Race, public opinion and ‘Black Conservatism’

Recent years in Australia have seen much debate about indigenous affairs. However this has largely the taken the form of a media driven debate between indigenous ‘leaders’. There has been almost no attention to a more nuanced examination of indigenous opinion. Recently read Harris-Lacewell’s Barbershops, Bibles and BET an example of the sort of book we need in Australia but are unlikley to get. Harris-Lacewell examines political ideology among African-Americans through a combination of ethnographic research in churches and barbershops, together with survey evidence and guided discussion in focus groups. Critics of past trends in Australian indigenous policy have expressed concerns about ‘welfare dependence’ and the constrained role of women in indigenous politics. Interesting to compare these discussions to Harris-Lacewell’s examination of Black Conservatism and Black Feminism. Focus group members were much more sympathetic to conservatism as a personal philosophy rather than a collective political aspiration. Respondents were particularly hostile to moral conservative discourses that blamed welfare for extra-martial pregnancies etc. But respondents were much more sympathetic to ‘economic conservative’ arguments that criticised taxation levels etc. This suggests that the attempts of white Australian conservatives to alter indigenous opinion are unlikely to be successful, because the white conservatism directed to indigenous people is distinctly non-economic and often verges on crude racial libel.

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