Friday, 24 May 2013

Are you all for in rather than out? Inclusion, exclusion, neo-liberalism, racism and the Swedish riots

Racism is a complex issue.  Sometimes it appears as a rational response, sometimes as irrational.  Few, if any, nations or people groupings are free of racism.  What is its wellspring?  And if it is possible to identify the wellspring, do we want to acknowledge it and face it.

Since White Settlement, Australia has had racism in its national lifeblood.  We need to think about what is racism because even some of our most respected people who appear open and even-handed can fail to recognise race discrimination when it appears in policies, attitudes, and relationships.

This is a prelude to saying that the current Swedish riots have caught my attention.  They have caught my attention not only because they appear to have a race/ethnicity element but also because the Swedish nation has moved away in recent times from a strong social inclusion model of governance to a form of neo-liberalism and small government.  This model of governance has advocates both in the Liberal-National Parties of Australia and the Australian Labor Party.  The third reason I have for my interest is that as I look back on a long life of political involvement and activism I find my self coming back to thoughts of inclusion and I'm alert to elements of public life and social policy and human interaction which demonstrate exclusion, difference, inequity rather than inclusion, acceptance, and equity.

Governments can subscribe to and enact all the human rights legislation they like - and, perhaps but not always likely, enforce such legislation.  However, in the end such governance has little weight if society - or a large section of it - is left to glory in its own prejudices and exclusions.

Prejudice and exclusion are attributed to many factors - religion, lack of education, ability to exert dominance, ideology explaining dominance or inferiority and so on.  For me, these factors may to some extent hold the key but not entirely.  My view is that humanity demarcs.  If skin colour, physiognomy, language, gender were not used as factors of human demarcation, we would find other ways to describe, ascribe, and separate. 

How did large groupings of people occupy certain lands and eventually come to describe themselves as nations?  When White Settlement began in Australia, there were 600-700 distinct Aboriginal nations.  Within those nations there are/were distinct subdivisions down to clan and family levels.  These nations - while apparently, at least to white Australians, of one race or ethnicity - held certain lands as their own.  They did, however, war with other nations in disputes about land ownership and boundaries.  In addition, incest laws in Aboriginal nations are quite strong and, among some nations, quite complex.  Aboriginal 'right skin' laws make Anglo-Celtic taboos look fast and loose by comparison.

So, early in the 21st Century, across the globe human beings know about each other - who we are, where we are, the languages we speak, the economic circumstances under which we live.  We are mobile; have advanced technology; most of us have some form of education and literacy.  Just as people of old moved to other nations, lands, countries when there were adverse situations of famine, floods, and war, so people of to-day still move.  Most nations of the developed world walk a fine line about who is acceptable and not acceptable within their bounds.  Those with wealth or access are more acceptable no matter what their race or ethnicity.  They find a way to come in.  Those with no financial advantage are more likely to be the victims of exclusionist policies.

The most dreadful story of exclusion and hysteria in relation to Australia of which I am aware is that of the "Dunera Boys".  It shows the paranoia of human exclusion when refugees from Nazi Europe were imprisoned and transported to Australia like the convicts of the eighteenth century - in case they betrayed the British cause to the Nazis they ran away from!!!  Australia to-day recognises this wonderful story of human determination and community and acknowledges the way we have benefitted from the 900 "boys" who remained in Australia and we are still benefitting to-day through many of their distinguished descendants.  

Australians - at least it seems like a majority of them but I hope it is a minority - decry the boat people and complain of people jumping some distant yet non-existent queue.  People came this way after the Vietnam war but any outcry or exclusion was not as strong as it is to-day.  Australia has now become an exclusion zone.  Refugees cannot apply for refugee status by landing on Australian soil

Some of us in Australia have admired the social policies implemented in the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden and Denmark.  Some of us have even thought at times that Australia was becoming somewhat like these nations that we admired.  What we idealists didn't readily acknowledge was that, just as Australia has its racist underbelly, so do these nations.  In these nations there were found ready bedfellows for Nazi ideology and its racist claptrap in the 1930s and 1940s.

Picture below from here
More recently, Norway has been rocked and sadden by its lone wolf racist attacks. Questions are raised about racism in Denmark.

The Swedish writer, Stieg Larrson, was an outspoken advocate against racism.  References to current day Nazis and racism in Sweden found their way into his "Girl" trilogy. In 1999, Larrson was appointed Chief Editor of Expo, a Swedish magazine that exposes racism and the activities of the extreme right. 

Below is a discussion of racist violence in Denmark

Australia is a modern nation but it needs to be aware of too readily adopting, in the name of modernity and current trends, the governance exhibited by other nations.  The governance and economics of neo-liberalism may find favour in terms of dollar values but is it worth the cost of rupturing the social fabric of a nation?  

Is casting all our doings, our business in the bureaucratic models of government and major corporations wise?  Where is there time for people, their wishes, their abilities, their sound ambitions in these models which don't spare time for thorough down-on-the-ground consultations or have the ability for close and empathetic listening?  We have had our taste of racial violence on one sunny January day of surf and sand at Cronulla.

We need to think hard and long on what exclusion and inclusion means in terms of our nation.  We can turn away boat people all we like but are we really thinking about our humanity and theirs?  Are we really thinking of the consequences of our actions?  Every action has consequences.  I am naive enough to believe that good actions bring good consequences and bad actions bring bad consequences.  And who are we to think that we, as part of the human race, are any better than other members of the human race. Sure there are societies that are more equitable, tolerant, peace loving with highly developed economies and sophisticated and equitable rules of law than others.  But our systems while admirable are far from perfect.  White collar criminals who wreck the lives of others walk free.  We have seen senior bureaucrats and the Prime Minister of our nation being less than open and truthful  before a Royal Commission and get away with it.  Corruption may not be all pervasive in Australia - yet - but it operates in some very high and mighty places with great subtlety and has done since White Settlement in 1788!  

So what we need is humanity - to empathise, understand, communicate - and we need humility - to recognise our individual shortcomings and our national shortcomings.  Out of these reflections should come a spirit of inclusion so that governments, institutions and individuals will have an openness of the size and sort that is not displayed at this time.  I'm all for in - rather than out.  Are you?

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