Why do Australians really dislike Aborigines?

By: | Post date: February 7, 2017 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: Australia

My fellow nationals, let us not hide behind our finger. (I think that’s a Greek expression.) Yes, I’m sure none of us here are racist. But racism against Aboriginal Australians is there, and visitors to Australia regularly manage to chronicle it. (It’s the one dark aspect of Bill Bryson’s otherwise panegyrical Down Under/In A Sunburned Country.) Wishing them all dead is something some Australians say, and it’s a rather more extreme attitude than you’ll hear elsewhere in the New World—even the US, which historically excluded Native Americans from their Manifest Destiny.

Yes, Australians are not as circumspect about how they talk in general, and that means that there’s a lot of talk that can come across as racist, but is often just undeferential or radically egalitarian. But that’s not what we’re talking about here.

There are a couple of issues people might point to, but I don’t think they’re the explanation.

  • Guilt? No, guilt doesn’t explain contempt.
  • Embarrassment? Yes, situations in outback Australia are often third-world. I still don’t think that’s cause though; it’s effect. Though not knowing what to do about Aboriginal disadvantage is a challenge that other Australians, with their notions of egalitarianism and a fair go, don’t welcome. After all, Aboriginal Australians were not originally meant to be part of the Aussie fair go.
  • Land claims? No, that’s just an inconvenience to miners and pastoralists, and after the initial shock of the Mabo judgement, it has settled down into a regimen of arbitration. The initial panic that Aboriginal Australians would be claiming swaths of suburbia and kicking white householders out proved to be fantasy.
  • Not wanting to be lectured at by left-wing defenders of virtue? There’s some of that ressentiment, and you can see it in the libertarian cause célèbres, such as the racial defamation suits against Andrew Bolt or the threats of same against Bill Leak. But though Bolt and Leak are reactionary and reactive, sneering at “light-skinned” Aboriginal activists or deriding the lack of strong family cohesion in Aboriginal communities doesn’t quite rise to the level of the fantasy genocide OP describes (and I’m pretty sure has not made up).

I think the underlying issue, beyond all the current controversies and cluelessness, was the narrative that got entrenched in the 19th century. That narrative was that Australian Aborigines were the most primitive people on earth, and that they deserved to die out by Darwinian imperative. For decades, the government’s paternalism towards Aborigines was akin to palliative care.

The notion of Aboriginal Australians living a traditional lifestyle was that they were museum pieces and savage; remember, they did not get the vote until 1966, and until then they were wards of the State. The notion of Aboriginal Australians living a Western lifestyle was that they needed to be whitewashed and assimilated, and severed from their savage antecedents; hence the Stolen Generations.

Most people consciously realise that those attitudes are wrong; but the subterranean discomfort is still there. This was all ostensibly ancient history by the time of my childhood, but I have recognised in myself a sense of discomfort around Aboriginal Australians. These archetypes die hard, and they only die in sunlight.

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