Socio-cultural attitudes are the first line of defence of any cultural matrix. Any change occurring in such attitudes reflects either openness or restriction in cumulative cultural behaviour of a society. Australia was widely supposed to be immune to the race-related matters as its far-flung location and specific immigration policies had ensured that it may not be negatively affected by growing cultural consciousness around the world.
But not anymore. Australian Senate has narrowly defeated a motion condemning “anti-white racism”, by just three votes indicating the deep presence of feelings of alienation between the people living in the wide stretches of Australian lands. Pauline Hanson, the leader of Australia’s far-right One Nation party, wanted backing for her motion which stated “it is OK to be white”. She is vastly known for her publicity stunts but this time round did not hesitate to bring the matter up in the national legislature.
The legislative motion was aimed at addressing the “deplorable rise of anti-white racism and attacks on Western civilisation”. The apparent conviction of the bill disguised intense resentment against boat-people who frequent vast shores of Australia and the determination of its authorities to keep tight control on immigration. Australians do not mind living in their splendid isolation and are deeply conscious of keeping them aloof from demographic shifts taking place in most parts of the globe.
Pauline Hanson is derided for her political stunts and hit the headlines when she appeared wearing a burka. Her antics led to the observations that the bill floated by her was part of wider ruse to attract attention but the uncomfortable fact that a number of ruling party politicians backed the motion unnerved many circles. To the utter surprise of almost everyone, among the 23 people who voted in favour was Australia’s first parliamentarian of black African descent, Kenyan-born Lucy Gichuhi of the governing coalition. It was unheard of that a member of minority community would side with an extreme legislation but Gichuhi openly dissented with the opinion of her community.
It was not only the political fringe within Australian system that voted in favour of the bill but it also secured support of many members of the government including the Deputy Senate Leader and Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion and Deputy National leader Bridget McKenzie. Obviously the contents of the bill hit the raw nerve of white Australians who felt the pressure of identifying with their cultural legacy. Unfortunately, most legislators were carried away by the simplistic notions expressed in the bill without realising that the measure being capable of creating widespread schisms and differences.
Speaking ahead of the vote, Ms Hanson said “people have a right to be proud of their cultural background, whether they are black, white or brindle”. “If we cannot agree on this, I think it’s safe to say anti-white racism is well and truly rife in our society,” she added. Apparently there appeared nothing adverse in her utterances except the divisive intent of the deeper meanings hidden in innocuous feelings of hurt.
However saner political segments felt the pressure of the intent as one of those who opposed the bill, Justice Party Senator Derryn Hinch, called it a “headline-grabbing stunt”. He said Ms Hanson was “in a race” with another of her colleagues “to the bottom of the sewer” by seeing “who can be the biggest, the loudest, racist bigot”. He may have used strong words to express his dissent but in the longer run he may be proven right about the actual ramifications of a singular position taken by the far right wing of the political divide.
The phrase “it’s OK to be white” has been popularised online among far-right groups. Its inclusion in the motion is also seen as a nod to the Canadian activist Lauren Southern, who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase when she visited Australia earlier this year. In March, Ms Southern was refused entry to the UK on the grounds that her actions “present a threat to the fundamental interests of society”.
The UK authorities were acutely mindful of the difficulties experienced by the British society in bringing harmony and unison within the spread of ethnic minorities residing in the country. It must always be borne in mind that ultra-right wing sentiments are easy to harbour but are difficult to sustain in the longer run.
Baqar Bilal Hussain is a social activist