Waleed, I get what you’re saying but don’t expect the Whites to…

Why are all our dual citizens white?

New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Especially the United Kingdom. These are the countries that define the dual citizenship crisis that claimed five more of our politicians this week.

Nothing more exotic seems to have turned up, and even when this rolling mess tried to incorporate Italy via Matt Canavan, it failed on the grounds that Canavan probably wasn’t an Italian citizen anyway. It’s not Penny Wong under a cloud. Even Sam Dastyari had to find another way to eject himself from the Senate. I’m far from the first to observe it is those of Anglo-Celtic or Anglo-Saxon stock who are caught in this mess. And it’s worth considering why.

Perhaps there’s a clue in the fact that, by and large, few Australians seem to care about this. It certainly didn’t harm Barnaby Joyce or John Alexander in their bids for re-election.

Truth is we’re generally more inclined to see this as an annoying technicality than any genuine crisis of divided loyalties in our Parliament. But what if instead of being kicked off by Scott Ludlam’s New Zealand citizenship, we’d discovered Dastyari was Iranian?

Would the underlying principle of section 44 of the constitution – that dual citizenship implies divided loyalties inconsistent with the job of sitting in the Australian Parliament – have seem quite so quaint? What if instead of New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom, we were talking about, say, China, Indonesia and Afghanistan? Is it possible we’d be more disposed to seeing section 44 as a wise and important protection against foreign infiltration?

I suppose it’s a hypothetical and there’s no real way to know for sure. But for what it’s worth, my hunch is that there’d be a section or two of the electorate in a modest panic about it.

Gallagher decision triggers mass resignations

In the space of a few hours, the Australian parliament lost five MPs after the High Court ruled Labor’s Katy Gallagher ineligible to sit as a Senator.

I can easily imagine the odd talkback caller (and host) intoning about the importance of putting Australia first, demanding these people be thrown emphatically out of our Parliament and maybe being sceptical of how much they could be trusted even after they’d renounced their other nationality. I suspect the reason we regard our current situation as a technicality is at least partly that we still think of New Zealand or Britain as places that are only technically foreign countries.

When we think of our migrant communities, we’re not imagining Kiwis and Brits, which is why while it is common for Australian politicians to insist that migrants assimilate and pledge their loyalty to Australia in citizenship ceremonies, no one seems to notice that Brits in Australia adopt Australian citizenship at a remarkably low rate. No one seriously thinks of Tony Abbott or Julia Gillard as migrants who rose to the highest office in the land. For all the banging on about Australian multiculturalism, their backgrounds are ones of continuity rather than conversion. And to be fair, that’s the way the law saw it for a long time.

Australian citizenship didn’t even exist before 1948, and when it did, Australians were still legally considered British subjects until that was finally undone in 1987. But while the law moved on, and while Australian society has changed dramatically, it’s clear our most deeply received notions of Australian-ness haven’t quite.

The giveaway is that so many of the politicians ensnared in this are genuinely surprised to learn they hold these other citizenships. Sure, some of this is down to the legal quirks of citizenship that exist between nations of the British Empire. But it’s bigger than that.

Put simply, there is barely any cultural reason for these people to have thought about it. If you’re white, from an Anglophonic background and an Australian citizen, then you face no questions. Your Australian-ness is presumed and uncomplicated. It never needs to be proven and never needs to be justified. Why should anybody be surprised that when it comes time for them to nominate for Parliament, they overlook their foreignness when they have never been scrutinised in that way in their lives? Their national loyalty is, well, written all over their faces.

That’s not a luxury Penny Wong enjoys. For that matter, it’s probably not one Mathias Cormann enjoys either. If you’re from a non-English speaking background – and especially if you’re not white – you experience Australian-ness in a much more conspicuous way.

If you’re from a non-English speaking background – and especially if you’re not white – you experience Australian-ness in a much more conspicuous way.

You cannot simply claim it, you must proclaim it. Every day seems to require a declaration – even a demonstration – of loyalty. Your life becomes one of constant renunciation because that is the shortest route to countering suspicion and establishing your Australian credentials. You carry something with you that must always be either abandoned or explained. Either way you will be reminded, again and again. And after all that, if for some reason you decide to try your hand at federal politics – and as one glance at our Parliament reveals, most people in this category don’t – what are the chances you’ll simply overlook the possibility you’re a dual citizen? How likely is it that this thing for which you’ve been held to account your entire life, will catch you by surprise?

We’ve heard much in the past 10 months about how section 44 is anachronistic in our multicultural age, how it doesn’t capture the reality of modern Australia. But the truth is it is not multicultural Australia that has been caught out by it. It is those who see themselves as free of other cultural attachments altogether. Sure, you could amend section 44 to bring it into line with Australian society. But this saga shows it’s our unspoken, daily-experienced notion of Australian-ness that needs amendment, too.

Waleed Aly is a Fairfax columnist and a presenter on The Project.

Thank you Stan Grant but why does it take a coloured person to write this?

Royal wedding: Meghan Markle’s race is not a question worth debating

Tight shot of Megan Markle smiling and looking past the camera.

What race is Meghan Markle? The world has seemed obsessed with the question.

The Royal wedding commentary returned to it time and again, as the bride was referred to as “mixed race” or “biracial”.

One British commentator part of ABC’s coverage, even wondered ridiculously about the future children of Meghan and Harry who, in her words, could be “all sorts of colours”.

Race does not exist

Race is a strange subject. It is an utterly discredited notion; scientists know it is nonsense to even speak of race.

We belong to one human family, and advances in the study of DNA show we all draw our heritage from different parts of the globe.

In this way, we are all “mixed” race.

As geneticist David Reich says in his recent book Who We Are and How We Got Here, “the genome revolution — turbo charged by ancient DNA — has revealed that human populations are related to each other in ways that no one expected”.

Reich says “if we trace back our lineages far enough into the past, we reach a point where everyone descends from the same ancestor …” The evidence of human remains tells us that ancestral “Eve” was from Africa.

Yes, the Queen is an African and Harry and Meghan — like the rest of us — are distant cousins.

Meghan Markle was no more “mixed race” than anyone else at her wedding.

Race has us trapped

Scientifically, race is rubbish: yet, it matters. It matters because as a society we have made it matter.

Ideas of “race” have brought out the worst of humanity.

They have inspired — and continue to inspire — genocide, holocaust, war, dispossession, colonisation, imperialism, slavery, lynchings, segregation, mass incarceration.

Personally and individually it ties us in knots.

Meghan Markle’s mother is considered black and her father white.

Until very recently, America’s “one drop” rule — one drop of “black blood” — made the Duchess “too black”.

The American census now allows people to self-identify in ever-more convoluted and exotic abstractions and hyphens.

The golfer Tiger Woods has gone to ludicrous lengths to describe himself, inventing his own category “Cablinasian” to reflect his Caucasian, Black, Indian, Asian roots.

Meghan herself, in an op-ed for Elle magazine, wrote of how she has embraced “the grey area surrounding my self-identification, keeping me with a foot on both sides of the fence”.

Race has us trapped.

It is all but impossible for us to think about ourselves or articulate a sense of identity without referring to race.

More than a check-box

I identify as an Indigenous Australian — there is deep indigenous heritage in my mother’s and father’s families.

Historically, we have been categorised as “Aboriginal” or “Indigenous”, or more colloquially or disparagingly as “blacks”.

That has meant at various times being subject to government policy that has restricted our liberty; has told us where we could live and who we could marry.

Families have been divided on arbitrary rulings of colour.

The Australian Law Reform Commission lists historically more than 60 different definitions of who was considered as Indigenous.

Today, I am asked to tick a box on the census form identifying whether I am Aboriginal. It is an entirely invented category that erases the complexity of my heritage.

I am descended from Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi people but I also have an Irish convict ancestor and my maternal grandmother was European.

How can that census box possibly contain all of me?

See how quickly we become bogged in the swamp of scientifically meaningless racial categorisation: was my grandmother “white”? My grandfather black? Are both of my parents “biracial”?

Genetically, none of us are “pure”. “Whiteness” is often normalised and “blackness” seen as something “other”. These are relationships of power not science.

Can we be truly post-racial?

This was the tantalising possibility raised by the election in 2008 of Barack Obama as America’s president, a man with a white mother and a black Kenyan father.

His election was hailed as the fulfilment of the Martin Luther King Jnr promise of being judged not by colour but character.

The writer Toure challenged the whole idea of “blackness” in his book Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?

He said “the point of fighting for freedom is for black folk to define blackness as we see fit”.

As he made clear, there are forty million blacks in America and forty million ways to be black.

Historian and social scientist David Hollinger has called for Americans to “push yet harder against the authority that shape and colour have historically been allowed by society to exert over our culture”.

Hollinger, in his book Post-ethnic America, dismisses the idea of “fixed” identities, he favours making room for new communities that promotes solidarity between people beyond definitions of race or ethnicity.

As he says we “live in an age not of identities but affiliations”.

It is a worthy idea that remains a work in progress.

Obama spoke of a “nation where all things are possible”, yet, as historian Garry Gerstle points out:

“If Obama’s election produced spasms of racial vertigo, the reality for millions of African-Americans who cheered his victory, continued to be contoured by the very forces of racial segregation, police brutality, poverty, unemployment that in some quarters, Obama’s election had suddenly made irrelevant”.

Race matters, even if the evidence tells us it should not.

Shifting our language is not some kumbuya, all-hold-hands fantasy — it is urgent: race exacts a terrible human toll.

Race the new witchcraft

Historian, Barbara Fields and her sister, sociologist Karen Fields, remind us that “race is the principle unit and core concept of racism”.

Racism, they write, is a social practice that “always takes for granted the objective reality of race”.

Race is voodoo; it is no different, they argue, than witchcraft. In their book Racecraft, they point out that:

“Neither witch nor pure race has a material existence. Both are products of thought and of language.”

Witchcraft they say only exists when people “act on the reality of the imagined thing”. It is the action that creates the evidence.

There is nothing in the hue of a person’s skin that creates segregation and suffering; it happens when people act on ideas about that skin colour.

The Fields sisters say we have moved beyond fears of witchcraft, but “racecraft” persists.

They reject the language of race, even terms like “mixed-race” or “post-racialism”, which draw from the same well as racism.

A better way to approach Markle

That’s what all the discussion about Meghan Markle’s “race” was really doing — perpetuating voodoo science and fuelling the same old fears of difference, as if that has not done enough damage to our world already.

How much better to celebrate that wonderful cosmopolitan meeting of cultures, sharing the joy of Harry and Meghan, and reflecting on Bishop Michael Curry’s message of the transforming power of love than the discredited notions of race ands colour.

 

A Double Standard for the Coloureds

As a coloured female in Australia, I am very familiar with the double standard.

One notion that has really impacted on me as an adult trying to engage in commercial activities to improve my quality of life (i.e earning an income) I have come to realise something about Australia. I do wonder if it is uniquely Australian?

My realisation: Non white migrants were not meant to sit on top of the dung pile with Anglo Saxons. Ah-ah, no no.

Why? Because the Restricted Immigration Act 1901 did not want coloured people making any economic gains in Australia that may increase their participation in power making decisions. This was true of Chinese people and the Kanakas in Northern Queensland. Let’s get it plain and straight: Non white people were/are brought into Australia because Anglo Saxon Australians are lazy. Too lazy to come up with economic policy to increase productivity other than to dig minerals out from the ground or to build infrastructure. So the easiest and quickest way out is to get all those rich non whites into the country to increase the tax base- the truth of this is that migrants are hungry for socioeconomic mobility. They will work hard to ensure they aren’t on the dole queues and that their kids are well educated and professional. They are hungry to provide their kids a life they didn’t have. There was never ever, for one moment in Anglo power thinking an inkling that Australia would be represented by an Aboriginal face nor a mixed race face. Never. Which is why so many government policies, institutions and media companies made sure that mixed race / coloured people and Aboriginals would never advance to take up any position of power and would never come to be an ‘Australian’.

Snapshot to the Brits and whites (read South Africans) from elsewhere- why do they come here? So they can take all the plum top executive jobs in banks, government, media companies etc and have a ‘lifestyle’ – live in affluent leafy suburbs with harbour views, drive expensive cars, kids in private schools and of course the mandatory size 10 blonde wife.  The more ‘charming’ she is, the higher the brownie points.  For a white person Australia is a .lifestyle choice’.  The red carpet is rolled out- the more you look like ‘us’ (read Anglo), the more you’ll have economic freedom to rise to the top of the dung pile.

For most coloured people, Australia is represents a stable government, a sense of freedom (albeit covertly limited) and running away from persecution (religious, ethnic, linguistic etc).  Many coloured migrants have given up status and respect from their home countries to give it a go in Australia and many end up realising Australia is great but will never afford them the same status and respect if they are non white.

I would go as far to say that this is definitely the case for Australian Aboriginals. How much of a slap in the face is that for people who have every right to be here and every right to sovereignty and power and are denied this everyday?  There in lies the double standard here in Australia- you’re not white enough you don’t stand a chance and especially if you are an ethnic female or an Aboriginal, the original First People of this country. Why is this truth lost on so many people in Australia?

Like ‘Terra Nullius’ how unbelievably convenient.

 

Truth or Artificial Facts?

In light of Donald Trump’s election campaign and the issue of ‘real vs fake news’, I’d like to share this article about a book reviewing Britain’s Imperial Past. Truth or ‘alternative’ facts? Told by who to whom?  Manufacturing myths or propaganda? I for one, a British end product of colonialism in South East Asia, at least found this enlightening and explaining my worldview.

Let’s end the myths of Britain’s imperial past

David Cameron would have us look back to the days of the British empire with pride. But there is little in the brutal oppression and naked greed with which it was built that deserves our respect
A map of c 1900 showing British empire in red
A map of c 1900 showing the possessions of the British empire in red. Photograph: Time & Life Picture

In his speech to the Conservative party conference this month, David Cameron looked back with Tory nostalgia to the days of empire: “Britannia didn’t rule the waves with armbands on,” he pointed out, suggesting that the shadow of health and safety did not hover over Britain’s imperial operations when the British were building “a great nation”. He urged the nation to revive the spirit that had once allowed Britain to find a new role after the empire’s collapse.

Tony Blair had a similar vision. “I value and honour our history enormously,” he said in a speech in 1997, but he thought that Britain’s empire should be the cause of “neither apology nor hand-wringing”; it should be used to further the country’s global influence. And when Britain and France, two old imperial powers that had occupied Libya after 1943, began bombing that country earlier this year, there was much talk in the Middle East of the revival of European imperialism.

Half a century after the end of empire, politicians of all persuasions still feel called upon to remember our imperial past with respect. Yet few pause to notice that the descendants of the empire-builders and of their formerly subject peoples now share the small island whose inhabitants once sailed away to change the face of the world. Considerations of empire today must take account of two imperial traditions: that of the conquered as well as the conquerors. Traditionally, that first tradition has been conspicuous by its absence.

Cameron was right about the armbands. The creation of the British empire caused large portions of the global map to be tinted a rich vermilion, and the colour turned out to be peculiarly appropriate. Britain’s empire was established, and maintained for more than two centuries, through bloodshed, violence, brutality, conquest and war. Not a year went by without large numbers of its inhabitants being obliged to suffer for their involuntary participation in the colonial experience. Slavery, famine, prison, battle, murder, extermination – these were their various fates.

Yet the subject peoples of empire did not go quietly into history’s goodnight. Underneath the veneer of the official record exists a rather different story. Year in, year out, there was resistance to conquest, and rebellion against occupation, often followed by mutiny and revolt – by individuals, groups, armies and entire peoples. At one time or another, the British seizure of distant lands was hindered, halted and even derailed by the vehemence of local opposition.

A high price was paid by the British involved. Settlers, soldiers, convicts – those people who freshly populated the empire – were often recruited to the imperial cause as a result of the failures of government in the British Isles. These involuntary participants bore the brunt of conquest in faraway continents – death by drowning in ships that never arrived, death at the hands of indigenous peoples who refused to submit, death in foreign battles for which they bore no responsibility, death by cholera and yellow fever, the two great plagues of empire.

Many of these settlers and colonists had been forced out of Scotland, while some had been driven from Ireland, escaping from centuries of continuing oppression and periodic famine. Convicts and political prisoners were sent off to far-off gulags for minor infringements of draconian laws. Soldiers and sailors were press-ganged from the ranks of the unemployed.

Then tragically, and almost overnight, many of the formerly oppressed became themselves, in the colonies, the imperial oppressors. White settlers, in the Americas, in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Rhodesia and Kenya, simply took over land that was not theirs, often slaughtering, and even purposefully exterminating, the local indigenous population as if they were vermin.

The empire was not established, as some of the old histories liked to suggest, in virgin territory. Far from it. In some places that the British seized, they encountered resistance from local people who had lived there for centuries or, in some cases, since time began. In other regions, notably at the end of the 18th century, lands were wrenched out of the hands of other competing colonial powers that had already begun their self-imposed task of settlement. The British, as a result, were often involved in a three-sided contest. Battles for imperial survival had to be fought both with the native inhabitants and with already existing settlers – usually of French or Dutch origin.

None of this has been, during the 60-year post-colonial period since 1947, the generally accepted view of the empire in Britain. The British understandably try to forget that their empire was the fruit of military conquest and of brutal wars involving physical and cultural extermination.

A self-satisfied and largely hegemonic belief survives in Britain that the empire was an imaginative, civilising enterprise, reluctantly undertaken, that brought the benefits of modern society to backward peoples. Indeed it is often suggested that the British empire was something of a model experience, unlike that of the French, the Dutch, the Germans, the Spaniards, the Portuguese – or, of course, the Americans. There is a widespread opinion that the British empire was obtained and maintained with a minimum degree of force and with maximum co-operation from a grateful local population.

This benign, biscuit-tin view of the past is not an understanding of their history that young people in the territories that once made up the empire would now recognise. A myriad revisionist historians have been at work in each individual country producing fresh evidence to suggest that the colonial experience – for those who actually “experienced” it – was just as horrific as the opponents of empire had always maintained that it was, perhaps more so. New generations have been recovering tales of rebellion, repression and resistance that make nonsense of the accepted imperial version of what went on. Focusing on resistance has been a way of challenging not just the traditional, self-satisfied view of empire, but also the customary depiction of the colonised as victims, lacking in agency or political will.

The theme of repression has often been underplayed in traditional accounts. A few particular instances are customarily highlighted – the slaughter after the Indian mutiny in 1857, the massacre at Amritsar in 1919, the crushing of the Jamaican rebellion in 1867. These have been unavoidable tales. Yet the sheer scale and continuity of imperial repression over the years has never been properly laid out and documented.

No colony in their empire gave the British more trouble than the island of Ireland. No subject people proved more rebellious than the Irish. From misty start to unending finish, Irish revolt against colonial rule has been the leitmotif that runs through the entire history of empire, causing problems in Ireland, in England itself, and in the most distant parts of the British globe. The British affected to ignore or forget the Irish dimension to their empire, yet the Irish were always present within it, and wherever they landed and established themselves, they never forgot where they had come from.

The British often perceived the Irish as “savages”, and they used Ireland as an experimental laboratory for the other parts of their overseas empire, as a place to ship out settlers from, as well as a territory to practise techniques of repression and control. Entire armies were recruited in Ireland, and officers learned their trade in its peat bogs and among its burning cottages. Some of the great names of British military history – from Wellington and Wolseley to Kitchener and Montgomery – were indelibly associated with Ireland. The particular tradition of armed policing, first patented in Ireland in the 1820s, became the established pattern until the empire’s final collapse.

For much of its early history, the British ruled their empire through terror. The colonies were run as a military dictatorship, often under martial law, and the majority of colonial governors were military officers. “Special” courts and courts martial were set up to deal with dissidents, and handed out rough and speedy injustice. Normal judicial procedures were replaced by rule through terror; resistance was crushed, rebellion suffocated. No historical or legal work deals with martial law. It means the absence of law, other than that decreed by a military governor.

Many early campaigns in India in the 18th century were characterised by sepoy disaffection. Britain’s harsh treatment of sepoy mutineers at Manjee in 1764, with the order that they should be “shot from guns”, was a terrible warning to others not to step out of line. Mutiny, as the British discovered a century later in 1857, was a formidable weapon of resistance at the disposal of the soldiers they had trained. Crushing it through “cannonading”, standing the condemned prisoner with his shoulders placed against the muzzle of a cannon, was essential to the maintenance of imperial control. This simple threat helped to keep the sepoys in line throughout most of imperial history.

To defend its empire, to construct its rudimentary systems of communication and transport, and to man its plantation economies, the British used forced labour on a gigantic scale. From the middle of the 18th century until 1834, the use of non-indigenous black slave labour originally shipped from Africa was the rule. Indigenous manpower in many imperial states was also subjected to slave conditions, dragooned into the imperial armies, or forcibly recruited into road gangs – building the primitive communication networks that facilitated the speedy repression of rebellion. When black slavery was abolished in the 1830s, the thirst for labour by the rapacious landowners of empire brought a new type of slavery into existence, dragging workers from India and China to be employed in distant parts of the world, a phenomenon that soon brought its own contradictions and conflicts.

As with other great imperial constructs, the British empire involved vast movements of peoples: armies were switched from one part of the world to another; settlers changed continents and hemispheres; prisoners were sent from country to country; indigenous inhabitants were corralled, driven away into oblivion, or simply rubbed out.

There was nothing historically special about the British empire. Virtually all European countries with sea coasts and navies had embarked on programmes of expansion in the 16th century, trading, fighting and settling in distant parts of the globe. Sometimes, having made some corner of the map their own, they would exchange it for another piece “owned” by another power, and often these exchanges would occur as the byproduct of dynastic marriages. The Spanish and the Portuguese and the Dutch had empires; so too did the French and the Italians, and the Germans and the Belgians. World empire, in the sense of a far-flung operation far from home, was a European development that changed the world over four centuries.

In the British case, wherever they sought to plant their flag, they were met with opposition. In almost every colony they had to fight their way ashore. While they could sometimes count on a handful of friends and allies, they never arrived as welcome guests. The expansion of empire was conducted as a military operation. The initial opposition continued off and on, and in varying forms, in almost every colonial territory until independence. To retain control, the British were obliged to establish systems of oppression on a global scale, ranging from the sophisticated to the brutal. These in turn were to create new outbreaks of revolt.

Over two centuries, this resistance took many forms and had many leaders. Sometimes kings and nobles led the revolts, sometimes priests or slaves. Some have famous names and biographies, others have disappeared almost without trace. Many died violent deaths. Few of them have even a walk-on part in traditional accounts of empire. Many of these forgotten peoples deserve to be resurrected and given the attention they deserve.

The rebellions and resistance of the subject peoples of empire were so extensive that we may eventually come to consider that Britain’s imperial experience bears comparison with the exploits of Genghis Khan or Attila the Hun rather than with those of Alexander the Great. The rulers of the empire may one day be perceived to rank with the dictators of the 20th century as the authors of crimes against humanity.

The drive towards the annihilation of dissidents and peoples in 20th-century Europe certainly had precedents in the 19th-century imperial operations in the colonial world, where the elimination of “inferior” peoples was seen by some to be historically inevitable, and where the experience helped in the construction of the racist ideologies that arose subsequently in Europe. Later technologies merely enlarged the scale of what had gone before. As Cameron remarked this month, Britannia did not rule the waves with armbands on.

Richard Gott’s new book, Britain’s Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt, is published by Verso (£25).

Well you have every right to….

So currently there’s a lot of talk about how offended people are in Australia with ‘white privilege’ and tarring everyone with the same racist brush. The standard comment is ‘I didn’t do what my forebears did so why are you saying I should have guilt?’ ‘ I am not a racist.’

You are completely right. The British people came here, conquered and took over the land from aboriginals who still exist on it today. They built the country following the paradigm of a Western economic, capitalist, patriarchal agenda. And yes, they deserve the spoils of the country and dare I say an entitled, privileged status.  So if you don’t want to share outside your kith and kin, if you don’t want multiculturalism, if you don’t like seeing different people experiencing the same privileges as you,  then please return the White Australia Policy, please bring in economic protectionism so you don’t have to be impacted by a global economy and foreigners, make your cities smaller and more live-able, the air cleaner , the waterways less congested, the price of real estate less. Throw us ‘the others’ out. Tell all the wogs, the chinks, the Muslims, the ‘others’ to go back to their countries of origin. Make it fortress Australia again.

Now how do you think the people and country will go? How prosperous will Australian society and its economy be?  Who do you think then will be the most affected by such actions and policies?  Think Australia.

Just so you know…

In case you’re feeling like this is a rather negative rant on Australian society, let me put your mind at ease- it is. This well written article by a white American might just let you know how unbelievably OK it is in Australia to be discriminatory towards those who are ‘different’. This comes from another person, not me so I hope it goes to validate my feelings and experiences here in Australia.

http://www.smh.com.au/comment/bigotted-thinking-is-more-dangerous-than-the-hijab-20161215-gtbw1q.html. Here’s the article below:

She was the first neighbour we had in Australia. She left us place settings for two, two tea towels, and a kettle on our doorstep after she learned that our things wouldn’t arrive from America for another month and a half.

It was the holiday season. A tough time to make cross continental moves.

On New Year’s Day, she had us over for “a cup of tea”. I can’t remember if she was born here or an immigrant from Scotland, but she was certainly proud of her Scottish heritage. She explained that we were her first guests on New Year’s Day, a detail of significance in her culture. Something called First-Footing.

A custom of Hogmanay: the first guest over the threshold on New Year’s Day, it was hoped, would bring an assortment of humble, symbolic items of food and drink in order to procure good luck for the host in the coming year.

Since we had none of these items, our neighbour had them ready for us to give to her: salt, coal, whiskey, shortbread, and a fruit cake of some kind sat upon a plate on the entry table near her front door. She let us choose the items from the plate that we wished to give her, and then we handed them back to her as we stepped inside.

While we sat in the foyer of her terrace house and enjoyed her homemade shortbread cookies, she proceeded to tell us about “The Neighbourhood”. The neighbours on the other side were an “eyesore”, she said. Italians. “Always talking loudly in Italian on their phones, leaning out the windows. I have to ask them to be quiet five times a day or keep my windows shut. And they hang their laundry across that upstairs balcony. The council really should do something about it. I’ve reported it more than once,” she said.

The loud-talking Italian neighbours were one thing, but the Chinese who fed the pigeons in the small park behind her house seemed to be an even greater source of agony. According to our neighbour, the Chinese dirtied up the park. They left litter and food around for the pigeons to pick at, and eventually the seagulls would come and really make a mess of things. “Those birds, they just spread garbage and disease. It was discussed at the last council meeting. Something will be done about it.”

She gave us the lay of the land. The Woolworths on the corner was where the Aborigines gathered. “But they’re relatively harmless. Just drunk. Don’t give them money.” There was a butcher a street over who sold turkeys for the Americans at the holidays, and if I ever needed any jewellery or watches repaired, she knew a good repairman: “He’s Greek but trustworthy.”

My husband and I listened and smiled politely and tried to get out of there as quickly as possible. Our neighbour was kind in her intentions, but her blind unawareness of her basis of judgment of other human beings was disturbing, and in large quantities, a potentially dangerous thing.

Since then I’ve realised that our neighbour introduced us to more than the neighbourhood; she introduced us to normalised racism in Australia. And over the years, I’ve seen it worsen. As it has globally, the anti-Muslim sentiment has grown stronger here. Worrisome generalisations like, “There’s no such thing as a peaceful Muslim,” are becoming more common.

Most people reading this would dismiss that statement for what it is: an uninformed prejudice. That said, there are a lot of people who believe mainstream fearmongers and think that Muslims are dangerous aggressors determined to infiltrate a country and convert its inhabitants to Islam.

These people can’t differentiate between a general belief system and the extremists of that ideology.

Because it’s the extremists of any religion or movement that are the true threat to peace. And we create those extremists ourselves. They are the manifested response to our divisive rhetoric, our mob mentality, and the unopposed false statements and prejudices that are allowed to circulate within our cultures.

A UN special rapporteur on racism, Mutuma Ruteere, in his recent visit to Australia, fingered Australian politicians as a whole as being influential contributors to the xenophobic hate speech that fuels the rise of racism and anti-Muslim sentiment here. Ruteere warned that those who refuse to denounce such speech serve to normalise it within the culture.

Like Peter Dutton, who recently said that “of the last 33 people who have been charged with terrorist-related offences in this country, 22 are from second- and third-generation Lebanese Muslim backgrounds”.

Head of counter-terrorism policy at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Jacinta Carroll replied: “Fortunately in Australia to date the numbers of supporters of Islamist extremism and terrorism are very low; so low, in fact, they’re categorised as cases and clusters rather than being statistically useful,” she said.

But Dutton doesn’t explain that. Truths like that would contradict his xenophobic agenda, but it’s truths like that that should be shared loudly.

It’s the holiday season again. I’m digging out family decorations and going through customs and traditions that are foreign here but age-old in my family. Australia-wide there are people like me, like that first neighbour, enjoying the customs of our diverse backgrounds, and I find myself wondering about the word “assimilation”, how it stands in such stark contradiction to the multicultural society Australia touts itself as being. How can we be multicultural if we’re all the same?

Muslims are regularly criticised for “not assimilating” into Australian culture, and I wonder what that means. Why are Muslims expected to trade-in their customs and traditions for Australian ones yet my neighbour feels she can freely cultivate and share her Scottish traditions and racist judgments of others, with strangers? Surely, that kind of bigoted, hypocritical thinking is far more dangerous to society than a headscarf.

Aubrey Perry is a Fairfax Media columnist.