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.

 

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.

Hey, don’t gaslight me. White people are calling it out too…

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.

By Aubrey Perry.

In addition to the above sentiments by Aubrey Perry, let me give another example – John Oliver, a journalist who was once with the Daily Show US, now has his own program. Mr Oliver has not once but on many occasions mentioned the casual racism in Australia in his shows this link being one of them back in 2013: https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/australia-is-most-comfortably-racist-says-daily-show-presenter-20130416-2hxg5.html

I’m not making up my experiences of being in the ‘out’ group here in Australia. Where as I’m not the recipient of violence I have been the recipient of hate, bullying, intimidation and exclusion. I can give one of many examples of incidences living in Sydney, one being of a neighbour calling the police because my husband told a tradesperson not to obstruct our driveway. The neighbour reported to police that we damaged the tradie’s ute when we did nothing of the sort. This would be one of many examples of the casual racism we receive on a daily basis. The outcome, thankfully (and because my husband is white) was the police telling the racist neighbour to leave us alone or a protective order would be issued. I’m thankful that a) Australia has the rule of law and due process but I suspect works better if you’re white b) the more polite racists in my area (Sydney’s Snore Shore) just pretend I’m faceless and nameless- ignored and excluded like I don’t exist- ten times better than being targeted and assaulted like our indigenous people. There is still a long way to go for a non white ‘out’ group person to be fully accepted as ‘Australian’ especially in areas of perceived white privilege.

To Thyself Be True

At an airport customs line in Sabah last year I was chatting to my daughter. We were about three metres behind an English family. They heard my accent and looked around to try to see who their fellow countrymen were and shot disappointed looks when they saw me. You see I speak with a bit of an upper middle class English accent and that’s because my grandfather was English. But I don’t look English and it pisses them off greatly, especially the Essex Men.  In Australia I’m accused of being ‘Posh’ and sporting a toffee accent (ha?) but that’s how I talk. I’m not trying to be a Mrs Bucket (from Keeping up Appearances).

Apparently I’m suppose to be Turkish, Lebanese and Greek. A Turkish taxi driver in Melbourne thought I was being dishonest when I told him I have zero middle eastern nor Mediterranean blood in me. I might be olive, dark haired and dark eyed and short but I’m not from that part of the world so it’s not that I’m embarrassed about my identity, it’s just NOT my identity. Likewise some Lebanese neighbours cut off niceties when they heard my true ethnic heritage. The hummous and baba ganoush promptly stopped being handed over.

Likewise I get South American and once someone thought I was a Pacific Islander. Wow, I could work in espionage!

Absolutely no-one picks my heritage and that’s fine with me but don’t accuse me of being someone I’m not.

Advance Australia Fair and a Fair Go

Do you notice how many times the word ‘fair’ is mentioned in ‘Australian’ vernacular, illuminated in the national anthem?

Of course a double entendre is not intended here? The choosing of words and syntax speaks volumes about the writer, the audience and the intended message. My apologies for the Captain Obvious statement, however most people lack awareness on how language can send a sentiment or tone of what is the ‘norm’, acceptable and expected.

Australia was ‘settled’ by the British. Never invaded or occupied. This land was deemed empty;  ‘Terra Nullius’. How convenient!

Advance Australia Fair- fair as in just or fair as in albino like people?  ‘Fair’ in a ‘fair go’ is intended to be an action that is reasonable and just, a layman’s term for due process?

I’m intrigued by this notion of a fair go because I firmly believe the one thing the British were pretty good at was ‘due process and a legal system’. From this, an individual could expect order and rights, so to speak. I’m not a lawyer and I certainly am not intending for legal arguments here; however I wonder from a cultural perspective who the real recipients of a ‘fair go’ are in Australia? Indigenous Australians, a non-white migrant? Does a fair go really exist when you hear (researched fact) that it takes over 100 applications for someone of Indian heritage or a muslim name to land a job interview than a person of Anglo Saxon background?

I’m really conflicted with this one because a fair go raises many contradictions for me here in Australia. From my personal experience I have been both the recipient of a fair go and someone who hasn’t received a fair go. From my experience and observations,  I can see a fair go is given if it doesn’t upset the apple cart. As a non-white person, if you’re not going to threaten anyone or take a resource/opportunity from anyone , you get a fair go. However as soon as you enter the upper echelons of privilege your access to having a fair go seems to diminish and more so if you are a young ethnic female of colour.

I have a friend who is a speech therapist of Asian background. She has often come across rude parents who don’t readily credit her for her skills because they question if her English is good enough, despite English being her native tongue. She may not have such an issue in migrant rich areas of Sydney, however in ‘whiter’ suburbs of the upper middle classes, many parents may take issue with a person of colour instructing their child about their own native tongue.  How dare! She has been the recipient of disrespect from parents and other allied health professionals who deem her phenotype incompatible with being a speech therapist. Is this a fair go?