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26.6.07

John Howard Is A Racist

I tend to be pretty sparing in my use of the "racist" accusation*. Most white people have a very particular narrow definition of what that word means, so using it risks sidetracking the discussion into unhelpful debates over the purity of the accused's soul. But sometimes you have to haul out the big guns.

What convinced me that Mr. Howard deserves the R-word was his recent decision to about-face from neglect to active intervention in Aboriginal affairs. A report on child abuse in Aboriginal communities has apparently convinced him (or at least provided a pretext) to try to whip his country's indigenous people into shape (via my blogless brother). Specifically, the Australian government will be imposing various conditions on welfare payments, taking control of Aboriginal land, and sending in the military -- all without asking the communities themselves how they'd like the situation handled.

The policy taken on its own would be enough to earn the "racist" label. It's a perfect storm of racism, combining "lazy welfare cheats who can't manage their own dysfunctional families" with "primitives need the white man's discipline to become upright citizens" and a dash of terra nullius.

But to make it even more galling, you have to remember that Australia was the scene of the Stolen Generations**. During the 20th century, the government forcibly interfered with Aboriginal parents in the name of protecting their children. So how would anyone with half a brain expect things to go when the 21st Century Australian government proposes to forcibly interfere with Aboriginal parents in the name of protecting their children?

Child abuse in Aboriginal communities is a problem that needs to be taken seriously. But taking child abuse seriously requires enabling Aborigines to attain cultural and economic self-determination, not indulging in macho fantasies of punitive crackdowns that force people to straighten up. (Hmm, I suppose John Howard may be a sexist as well.)

*As opposed to pointing out how certain actions have among their effects creating and/or sustaining racial injustices.

**Similar policies were implemented anywhere white people set up a country on other people's land, but Australia has made it a particularly clear political issue.

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