Being Australian 6: inclusive multiculturalism Aussie style 1

So I watched Immigration Nation on SBS at 8.30 last night.

There was something of a broad brush applied in dealing with the period around 1901, especially compared with the immaculate account to be found in Destination Australia : migration to Australia since 1901- by Professor Eric Richards, but the point emerged clearly enough that there was a mix of socialist utopianism and racialist theory behind it, both of them part of the world-view of the time. Arguing which mattered most is a bit like arguing over which end of a boiled egg should be cracked open first.

Typical of the time:

Measuring skulls to discern intelligence by race was one of several 19th century pseudosciences widely believed in at the time.

It is certainly hard in 2011 to give credence to Japanese and Chinese as “servile races”!

Later in the program one of many paradoxes pointed to was that on a local level people were often very protective of their Chinese, the ones who grew good vegetables, despite support of a White Australia.

I had read in Richards about doomed versions of imperial agricultural utopias such as the very badly conceived closer British settlement farm schemes espoused by people like Rider Haggard. It is also true that we began to run out of Brits wanting to come to Australia, a theme taken up more next week.

I was fascinated by the suggestions about the effect of Billy Hughes at the 1919 Peace Conference at Versailles on relations with Japan, the failure of the League of Nations, and ultimately World War II in the Pacific. A fruitful line of argument.

Back to Australia today — you may have noticed a vigorous exchange between myself and Kevin from Louisiana recently over multi/monoculturalism. The latest fro me reads:

Some of the issues you raise I will take up in a later post, but I will foreshadow the argument which runs from individual identity rather than from any –ism or from the policy end. How many aspects are there to an individual’s identity? How many of them does he or she have to give up when moving to another country? I would argue for a core minimum, freedom consisting in being able to find and express your identity as fully as possible. That could include being a Muslim. It could include wearing religious clothing.

Assimilation is a bit of a dirty word in Australia, and strongly suggests giving up quite a lot, much of which, such as preserving a foreign language, could be of benefit to the nation as well as to the individual and his or her family. Of course learning English is necessary too for full participation, and by the second generation most people have accomplished that. (I have been long a teacher of English to people of migrant background.)

Our experience here is that “ghettos” usually lose their young people to the community at large. The main exception are areas caught in poverty, but they are here as often as not “Australian” communities rather than migrant ones.

This post is getting long enough so I will leave my idea (not just my idea) of additive or inclusive multiculturalism until the next post, leaving you with an image of successful Australian muticulturalism at Westfield Figtree. In a coffee shop owned by the Hillsong Church, a woman in a hijab sits comfortably by a dinkum Aussie in his Chesty Bonds. This is the stuff of everyday life, but not the stuff of headlines.

— See Graeme Blundell’s review in The Australian.

Immigration Nation really is the hardly all that well known story behind the policies that have shaped contemporary, multicultural Australia, and it couldn’t be timelier, given the terrible recent events on Christmas Island. As my old friend Arnold Zable recently wrote in response to that tragedy: “The desperate men, women and children floundering in wild seas could have been our own ancestors, our own families, or ourselves undertaking perilous journeys in search of new lives.”

The three-part series, an ambitious multi-platform broadcast event, tells our complex immigration story pithily and inventively, especially the century-long struggle to overcome the White Australia Policy — and its idea of barring non-European immigrants — and the impact it had on the migrant communities it dismantled…

The storytelling is emphatically fact-based, but the film-makers adapt many of fiction’s features and conventions: scene-setting, foreshadowing events and emotions, tension, climaxes and cliff-hangers, construction of a central narrative and the creation of character: as in, for example, the runty, domineering, posturing, tricky wartime prime minister Billy Hughes, and the rather strange Henry Rider Haggard, writer of adventure thrillers who inspired the disastrous British Settlers Scheme…

In the first episode we meet the stoic and forgiving Dennis O’Hoy and learn the chronicle of how his father struggled to keep his family together as the government sought to deport his Chinese-born wife.

And Matthew Nagas, whose grandfather was brought to Australia as a result of “blackbirding”, the 19th and early 20th-century practice of enslaving South Pacific islanders (usually by force and deception) on the cotton and sugar plantations of Queensland. (The expression possibly originated as a contraction of “blackbird catching”, blackbird being a slang term for the local indigenous people.)…

To the lay person, like First Watch, this series provides a clear, lucid guide to understanding a complex and ambiguous political and social narrative, even if it’s bound to start another chapter in the so-called history wars. The series should inflame some commentators who still cringe before the notion that race and blood was central to the early days of Australian nationalism.

But the tone of the piece is grave, the underlying music elegiac, and there’s a superb score by Rob Upward. There’s no sign of bearded, rabid left-wing ideologues spouting their view that the sense of the Australian character that emerged in this period was uncomfortably close to Nazi ideas about the Aryan master race…

Let’s face it; it’s pretty hard to get away from the fact that Australian nationalism has long had a rather ugly racist side to it. “Free, great and white” was the catchcry of fervent nationalists for most of last century, the White Australia Policy the policy of choice until the early 70s.

One of the significant sequences in the first episode is the wonderful counterpointing of photographic scenes of a Chinese ceremonial dragon from gold-rush Bendigo, scampering and slithering through Melbourne’s streets as a central part of the 1901 Federation celebrations. The greatest irony in the story is the way that the first act of the fledgling nation was to destroy the diversity with which it was born…

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20 thoughts on “Being Australian 6: inclusive multiculturalism Aussie style 1

  1. I’m not sure I can discuss this with you, Neil. Race seems to be an important issue with you when discussing multiculturalism. It’s as if your race defines cultures in your world. It really doesn’t. Race is completely immaterial. It’s as important as the number of freckles on your wrist or how many eyelashes you have. It has absolutely nothing to do with multiculturalism. Until you grok that, I doubt there is any point in continuing a discussion about it.

    If it’s any consolation, you’ve made an avowed right-winger quite disappointed.

  2. Race has been an issue, obviously — after all the White Australia Policy dominated the first 65 years after Federation. But this was also a matter of how we envisaged Australian culture as primarily Anglo-centric. The issue of Islam in Australia, just to mention one that concerns people today, is one of culture (and the limits of assimilation or integration or adaptation) but not of race, though some of our bigots do forget that. There is obviously no Islamic race.

    I think it unlikely I am confused about my understanding of Australian multiculturalism as It was part of my professional responsibility as an ESL teacher for fifteen years, You obviously either didn’t read or didn’t understand the next post.

    Visit Making multicultural Australia
    .

  3. Race has been an issue, obviously — after all the White Australia Policy dominated the first 65 years after Federation.

    Understood. I don’t mean to condemn you for your interest in race. It’s quite understandable. I just want no part of it. Race just doesn’t play a role in my life, and I’d like to keep it that way.

    But if you find yourself able to discuss multiculturalism without blaming different races, I’d love to be a part of that discussion.

  4. Who the hell is blaming different races?

    The White Australia Policy was certainly racial, but its main motives were preservation of Australia’s working conditions (appealing to Labor) and preservation of CULTURAL homogeneity. We were to be an England in the south.

    When we gave that up we were confronted with people from increasingly diverse cultures. We moved from assimilation — trying to make them become ersatz Anglo-Aussies and give up their weird foreign ways — through integration through a valuing of those weird foreign ways which are not forbidden by our laws. That is what we have meant by inclusive multiculturalism.

    Now of course having been a participant in God knows how many multicultural events and conferences, having written a multicultural textbook, having taught in multicultural environments, I can’t possibly know what I am talking about.

    And neither does our Immigration Department.

  5. When we gave that up we were confronted with people from increasing diverse cultures. We moved from assimilation — trying to make them become ersatz Anglo-Aussies and give up their weird foreign ways — through integration through a valuing of those weird foreign ways which are not forbidden by our laws.

    Yes, I know your country did this. We are in total agreement. You made huge mistakes. Whatever. We all do from time to time. But it’s still not too late for Australia. I also know that the violence in your ghettos – or whatever you call the places where the cultures you’re trying to ‘multiculturalize’ are segregating themselves have become disturbingly violent.

    But hey, as I’ve said a dozen times, it’s your country. If you think having ‘no go’ zones in your country like the french is ok, then whatever. Of course if you forced all immigrants to assimilate then you wouldn’t have the problems you’re dealing with now. But it’s your country, you should do what you want.

  6. First, a point about my comment: assimilation — trying to make them become ersatz Anglo-Aussies and give up their weird foreign ways — isn’t entirely fair.

    Of course if you forced all immigrants to assimilate then you wouldn’t have the problems you’re dealing with now. But it’s your country, you should do what you want.. That sort of statement justifies my “logical leap” where I questioned your belief in freedom of expression. So people are not allowed to express those cultural differences that matter to their sense of identity? Talk to an Orthodox Jew about assimilation’ for them it really is a dirty word. However, in a multicultural society we value the right of Orthodox Jews to their expression of culture — they can wear funny clothe, refuse to work on Saturdays, and even have their own courts to decide religious issues — all so long as it is within the overarching laws and values of Australia. We even extend the same principles to other religions and cultures, sometimes not without having to weigh tricky issues. Usually we find an accommodation.

    And we don’t have ghettos in the way the US does. Sure we have problem areas, but they tend not to be so permanent and are often porous.

  7. “That sort of statement justifies my “logical leap””

    No, it doesn’t. You seem to think that assimilation is like the Borg were doing in Star Trek. In fact, it’s a two way street. Both the assimilator and the assimilatee are changed by the event. Hopefully for the better. It means that disparaging groups come together and form a relatively homogeneous meta-culture. It takes the best parts of the parent cultures, agrees upon them, and lives as a quasi-unit. Multiculturalism is just a bunch of different cultures sharing the same name, but only weakly relating to each other. It’s like the EU. Untenable.

    “And we don’t have ghettos in the way the US does.”

    Ghettos ‘in the way the US [has them]’ are places where one culture segregates itself within a separate culture. You don’t have those? I don’t believe you. It’s one of the cancers of multiculturalism.

  8. I don’t believe you. It’s one of the cancers of multiculturalism. Sorry, I just live here, and not only here but in two of the most culturally diverse parts of Australia. What would I know?

    I am taking this up again. You may have noticed that I have suspended posting on this because my attention has been on the floods. Victoria and Tasmania have now experienced severe flooding.

  9. Sydney – Auburn. Lakemba. ’nuff said.

    Didn’t know about floods in other places. Is southern NSW ok? I went through a 8″ deep flood as a child and it was terrible. It’s hard to imagine what these people are going through with half of their houses under water.

  10. Not really “nuff said”. Of course I know those areas, and they have problems, but they are NOT US-style ghettos.

  11. I’m guessing that you guys have never been to the US? What we call ghettos aren’t necessarily bad or dangerous places. For example, our Chinatowns are ghettos, but they’re as nice as any other part of the city and generally fun to visit.

    They’re just not integrated. That’s the problem with a ghetto. It’s like they live in America, but aren’t part of the whole. The good news is that their kids usually move out of the ghettos and join the masses that make up America. Well, except for muslims of course. They’ve tended to segregate themselves forever. As they seem to be doing in your country and most of the European countries.

  12. Interesting comment, Kevin. I’ll refer to it in a later post.

    On the integration of Muslims in the USA and Germany.

    United States

    Achievements:
    • Muslim participation in and formation of civic organizations is widespread
    • 41% of Muslims in US make more than 75 K/year and only 2% are poor as compared
    to 18% in Germany
    • Integration of Muslims from diverse ethnicities
    • Higher education attained
    • Hyphenation in self-identification or community identification (e.g. Pakistani-American)
    • Likely to have close “non-Muslim” friends, according to public opinion polls

    Challenges:
    • Successful Muslims tend to be clustered in professions (e.g. engineering, medicine, law,
    science, etc) and don’t contribute as much to the arts, literature, etc, especially in the U.S.
    • Economic disparity among groups of Muslims (e.g. African-American Muslims as a group
    are worse off than more recently arrived Arab, South Asian and Southeast Asian Muslims)
    • Culture and gender issues within American context
    • Intermarriage

    4. Religious Integration

    United States

    Achievements:
    • Mosque construction
    • Acceptance of religious practice, even in public sphere (e.g. headscarves are widely worn
    by girls and women in primary and secondary schools as well as in colleges and universities)
    • Interfaith dialogue (esp. Post-9/11)
    • Recognition of Muslim traditions and holidays
    • Separation of church and state
    • 1st Amendment
    • Modernity is compatible with religiosity in the US
    • Pride in Pluralism

    Challenges:
    • Work out balance between being a member of an international religion and a member of
    a nation state
    • Mosque construction sometimes faces bureaucratic or neighborhood hurdles in excess of
    what would normally confront a new building project, suggesting prejudice
    • Acceptance of religious practices and symbols
    • Embrace secular holidays
    • Post 9/11 Islamophobia
    • Post 9/11 Legislation (Patriot Act)
    • Reform of religious texts and how they are interpreted in the U.S.

    Many of your remarks also apply to Orthodox Jews: I know that first-hand having taught in an Orthodox Jewish school, among other experiences.

  13. Heh. Islamofascism didn’t even make the list of ‘challenges’ :). Figures. I’m glad islamophobia did though. I find it thoroughly disheartening when people are so afraid of islam that they won’t print a cartoon or a pic of mohammed because they are so phobic of islam. Let’s hope they get that one fixed.

    I’m bowing out of this conversation now. That list you linked is just ridiculous.

    ps – hah! Yes, a real challenge for the muslims is the patriot act! Too funny. I guess it would be accurate if all muslims were terrorists, but of course we know they aren’t.

  14. Did it? What can I as an American not do now that I could have done before? You know, besides be a jihadi and kill people as islam demands?

    What freedoms did I lose? If you think of something that a reasonable person would want to do but can’t do anymore because of the Patriot Act, please let me know. I despise new laws and would love the opportunity to come out against them.

  15. Didn’t answer my question. What can I as an American not do now that I could have done before?

    It’s a simple question. I’m pretty sure the answer is ‘nothing’. I’d love to know if I lost any freedoms because of that Act, but as far as I can tell I haven’t.

    Jihadis have, though :). Guess that’s why it’s listed as a ‘challenge’ to islam in that book you quoted.

  16. Second episode of Immigration Nation tonight. Great! Since it is now dealing with my own lifetime I can confidently say it is pretty accurate.

    OK, to your question, Kevin. Weren’t you just a tiny bit concerned about the powers you were giving the government and investigators? Fine if you believe that anyone being investigated must be guilty of something, but that does seem a bit of an assumption. Could be that at some future date someone in Washington might decide to use those powers against rather more than alleged Jihadis.

    There was certainly concern about whether our own anti-terror legislation was too much, whether existing laws were in fact quite strong enough. And then there have been occasions when the whole thing became a total balls-up.

  17. “Weren’t you just a tiny bit concerned about the powers you were giving the government and investigators?”

    Neil, I’m EXTREMELY concerned about our freedom. I wasn’t asking to be snarky. I’ve been concerned about this since ~2004. I’d be happy to oppose the Patriot act if I could find an example of one single thing that I COULD do before the Act was enacted that I can’t do now. But I can’t find one.

    Fine if you believe that anyone being investigated must be guilty of something, but that does seem a bit of an assumption.

    The Patriot act doesn’t say that. Where did you come up with that?

  18. Re your last comment: I was probably extrapolating from the issues raised for our own anti-terror laws in the Haneef case where many concluded the guy was a terrorist simply because he was being investigated and the relevant Minister seemed confident. The Australian newspaper really blew that one into little pieces.

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