Racist Scaremongering as Social and Political Control

On the 8 August 2018, only four days after I published my last post on the social construction of migrant youth deviance in public spaces (Zevallos 2018a), there was an incident whipping up racist fear of ‘Sudanese gangs’ in the area where I went to school as a youngster. I had flown home for a workshop and then visited my family. They told me how the local gossip grapevine and local media were misreporting the event. Initial word-of-mouth said that between 200 to 300 Sudanese youth gathered at Watergardens Shopping Centre and were starting trouble, throwing rocks at police. While Nine News (2018) reported 20 to 30 kids vandalised property, ABC News (2018) reported up to 50 young people had come for a fight ‘over girlfriends.’ Riot police confronted the youth, and blocked the area. The next day, my family saw police on horses patrolling the Coles supermarket carpark (!).

All of this to stop Black children from gathering together in a public place.

In a week where we saw Nazi language used in the Australian Parliament, let’s delve into the use of scaremongering as a social control mechanism that reinforces political strategy.

Gender and White Privilege

The ABC quotes Achol Marial, secretary of youth affairs for the South Sudanese Community Association in Victoria, who assures that the girls involved will be spoken to. She says: ‘We will do the best that we can to get those particular young girls on board and just advise them a little bit on how to behave.’ If the origin of this event was a fight over ‘girlfriends’ and girls are going to be reprimanded, this is a matter of patriarchy, not gangs. We have boys fighting over girls, and girls being expected to be gatekeepers of masculinity, which puts girls in a no-win situation.

If the origin was young people fighting, then this is still patriarchy, where violence is seen as a normal way of settling disputes. Either way: gender inequality riled up the kids, not ‘gangs.’

As for the number of young people who faced riot police? Fifty Sudanese-Australian youth is hardly a ‘gang.’ Moreover, there are 17,031 Sudan-born people in Australia and a further 7,699 born in South Sudan (ABS 2016). So out of 24,730 people, this means 0.2% of Sudanese people were involved in an unequal standoff with police, escalted by the decision to use riot tactics for a few children with rocks. Does this seem like a reasonable and proportionate use of tax-payer state force?

Whatever the case of how the Sudanese-Australian youth came together, when White-Australian youths gather en mass and wreak havoc, there are no arrests based on their race. Perhaps this is most infamously illustrated by Corey Worthington, a White Australian boy who infamously threw a street party with 500 other White youth when he was 16 years old. Although this party involved ten times the number of people in the Watergardens incident, it did not end in condemnations of White people. Instead, Worthington was showered with attention, earning money for interviews and given a job earning $10,000 for event promotions (Hastie 2008). He’s stayed in the limelight for mundane reasons in years since (his wedding, for example; see Fuda 2015). He even had a much-publicised ‘comeback’ opportunity on reality TV this year, a decade after he helped trash a residential street (Moran 2018).

While many people found Worthington a nuisance at the time, White people were not vilified as a result, as is the case when small numbers of Sudanese youth engage in altercations. This is the epitome of White privilege.

The way in which police and media handle public interactions with Sudanese-Australian youth has real impacts on their enjoyment of public spaces and their sense of safety in other places. White privilege protects the actions of individual White people, like Worthington, from being an indictment of their race. Educator, Dr Peggy McIntosh (1989), includes three examples of White privilege in her original conceptualisation that stand in stark contrast to the experience of Sudanese youth:

  • I can be pretty sure that my neighbours in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me

  • I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed 

  • If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS [tax department] audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race. [My emphasis]

Speaking about a spike in racism against Sudanese-Australians, Victorian Police Detective Senior Sergeant Stuart Bateson says:

‘Young African men say when they walk through a shopping centre they can see the fear in people’s eyes. Young university students say they have hopped on trains and half the passengers in the carriage get up and move. They no longer even try to get into mainstream entertainment venues as they are always refused entry. There is a whole community that feels it is being excluded. I really don’t think that is how Melbourne works – we need to wind back some of the rhetoric.’ (Silverster 2018)

This entire rhetoric needs to be scrapped. Young Black youth are not the problem. There is no out-of-control ‘gang’ problem in Australia, just a normalisation of scaremongering (Zevallos 2018b). Sudanese people and other African-Australians make up a tiny minority of crime statistics. White people make up the majority of crime (Chingaipe 2017).

Public spaces should be safe and comfortable for all. Constructions of deviance reinforce the norms of whiteness and ensure that racism structures our public places. But how can Sudanese-Australians, or other people of colour feel safe as scaremongering continues to lead national politics?

Resurgence of the White Australia Policy

On 14 August 2018, Queensland Senator Fraser Anning delivered his maiden speech at the Australian Parliament, even though he was elected on a technicality and despite the fact that only 19 people voted for him (Urquhart 2018). As a member for Katter’s Australian Party, Anning called for a ban on Muslim immigration, an end to all ‘non-English speaking immigrants from the Third World,’ and ‘the final solution to the immigration problem…. (SBS News 2018).

The phrase ‘the final solution’ was first used by Hitler’s lieutenant Hermann Goering in July 1941, two years into World War II and it’s seen as the ‘commencement’ of the Holocaust (Collett 2018). Writing to Heinrich Himmler’s deputy Reinhard Heydrich, Goering gave Heydrich the go-ahead to ‘the final solution of the Jewish question,’ beginning the genocide of 6 million Jewish people, as well as Roma people, disabled people and homosexual people (USHMM n.d. a, b, c).

Given the swift backlash, including Senator Penny Wong’s stirring rebuke (below), Anning and his party leader, Senator Bob Katter, have both denied that the use of ‘the final solution’ was intentional (Karp 2018). Yet the deliberate use of this phrase, juxtaposing ‘the immigration problem’ in 2018 to the ‘Jewish question’ from 1941 is unquestionably an embrace of Nazism.

Anning also praised the White Australia policy, which restricted ‘non-White’ immigration to Australia from the time of invasion (1788) to 1973. The White Australia policy speaks to immigration, but its doctrine mutually reinforced the genocidal and paternalistic policies that justified land dispossession, removal of children and murder of Aboriginal people for the past 230 years to the modern-day (cf. Tatz 1999; Wahlquist 2017; Zevallos 2013).

While immigration was expanded from the mid-1970s to the late 1990s, a steady rise in mainstream White supremacy has shaped national politics since the early 1990s. Pauline Hanson, Anning’s former party leader (he was a member of the One Nation party from November 2017 to January 2018), inflamed racist policies to restrict Asian immigration in the 1990s and then Muslims in the 2000s. Her influence has shaped both Labor and the Liberal’s treatment of refugees since 2001 to the present, with the excising of islands and indefinite internment of refugees and asylum seekers in offshore prisons (cf. Phillips 2013; Zevallos 2012, 2017). This is White supremacy in Australia, perpetually in the heartland of national politics.

As Yorta Yorta man, Daniel James (2018) puts it – if Nazism is now openly used in Parliament in 2018, during a period of relative economic stability, where will White supremacy take us when the economy suffers?

Anning’s speech contains numerous incorrect statements:

  • most ‘Muslims’ arrive in Australia with a criminal history. This is not true – they would not have qualified for entry if that was the case. What’s more, ‘there is no obvious compelling evidence’ saying that Muslim refugees are prone to extremist violence or crime (Jones and McGarrity 2018);
  • Anning links Muslim immigration to terrorism, even though the number of arrested and convicted people under terrorism charges – 26 men – is far lower than the threat of White supremacist extremism. The latter has been a persistent problem since the 1930s (Harris-Hogan 2017) and one Nazi organisation alone has 300 members (Menah 2018), let alone various other recent arrests and convictions, including murder (Nathan 2018);
  • Anning says: ‘We have Black African Muslim gangs terrorising Melbourne.’ This is an attempt to liken ‘gangs’ to ‘terrorism’ even though neither label apply to the most troubling patterns of extremism in Australia; and
  • Anning makes various other unfounded claims, such as migrants stealing local jobs, making reference to the 457 visa, which in fact no longer exists (Koziol, Peatling and McCauley 2018).

Melbourne and New South Wales are both heading into state elections in early 2019, and the federal election will take place before 19 May 2019. Racism has always been a feature of our national fabric, impacting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people most. Right now, Indigenous people along with Sudanese youth and other African-Australians, plus Muslim-Australians, bear the brunt of this scaremongering. I’ve previously argued that the cyclical racist moral panics are seen as ‘normal,’ because White people in general take-it-for-granted that some groups should always be outsiders. Non-Indigenous people may come to accept that if their ancestors ‘copped’ racism, and they are now relatively unaffected, then the new groups of migrants being targeted will learn to cope too. But racism is not a rite of passage of which to be proud. These attitudes only speak to the nefarious ways in which whiteness is maintained as the norm.

Let’s go back to two more of McIntosh’s examples of White privilege:

  • I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented

  • I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge,” I will be facing a person of my race.

When Sudanese-Australian and other African-Australian youth cannot see images of themselves in the paper represented in any other context other than in a narrative of criminality, they suffer because racism is the norm. When these Black migrants cannot expect to have policy-makers advocate for their interests, then they cannot feel safe and at peace in their adopted homeland.

Questioning White supremacy

The Sudanese/African gangs narrative is the latest in a long, but steady, set of steps we’ve taken as a nation back towards Nazi ideology in our highest office. If we are to own up to the fact that the forced removal of Aboriginal children, police brutality and other acts of cultural genocide of Indigenous people, then we cannot deny that White supremacy continues to shape Australia. Add to that the denial of human rights of refugees, despite international law, and this is who we are, who we’ve always been, but it not need to be who we continue to be.

Change starts at the local level, not just in Parliament. Next time you see a local media report that misconstrues and inflates the actions of Black migrant youth, or other people of colour, consider a few questions:

  • Does the article vilify, or otherwise characterise the actions of a few individuals as representative of an entire racial or cultural group?
  • Does the writer belong to the racial minority group in question?
  • Has the writer presented a balanced viewpoint, including interviews with the individuals involved in the event being reported?
  • Does the article put the incident into context, such as quoting the number (not just the proportion) of individuals involved? For example, 50 Sudanese youth out of 24,730 Sudanese people in Australia?
  • Does the headline or article make reference to ‘gangs’ (or ‘terrorist’) as a way to describe a minority group? Do you think this is acceptable? If so, when was the last time you saw an article talking about ‘White gangs’?
  • Does reading about the violence by White individuals make you afraid to be around White people? If not, why would you think it’s reasonable, good and ethical to be afraid of minority people based on a media report?
  • Do you think all White people should be deported from Australia when a few White people commit a crime, irrespective of how long they and their families and ancestors have been in this country?
  • Do you think it’s moral and reflective of your good character to have Nazis representing national affairs? If yes, stop reading my blog. If not, then:
    • start a conversation with a White person you know to tell them this is unacceptable and stick with the conversation until you have robustly defended people’s democratic right to live free from racist persecution and while you’re at it talk to them and other non-Indigenous people about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander soverignity;
    • speak up in public discussions when you see such news items and speeches in public office;
    • put in a complaint to your local representative;
    • join the next protest against fascism; and
    • VOTE AGAINST WHITE SUPREMACISTS AND FASCISM AT YOUR UPCOMING ELECTION.

References

ABC News (2018) ‘Police Car Damaged, Rocks Thrown by Youths During Fight ‘About Girlfriends’ in Melbourne,’ ABC News, 8 August.

ABS (2016) ‘Census 2016, Country of Birth of Person by Sex (LGA),’ ABS.Stat. Canberra: ABS. Online resource last accessed 19 August 2018.

Chingaipe, S. (2017) ‘Race, Stereotyping and Melbourne’s Apex Gang,’ The Saturday Paper, 25 February.

Collett, M. (2018) ‘Final Solution: Here’s the Nazi History of the Phrase Used by Fraser Anning,’ ABC News, 16 August.

Fuda, S. (2015) ‘Australia’s Teen Party Boy Corey Worthington is All Grown Up After Marrying Mel Borg,’ The Daily Telegraph, 20 November.

Harris-Hogan, S. (2017) Violent Extremism in Australia: An Overview. Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, no. 491. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. Last accessed online 19 August.

Hastie, D., A. Walliker, K. Collier and C. Crawford (2008) ‘Corey Worthington Starts to Pocket Riches,’ The Daily Telegraph, 17 January.

James, D. (2018) ‘Put Your Dog Whistles Away, The “Final Solution” is Here,’ Indigenous X, 14 August.

Jones, C. and N. McGarrity (2018) ‘FactCheck Q&A: have any refugees who came to Australia gone on to be terrorists?,’ The Conversation, 30 November.

Karp, P. (2018) ‘MPs Widely Condemn Fraser Anning’s “Final solution” Speech,’ The Guardian, 15 August.

Koziol, M., S. Peatling and D. McCauley (2018) ‘Fact Check: Testing the Claims in Fraser Anning’s First Speech to Parliament,’ Sydney Morning Herald, 15 August.

Menagh, J. (2018) ‘Aryan Nations White Supremacist Couple Guilty of Bludgeoning Man to Death in Insurance Plot,’ ABC News, 12 March.

McIntosh, P. (1989) ‘White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,’ Peace and Freedom Magazine, July/August. Last accessed online 19 August 2018: https://nationalseedproject.org/white-privilege-unpacking-the-invisible-knapsack

Moran, R. (2018) ‘Reformed ‘party boy’ Corey Worthington Makes Debut on Australian Ninja Warrior,’ Sydney Morning Herald, 11 July.

Nathan, J. (2018) ‘Antipodean Resistance: The Rise and Goals of Australia’s New Nazis,’ ABC Religion & Ethics, 20 April.

Nine News (2018) ‘Police “Confident” Arrests to Come After Gang Fight,’ Nine News, 9 August.

Phillips, M. (2013) ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Excising Australia From the Migration Zone,’ The Conversation, 17 May.

SBS News (2018) ‘Full text: Senator Fraser Anning’s maiden speech,’ SBS News, 15 August.

Silvester, J. (2018) ‘Crime Gangs: Facts, Fiction and Furphies,’ The Age, 18 August.

Tatz, C. (1999) Genocide in Australia. Canberra: AIATSIS.

USHMM (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) (n.d. a) ‘Genocide of European Roma (Gypsies), 1939-1945,’ Holocaust Encyclopedia. Washington: USHMM.

USHMM (n.d. b) ‘The Murder of the Handicapped,’ Holocaust Encyclopedia. Washington: USHMM.

USHMM (n.d. c) ‘Persecution of Homosexuals in the Third Reich,’ Holocaust Encyclopedia. Washington: USHMM.

Urquhart, C. (2018) ’19 People Got This Bloke a $200k Job,’ News.com.au, 15 August.

Wahlquist, C. (2017) ‘Map of Massacres of Indigenous People Reveals Untold History of Australia, Painted in Blood,’ The Guardian, 5 July.

Zevallos, Z. (2012) ‘After Years in Limbo, the New Australian Asylum Seeker Program Promises to be More Humane,’ The Other Sociologist, 19 June.

Zevallos, Z. (2013) ‘Paternalism, Colonialism and Indigenous Education,’ The Other Sociologist, 23 November.

Zevallos, Z. (2017) ‘Australia’s Unfair and Inhumane Refugee Policies,’ The Other Sociologist, 01 May.

Zevallos, Z. (2018a) ‘The Social Construction of Migrant Youth Deviance in Public Spaces,’ The Other Sociologist, 04 August.

Zevallos, Z. (2018b) ‘Racist Moral Panic,’ The Other Sociologist, 25 January.

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