Australia Claimed: White Possession & the Redundancy of Reclaim Australia

Despite the rallies and Channel 7’s broadcast of an “in-depth” interview with the founders of Reclaim Australia, the disintegration of the far-right populist movement appears imminent. Unlike their American cousins, The Tea Party, they do not have significant financial backing and the poor showing of “patriots” at the Parramatta rally last month suggests that this grass-roots movement lacks organisation and/or a critical mass of people willing to get out on the streets to call for “non-patriots” to get out of the country. However, the devolution of this movement is not a victory of Australian multi-culturalism or common-sense.

Reclaim Australia gets small numbers to their rallies because they are unnecessary. Why spend a Sunday afternoon shouting in the streets when the political and economic system is silently re-asserting the normal order of things?

The normal order of things is maintained through symbolic and systemic modes of violence. Unlike physical violence directed at specific subjects, the symbolic and systemic violence operates in the background. For example, the violence inherent in the production cheap consumer goods that benefit the lives of some while exposing factory workers to physical harm when making our flat-screen TVs in Mexcio or iPhone’s in China.

Most of us do not see this violence because it isn’t directed at us. We only see the subjective violence of shootings or physical aggression. The subjective form of violence overshadows the systemic and symbolic forms of violence that allow the normal order of things to continue smoothly (for some). This is the violence inherent in fierce border protection policies or laws that target racial and religious minorities. It is the violence embodied in language that strips subjects of their humanness (e.g. illegal maritime arrivals) and makes the violence that they suffer either excusable or somehow deserving.

SystDuck-Rabbit_illusionemic and symbolic violence tends to be invisible to those who benefit from the normal order of things that those modes of violence sustain. It is like a trompe l’oeil or the duck-rabbit illusion. For those who benefit these policies and arrangements look like caring necessity – “we need to protect ourselves” or “It is prudent to monitor Muslim boys because they are prone to radicalization”. However, to those on the other side, these policies and arrangements are experienced as exclusion and brutality.

In this context, Reclaim Australia will wither away, not because there is insufficient support for their message, but because Australia is already well and truly claimed. This claim is sustained by the long history of violent colonisation and occupation, the effects of which persist today. However, it is a claim that needs to be continually reasserted on the bodies and lives of non-white migrants.

In her recent book The White Possessive, Aileen Moreton-Robinson describes this “claim” as a white possession. White Australia’s existence as sovereign possessor is derived from the dispossession of Indigenous lands. As Moreton-Robinson notes, there is a deep anxiety that ‘racial others’ will in turn dispossess white Australia. The main utility of Reclaim Australia is as a warning that the normal order of things is being challenged. It is like a “flare-up” of the appendix in the body of white Australia, or to use another metaphor, a canary in a mine. Reclaim Australia is an expression of the anxiety that white Australia’s sovereignty is challenged.

The fear associated with a challenge to white sovereignty is seen in Native Title disputes. There is a deep fear that Indigenous claims will dispossess white Australian sovereignty over cities, suburbs, parks, beaches, arable lands, and natural resources (see Kerr and Cox’s ‘Setting Up the Nyoongar Tent Embassy‘). Yet, the reality does not lend credence to the anxieties and fears of white Australia – ‘the majority of Indigenous people in Australia do not have land rights, nor do they have legal ownership of their sacred sites.’

In the case of Islam, the fear of dispossession is also unfounded. According to the 2011 census, 2.2 % of the Australian population indicated they were affiliated with Islam. Of course the debates over Australia, radicalization, extremism, Islam, citizenship, borders and all the other nodes connected to this assemblage are not about evidence or facts. But control over who is admitted into white Australia, and the form that admittance takes. Some are wholly absorbed, while others remain in permanent parenthesis (asylum seekers).

While those attending Reclaim Australia rallies (and those sympathetic to their narrative) may feel that Islam is an existential threat to the white claim to Australia, the terms and conditions of political and social reality are established by and for a white Australia. The challenge is not to reclaim Australia, but to place the current claim in the context of historical and contemporary forms of violence that privilege those who possess whiteness and its associated symbols and markers.

In the words of Stan Grant, we need to challenge that violence and our own attachment and benefit from it.

Australians who so laudably challenge the bigots among them need also challenge themselves. What are they prepared to give up? Land, history, flag, anthem, myth or identity – all of it is on the table if we are truly serious. Other countries fight wars over these things: we can do it in peace.

 

 

 

 

Casual Racism in Sport: The cases of Donald Sterling and Eddie McGuire

Sport provides an avenue to examine a society’s character and what it values. As such, sport can also serve as a point of comparison between societies. In recent weeks Australian Rules football has served as a path into racism in Australia. In America, basketball has also been embroiled in disputes over racism. The cases Donald Sterling (US) and Eddie McGuire (Australia) illuminates stark differences in social norms and tolerance of racism. Comparing two incidences of senior figures making racist remarks is revealing of the different levels of tolerance towards racists or racial comments in each society.

Here are the facts:

Donald Sterling, former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers

The Incident (From Wikipedia):

On April 25, 2014, TMZ Sports released a recording of a conversation between Sterling and a female friend, V. Stiviano (born María Vanessa Perez, also known as Monica Gallegos, Vanessa Perez, and Maria Valdez).[43][44][45] In the recording from September 2013, a man confirmed to be Sterling was irritated over a photo Stiviano had posted on Instagram, in which she posed with Basketball Hall of Fame player Magic Johnson.[44][46] Sterling told Stiviano: “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people”, and, “You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want”, but “the little I ask you is … not to bring them to my games”.[47][48][49]

The Response From Wikipedia:

On April 29, 2014, NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced that Sterling had been banned from the league for life and fined $2.5 million, the maximum fine allowed by the NBA constitution.[44][65] Silver stripped Sterling of virtually all of his authority over the Clippers, and banned him from entering any Clippers facility. He was also banned from attending any NBA games.[44][66] The punishment was one of the most severe ever imposed on a professional sports owner.[46] Moreover, Silver stated that he would move to force Sterling to sell the team, based on a willful violation of the rules, which would require the consent of three-quarters, or 22, of the other 29 NBA team owners.[67] Sterling’s wife, Shelly, has co-owned the team with him since 1981, and she has served as one of the team’s two alternate governors.[68] While she was not included in the NBA’s ban on Sterling,[69] the league stated that “if a controlling owner’s interest is terminated by a 34 vote, all other team owners’ interests are automatically terminated as well”.[70]

Eddie McGuire, President of the Collingwood Football Club

The Incident Talking on Triple M radio, five days after Adam Goodes was called an ‘ape’ by a Collingwood fan, Eddie McGuire said:

Darcy: What a great promo that is for King Kong.

McGuire: Get Adam Goodes down for it do you reckon?

Darcy: No I wouldn’t have thought so, absolutely not.

McGuire: You can see them doing that can’t you?

Darcy: Who?

McGuire: Goodsey.

Darcy: What’s that?

McGuire: You know with the ape thing, the whole thing, I’m just saying the pumping him up and mucking around and all that sort of stuff.

The Response (From Wikipedia):

He apologised on air after making the reference,[27][28] but prefaced his apology by stating “I wasn’t racially vilifying anyone”.[29] McGuire’s comment was widely criticised.[30] He also held a press conference in which he apologised again. In a later interview that day, he admitted he was guilty of racial vilification.[31] He also offered his resignation as Collingwood President, but the Collingwood board expressed their support for him.[32] In June 2015 McGuire was labelled a ‘continual boofhead’ by the Upper House of the Parliament of New South Wales for comments he made about an Indigenous dance performed by Sydney Swans star Adam Goodes.[33]

So what does it reveal?

Many things are revealed in each of these incidences. The striking feature to me, however, is the casual nature of Australian racism and the casual nature of our response to it. The Upper House of NSW Parliament probably thought they were acting quite nobly in labelling McGuire a “boofhead”. Perhaps some even thought it was a small part of that arc of history bending towards justice that MLK spoke of. In reality, however, it is the mirror image of the casual nature of racism in Australia.

Casual offense, casual condemnation.

In the US, Donald Sterling owned the Clippers. Property ownership is one of the most sacred unions in Western societies, yet the NBA forced Sterling to sell his property! He has been banned from attending games! He was fined $2.5 million! And what happened to Eddie McGuire? Nothing.

Sure, some may quibble that Stirling’s comments were worse. Perhaps. But even so, what was McGuire’s punishment?

The so-called ‘continual boofhead’ is able to continue being the President of Collingwood, continue appearing on Triple M radio, continue appearing on Channel Nine, and continue to opine about what is and is not racist in contemporary Australia!

Why was Sterling’s punishment so forthright and clear in comparison to McGuire’s? I don’t think it is reducible to the NBA executive having more power or greater moral consciousness than the AFL executive. Rather the NBA players and fans, as well as the American public would not tolerate Sterling’s comments (there are blindspots).

In Australia, however, there has not been a significant demand from players, fans or the wider public that the comments of Eddie McGuire require a serious or considered response. Australia needs to face up to its widespread casual and not so casual racism. Part of this needs to come through a not-so-casual response to racist and racial acts.

Consumer Ethnocentrism: Part 1 Country of Origin Food Labels

In 1989 my uncle returned from a trip to the US with a pair of basketball shoes that were not yet available in Australia. Having seen them on the feet of American basketball stars, my friends and I coveted these shoes, and I was the first to own a pair. Taking them out of their box, I noticed the label at the back of the tongue: Made in Indonesia. I was disappointed. These shoes were not from the land of Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan but from an island I knew little about, 3000

kilometers to the north of Australia. Rather than the genuine product and official brand of champions, I was in possession of a cheap imitation. My sense of disappointment was not alleviated when an older boy assured me that the shoes were in fact fake.

The revelation that my basketball shoes were not made in America was my first conscious encounter with globalised manufacturing and trade. The now commonplace statement, ‘Made in Indonesia’, took some of the sheen off the brand, which was so carefully manufactured in marketing and design offices far removed (geographically, economically and culturally) from the factories in which the shoes were manufactured.

Buying like “us”

While I would like to say that the disappointment I felt in learning that the shoes were made in Indonesia was due to concern for the conditions of the workers, this would be disingenuous and perhaps a bit much to expect of a 9 year-old. My disappointment was due to the otherness of Indonesia. These shoes were not made by people like “us” – me, my friends, Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan. They were made by “them” – people I knew little of, except that they weren’t in the NBA, didn’t play basketball, didn’t appear in the multi-million dollar commercials, and according to a friend’s father, were waiting for an opportune time to invade Australia. These feelings of parochialism, or perhaps more accurately racism and xenophobia, were an early expression “consumer ethnocentrism”.

Ethnocentrism is the attitude that distinguishes between an “in-group” and “out-group”. Terence Shimp and Subhash Sharma developed the concept of consumer ethnocentrism to ‘represent the beliefs held by American consumers about the appropriateness, indeed morality, of purchasing foreign made products’ [1: 180]. According Shimp and Sharma’s study on the psychology of ethnocentric consumers ‘purchasing imported products is wrong because, in their minds, it hurts the domestic economy, causes loss of jobs, and is plainly unpatriotic’ [1]. While Shimp and Sharma focused on the 1980s American automobile industry, I suggest that consumer ethnocentrism is increasing in the food industry through current debates over country-of-origin labelling and local sourcing movements.

Global Food and Ethnocentric Consumption

The global food system has led to an increase in ignorance and confusion about where food comes from and the conditions under which it is produced. This ignorance is manifest in at least two forms. First, a general ignorance about the way food is produced and where it comes from, i.e. what season does asparagus

grow or what part of a pig does bacon come from? And second, where geographically does the asparagus I purchased in the supermarket come from or a more complex question, where was my microwave dinner produced, and were the ingredients all from the same location? Unlike my basketball shoes, the country-of-origin labelling on food products is not as clear. And some food products may use ingredients, manufacturing processes and labor from a variety of countries.

Since the early twentieth century, the Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act 1905 and Commerce (Imports) Regulations 1940 has enforced country-of-origin labelling for clothing imported into Australia [2], with similar legislation in place in the US (Tariff Act of 1930). However, these laws do not address the importation of food products. Over the past decade, country-of-origin labelling for food products has become a significant issue for consumer’s, workers’ unions and food companies in the US [3, 4], Australia [5-7], and the European Union [8, 9].

Country-of-Origin Labelling and Food Safety

There are a number of reasons why consumer groups and sectors of the food industry want country-of-origin labelling regulations for food products. A common reason is food safety. With the interconnection of the global food system, governments and consumers are concerned by food poisoning outbreaks, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or “mad-cow disease”, and possibility by the threat of cross-contamination [10]. The recent outbreak of Hepatitis A in Australia associated with Nanna’s Mixed Berries from Chinese factories has re-invigorated the country-of-origin labelling debate.

A second argument for the introduction of country-of-origin labelling is to protect domestic markets. For example, canned food company, SPC Ardmona, made 150 redundancies and closed a production factory in Australia. According to the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union this is partly due to a lack of adequate labelling laws that allow major supermarkets in Australia to stock cheap imported foods without being required to inform the consumer [7]. Furthermore, while the label may state “Made in Australia” this is allowed ‘even if only a few of the ingredients are grown in Australia’ [5]. As a result, companies that use local workers and ingredients are squeezed out of the market by cheaper imported goods.

Food safety and the protection of domestic markets are significant issues, yet they can also become enmeshed with more explicit manifestations of consumer ethnocentrism. With products and brands representing “us” or “them”. In Part Two, I discuss the example of “in-group” ethnocentric consumption in relation to Dick Smith’s response to Kraft Foods ownership of Vegemite. In Part Three I use the call for US consumers to boycott French products in response to the French government’s refusal to join the “coalition of the willing” to highlight “out-group” ethnocentric consumption.

References

  1. Shimp, T.A. and S. Sharma, Consumer Ethnocentrism: Construction and Validation of the CETSCALE. Journal of Marketing Research, 1987. 24(3): p. 280-289.
  2. Australian Customs Service. Australian Customs Service Fact Sheet. 2007 [cited 2012 March 19]; Available from: http://customs.gov.au/webdata/resources/files/FS_clothing.pdf.
  3. Lusk, J.L., et al., Consumer Behavior, Public Policy, and Country-of-Origin Labeling. Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, 2006. 28(2): p. 284-292.
  4. Loureiro, M.L. and W.J. Umberger, A choice experiment model for beef: What US consumer responses tell us about relative preferences for food safety, country-of-origin labeling and traceability. Food Policy, 2007. 32(4): p. 496-514.
  5. Peacock, M. Food Labelling inquiry chair disappointed Federal Government drops key recommendations. PM 2011 [cited 2012 February 6]; Available from: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-12-01/food-labelling-inquiry-chair-disappointed-federal/3707464.
  6. Blewett, N., et al., Labelling Logic: Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy. 2011, Commonwealth of Australia: Canberra.
  7. Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union. SPC regional job losses show need for food labelling laws and watchdog on supermarkets. 2011 [cited 2012 March 19]; Available from: http://www.amwu.org.au/read-article/news-detail/749/SPC-regional-job-losses-show-need-for-food-labelling-laws-and-watchdog-on-supermarkets/.
  8. Miller, J.W., Country labeling sets off EU debate, in The Wall Street Journal. 2011, News Corporation: New York.
  9. Department of Environment, F.a.R.A. Country of origin labelling. 2011 [cited 2012 March 19]; Available from: http://www.defra.gov.uk/food-farm/food/labelling/country-origin/.
  10. Smith DeWaal, C., Food Protection and Defense: Preparing for a Crisis. Minnesota Journal of Law, Science and Technology, 2007. 8(1).