Race, history and politics

Why it is that a hostility towards indigenous Australians is a core principle for some Australian conservatives? Some light on this is shed by the history of history.  Gary Johns thinks that acknowledging that indigenous people were here first is somehow responsible for current indigenous disadvantage, and editorial in The Australian effectively admits that John’s argument makes no sense but then falls back on the usual lazy argument that welcome to country ceremonies alienate voters. As Noel Pearson notes there are parallels with antisemitism here. We can see conservative preoccupation with indigenous claims in the context of the writing of indigenous history in Australia. In the past thirty years indigenous themes became central to the writing of Australian history and for many historians engagement with these themes came to substitute for the decline of older radical hopes. Here Australian historians followed to a degree in American footsteps. American liberal historiography had in the 1950s pushed racism to the margins the civil rights struggle and the rise of ‘black power’ made the position of white historians tenuous, they resolved this by a shift towards a celebratory historiography that emphasised resistance and autonomy but as Peter Novick notes this denied the emergent problems within many African-American communities.  Raewyn Connell:

one must say that no group or force broadly on the Left − whether the environmental movement, feminism, radical unions, the land rights movement or the peace movement − has worked out how to gain major purchase on the neoliberal state or the neoliberal economy.

In this perspective land rights was seen as part of the left. Books such as In the Age of Mabo demonstrated the  the belief that the acknowledgement of past indigenous ownership presaged a radical change in the Australian nation state. In fact it would not in the absence of other struggles. What the left imagined with delight the right imagined and feared.

4 thoughts on “Race, history and politics

  1. [...] is the original post: Race, history and politics « Geoff Robinson Share and [...]

  2. Jim Belshaw says:

    Unusually, Geoff, I am not sure that this post makes a lot of sense. It mixes together too many issues. Would you are to amplify?

  3. admin says:

    I think you’re right Jim. What do strike me was both left and right have overestimated the importance of history. Some of the left have thought that by pointing out the simple fact that the occupation of Australia was based on force they have somehow made a radical challenge to the nation-state, when it makes no difference to the daily pattern of general obedience to government, see Jeff Sparrow here http://newmatilda.com/2009/11/19/so-its-okay-say-sorry-white-people. The other point was that some historians like their US colleagues focused on the record of indigenous and African-American resistance but were reluctant to admit current problems.

  4. Jim Belshaw says:

    That’s interesting, Geoff. A major difficulty is that history is linked but only roughly linked to current problems. The issue of overcoming indigenous disadvantage is a current policy problem and needs to be analysed as a policy problem. Here history actually bedevils for it hinders objective analysis.

    To me Sparrow completely misses the point. I actually did object to the apology to those (British or otherwise) covered by the latest apology. I thought it a-historical. But how could I say anything given the personal emotions involved and the earlier apology? To do so would have seemed small minded. If we are going to apologise to one group, then we have to apply the same principles to to others.

    Now Jeff would argue that we are nor comparing like to like and to a degree he would be right. But I think that that’s beside the point.

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