Sunday, March 05, 2006

Does ethnicity matter?

Does ethnicity matter? Is it important?

Right-wing (classical) liberals generally answer with a consistent “no”. Even if they feel some sense of ethnic identity themselves, they believe that a modern, autonomous individual should be shaped by his own reasoned choices. We don’t get to choose our ethnicity, so it is assumed (at best) that ethnicity is something of secondary rank within human nature, something of a sentimental nature, but not relevant to how we choose to organise our lives or our society.

Left-wing liberals are less consistent. Like all liberals, they believe that we are human because of a freedom to exercise our individual will. Therefore, they tend to read issues in terms of power relations: who is dominant in their will over others. Those tagged as dominant tend to lose moral legitimacy, as they are thought to have organised a privilege at the expense of the oppressed “other”.

What this means is that left-wing liberals will generally be harsher on ethnic groups tagged as “dominant” than on those they consider oppressed – especially if the “oppressed” group is thought to be rallying around ethnic discrimination to improve their status.

For a traditionalist conservative like myself, neither of these liberal views is adequate. A traditionalist would argue that ethnicity is important in creating a social context for individual life and in providing a core source of identity for individuals.

This is true whether we belong to a large, successful, “dominant” ethnic group (e.g. the Japanese), or a small, beleaguered one (e.g. an Amazonian rainforest tribe).

The importance of ethnicity is evident even amongst Western populations who are supposed to have transcended it some generations ago.

In my recent reading I have happened across the following three stories, each highlighting the continuing relevance of ethnicity in the West.

The first deals with an unhappy topic: the suicide rate amongst adoptees in Sweden. A large scale research project has found that children adopted from overseas are several times more likely to suicide than ethnic Swedes.

Why? One plausible explanation offered by the research is that it’s “not unusual for foreign adoptees to have greater problems in finding their identity in relation to their parents and society as a whole.” In other words, they suffer because they are less sure of who they are both in terms of their family and their ethnicity.

(After the Asian tsunami the UN discouraged adoption offers from Australia for precisely this reason.)

Then there is the following snippet of information from a science website:

If your spouse is genetically similar, you’re more likely to have a happy marriage ... Child abuse rates are lower when similarity is high, and you’ll also be more altruistic and willing to sacrifice more for someone who is more genetically like you, research shows.

This supports data produced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showing that divorce is twice as likely when spouses are born in different countries.

Finally, there was the newspaper report on housing trends in Melbourne. The featured family, the Gannons, were moving from West Brunswick to McKinnon for several reasons:

I saw it as a very good area to bring up a family, probably as opposed to where we live at the moment. Nothing against it, but you’ve got schools that aren’t that great, a big influx of migrants, we’re not that far away from Housing Commission, which affects the schooling, so that was a consideration.

All these cases involve serious issues: where to raise your family, marriage outcomes, mental health. In each case, ethnicity remains an important factor and can’t simply be relegated to a sentimental B-League, as some liberals might expect us to do.


  1. I would argue that ethnicity doesn't matter, except in the real world. I can't think of a more common example of people verbalising one thing - in an almost unthinking way - then acting to the contrary.

  2. Shane, exactly.

    I also posted this item at MajorityRights and liked this comment from Amalek,

    "When we see the popularity of plotting one’s family tree on the internet; when we behold adoptees desperately searching for their birth parents, often years after they thought they had forgotten them, because they want to show them their own children and delight in the phenotypical similarities; when we contemplate the elaborate lengths people go to in setting up reunions of a clan or those with the same surname; when we notice how the descendants of British immigrants in the New World and Down Under keep in touch, often minutely, with developments in the old country; when we observe how neighbourhoods fill up with those who look like each other… then we know that ‘ethnicity’ means a great deal, and that actions speak in the still small voice that is louder than the deafening demands of the race-mixers and cosmopolites.

    People want roots: a sense of connection with the past and their fellow men at home and abroad, a kinship in time and space, a heritage that is distinctive, not universalist."

  3. Amazing, this peice is everything you see around you formulated into an intelligent concise format.

    Good work.

  4. A simple thing to remember is that we all feel most comfortable with the familiar. That usually means the family/tradition of our upbringing. What we know to be true from those who raised us.

    Trying to amputate it from what defines you is rediculous.

    I ask you, what defines & secures us MORE than that which has been with us the longest. Such as ancestory & ethnicity? A concrete identity one can build upon from a trusted history.

    Liberals want us to constantly re-create ourselves like the many trends we see on tv each week.



  5. Mark says:

    "People want roots: a sense of connection with the past and their fellow men at home and abroad, a kinship in time and space, a heritage that is distinctive, not universalist."

    Amen to that. I was beginning to think there was something wrong with me for thinking this way. I was heart-broken during the Cronulla riots. As a former resident of Sydney's south-west I felt sickened to realise the ever expanding tidal wave of migrants was now swallowing up the beach. People were losing their homes, communities, identities and history - so sad. Most people of the general south-west just up'ed and moved. The Shire folk were thankfully more brave and had something worth fighting for. But in time they will be overtaken too.

    I don't like where Australia is going both in terms of its ethnic mix and the global trade "race to the bottom". I am looking for a different party to vote for, or to get involved in starting a new one.

    I have nothing against other races and have even lived in houses of mixed race - they are generally all lovely people. I just want to feel connected to a race, rather than a dwindling soon-to-be minority.

    Thanks to Mark Richardson for this blog site.

    Blacktown, Sydney.

  6. Steve, an excellent comment.

    I don't think there can be much effective resistance until more "political types" accept the kind of view you have laid out.

    We aren't quite there yet, but I think at least some progress has been made.

    So please hang in there whilst numbers grow.

    Hope to hear from you again!