Thursday, July 29, 2004

Shattering stereotypes

A year ago my wife and I took a road trip along the Murray. We were impressed by most of the country towns along the way, such as Echuca, Swan Hill and Mildura.

There was one town, though, which we chose to hurry through: Robinvale. We stopped there for lunch and immediately sensed the tension in the town. It didn't have that relaxed, laid back feeling that most Australian country towns have. The atmosphere wasn't helped by the groups of young men, of both Aboriginal and Tongan descent, milling about on the street corners.

So I wasn't surprised to read that the tensions in the town have spilled over into violent brawls between Aborigines and Tongans. Five Aborigines have been bashed in three separate attacks, shots have been fired and bomb threats made. The local Aborigines are worried that the (white) police in the town aren't able to protect them from groups of Tongans.

This is not just an example of multiculturalism gone wrong. It confounds our normal expectation of things, because we are used to the left liberal idea that society is a collection of competing wills, and that inequalities occur when one group asserts its will and becomes dominant and privileged over another group.

According to this left-liberal world view, it must be Anglo-Australians who have gained privilege and dominance by oppressing Aborigines, and the aim of politics must be to redress this "structural" inequality (of will).

What then happens is that left liberals operate with a very crude stereotype in which whites are presented only as oppressors and Aborigines only as victims. Furthermore, there is a very stong moral component to this kind of politics, because there is a clear sense of a deliberate and self-serving imposition of injustice, which requires guilt and atonement as morally correct responses.

All of these assumptions have been orthodox on the liberal left in Australia. But reality quickly dissolves the whole ideological apparatus. In Robinvale whites are clearly not the oppressors, but are, if anything, failed protectors of Aborigines. The stereotype which left liberals cling to so stubbornly, of the oppressor Anglo-Australian, simply can't be applied.

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