Pay Your Rent: Review of More Than One Nation
Twenty years since her maiden speech in Parliament, Pauline Hanson and ‘Hansonism’ have not faded away. Now, she is back in power and her anti-immigrant, anti-indigenous and Islamaphobic rhetoric is front and centre again. What are we to make of this? In a panel consisting of feminist activist Celeste Liddle, writer and artist Eugenia Flynn, and human rights advocate Charandev Singh, the Asian Australian Democracy Caucus’ September event entitled More Than One Nation proceeded to ask how we make sense of these developments, and what we can do about it.
Celeste Liddle started off by stating unequivocally that Pauline Hanson’s return to the senate is not a surprise-in fact, it is actually a symptom of the current Australian climate. The deep-seated racism of Australia has not receded in the eighteen years that Hanson herself has been gone. Pauline Hanson was after all initially endorsed by the Liberal Party, which seems to suggest that racism is not an outlying sentiment in Australian politics. Liddle explained that Hanson speaks for white people from a lower socio-economic background, which is an important part of her appeal. She also punches laterally at other marginalized and vulnerable people, rather than up at those in power and this attracts those who are buoyed and emboldened by her voice. Many of the people who voted for her then were greatly threatened by immigration, which she exploited.
Liddle went on to elaborate that after 9/11, the Liberal party used burgeoning Islamaphobia to ‘stop the boats’. This action actually made the white lower classes feel embraced by the white upper classes, a group that has not traditionally spoken to their concerns before. Hence, Hanson’s views did not ‘take hold’ in Australia. The truth is they were always there, so it is hard to buy into the fears of the progressives who lament about the ‘rise in racism’ in Australia.
Liddle reiterated that Terra Nullius-the formation of a great racial injustice-is the bedrock of the foundations of this country, and racism is intrinsically linked to it. Hence, the mentality of colonial arrogance has never been diminished. The entire concept of Australia is in fact an imposition on Aboriginal people and we need to start by asking what exactly is Australian culture? If immigrants are expected to assimilate and adopt “Aussie ways,” why did white people not adapt to and assimilate into Aboriginal culture?
It is stunning how little we are taught within the Australian education system, and how this continues to remain the same generations later. We cannot be a united nation, we cannot be one nation, until these atrocities and underlying ideologies of state and power are common knowledge.
Eugenia Flynn also made reference to the Liberal Party’s failures by declaring that John Howard himself had paved the way for Pauline Hanson with the One Australia policy that called for the end to multiculturalism and was opposed to blackfellas treaty and called for the reduction of Asian migration into Australia.
Flynn continued to echo Liddle when discussing the foundational racism of Australia that has Anglo-Celtic people at the top of the hierarchy, and aboriginal people at the bottom. The belief that there was no civilization on this land because indigenous people were not people, continues up till today. The state has set up structures such as health, justice, and education that is meant to perpetuate this foundational racism. Flynn argued that this is also used as a template to create new iterations of racism, which is then used against successive migrants. In some ways the racism against aboriginal people and migrants is the same because it is about maintaining white supremacy, but it is also different because it is premised on anti-indigeneity. Aboriginal people have experienced widespread dispossession of their land. Therefore, any solidarity from others needs to centre indigenous people and privilege their struggles. First and foremost, there must be a liberation of indigenous people that begins with recognizing their sovereignty over the land.
Flynn astutely pointed out that colonialism is intrinsically about capitalism because racism existed to dispossess aboriginal people of their land, so that white people could make money from it. We have to incorporate the indigenous perspective into all anti-racism work in Australia, and this begins with what she terms, “paying your rent.” Blindly applying the dynamics of race politics from America is a form of cultural imperialism, as we need first and foremost honour and privilege indigenous black voices that were here from time immemorial.
Charandev Singh then continued this train of thought by affirming that investment in white supremacy looks like anti-aboriginal blackness and then asking what would divestment from it would look like.
Singh went on to draw out the terms of occupation as a non-indigenous migrant for other people of colour in Australia. Being occupiers or settlers on this land requires us to draw a line between people of colour and aboriginal communities. Singh maintained that this is what the demands of occupation looks like, as occupation and assimilation are fundamentally inextricable. In order to subscribe to white supremacy in Australia, everyone, including other people of colour, have to engage in aboriginal anti-blackness and at all times are expected to reinforce anti-aboriginal blackness.
Hence, Singh asks us, what are our duties? What can we do to resist participation in the death and destruction of indigenous lands and people? As immigrants, what would an end to the machinery of anti-aboriginal racism look like?
Singh exhorted us to not only cross but destroy the line between us and them, which entails supporting the voices in the aboriginal leadership. We have no business in this country until we do that. Our terms of occupation and duties demand this. In return for White people’s tolerance of other people who came here, our reciprocal silence and assimilation is required. We are profoundly neutralized in this relationship of tolerance. It is demanded of us to agree that white supremacy does not exist, even while we ourselves are targets of it. This buys our silence. We remain quiet, and we remain assimilated. Singh believes that we must divest ourselves from these relationships of subjugation and domination if we are to do this at all.
More Than One Nation made clear that racism is foundational to both the history, and current workings, of Australia. Hanson is not new or original. She is simply the inevitable by-product of a country premised on the theft of land orchestrated through the genocide of its original inhabitants. Racism in Australia is structural, and systematically used both against other people of colour and aboriginal people. It demands our silence and our complicity in the ongoing project of colonization. As non-indigenous people of colour, we have to rid ourselves of our own prejudices and we have to centre indigenous voices and experiences. We have to constantly remember that we are here on their sufferance. This is how we pay our rent, and it is the only way we are going to build real and long-lasting solidarity.
More Than One Nation was organized by the Asian Australian Democracy Caucus (AADC), and was held at the Immigration Museum on the 25th of September 2016. The AADC is a progressive Australian group rooted in intersectional thinking tackling a wide range of issues. You can find the AADC @AADemocracy.
The Two Chairs would like to thank the AADC and the Immigration Museum for organizing the event.
This piece was written by Sangeetha Thanapal for The Two Chairs. For commentary and opinion, you can contact the writer @kaliandkalki or @TheTwoChairs.