Opinion: Under the ‘Bogan’ Tree
 Baw Baw Opinion  

By // 14:35, Sunday 12 February 2012

An opinion piece by Fabian Cannizzo.

First published: The Warragul Citizen Issue 3, December 12 2011. (Pages 4-5.)
Published online: 12 February 2012. 

Tattered jeans, unclean, flannelette and obscene, overtanned mucho man. Fingers point – the Bogan.

There is something curious gnashing beneath popular culture in Australia. TWC Columnist Jackson Hadley asked “why is Australia seen as a country that others can move to and be protected in, when so many Australian citizens are, from my experience, racist Bogans?” (The Warragul Citizen, Issue 1, ‘Ideas from the Coffee Mug: Racism’ – June 10, 2011). Though Mr Hadley’s question directs attention towards the injustice of racial bigotry, it risks another kind of prejudice – that of simplifying the problem.


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Racism is not simply a matter of the ‘racists’ versus the rest, but is more complex. Racism has been built on a culture of simplification – of a line drawn between ‘us’ and ‘them’, which is entirely unjustified. However, Jackson’s demand that “all racists should get out of MY country” risks the same vilification that racists use against, so-called, ‘non-Australians’.

It is not simply enough to acknowledge racism and distance ourselves from its effects. A history of refusing to engage in the hardships facing Aborigines in Australia – and other countries – has bred a culture of uncertainty, fear and resentment. Unlike Kevin Rudd’s official apology to the Stolen Generation, a supportive speech given by Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson was met with protests, calls of “shame!” and people walking out. There was clearly a lot of fear towards acknowledging the wrongdoing of past Australians and the responsibility of present Australians towards their Indigenous counterparts. However, it would be rash and insensitive to suggest that this sense of fear, or caution, was an ‘Australia-wide’ phenomenon. Nor is it helpful to simply vilify those who were at odds with the actions of the former Prime Minister.

Racism does not occur randomly. Its emergence is related to real economic and political struggles, in which some individuals are labelled as scapegoats to bear the blame for the hardship of others. For some, racism is a mechanism for coping with emotional stress. For others, racism is a tool to gain political favour and better or protect their economic status. For yet others, racism becomes part of their identity, where the most offensive forms of racism are experienced. However what all these strains of racial prejudice have in common is that they blame their condition on someone else, by reducing sentient beings to a pejorative term. Let us not do the same!

If racism operates through labelling others as somehow ‘different,’ less than human or less worthy, then applying the same methods to racism will only mask its very unique causes by herding them under the ‘Bogan’ tree. This will assure the resurgence of racist sentiments when economic and political conflicts resurface. Meanwhile, the social systems which harbour racist ideologies will go unchecked. Whatever the path to managing racism in Australia, it is clear that we must acknowledge the complexity of the issue and not simply cast off racists as un-Australian.

Let us not be ignorant of those we perceive to be ignorant, for ignorance will multiply.

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