Being multicultural and Australian – ethnic identity and white racial resentment

NSW Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi, in a book about her political experiences, details the racist hate she and her staff regularly receive from anonymous trolls and online sources. They all have the same hateful message – “go back to where you come from”. Originally from Pakistan, Senator Faruqi is an environmental engineer, has extensive experience in local government, and advocates for social justice policies.

However, the only issue that matters to the online pests is that she is Muslim. They make highly intelligent critiques of her policies, such as ‘go back to your sh*thole Pakistan”. When Senator Faruqi posted pictures of her trip to Brisbane, with photos of the river, buildings and skyline, one commenter helpfully observed – “before your husband blows it up.”

No politician is beyond criticism – but the attack on Senator Faruqi always involves questioning her motivations and identity. The policies of the Greens never seem to matter – waging an Islamophobic assault on her background is the one singular contribution by resentful Anglo Australians. As Senator Faruqi has explained:

Being born a person of colour outside Australia is a permanent mark that is used to render me, and people like me, irrelevant and voiceless in white-colonised countries. This rule doesn’t apply to white politicians who were born overseas and migrated here, like Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott.

Why is being a person of colour a permanent reminder of outsider status? Shouting the xenophobic phrase ‘go back to where you come from’ is an obnoxious accusation for the nonwhite person to ‘prove’ their loyalty. Wrapping ourselves in the Australian flag, speaking the Aussie vernacular and shouting abuse at the cricket may make racially resentful white Australians pleased, but it does nothing to contribute to the welfare of the community.

She is proud of her country of origin, and proud of her new home. She is not going anywhere.

Not black enough

Claire Coleman is an Indigenous novelist and activist, who has written about her experiences as a white-presenting indigenous Australian. She is of mixed English-Irish and Aboriginal ancestry, and identifies as Indigenous. She is asked one overwhelmingly repetitive question – actually, an accusation, by white Australian audiences; you are not black enough.

The people who accuse Coleman of ‘not being black enough’ are white, allocating to themselves the right to define who is indigenous or coloured. Australia, in similar ways to other settler colonial societies, implemented a ‘one-drop’ rule for racially classifying indigenous and non-indigenous people. Half-caste, quadroon, octoroon – fabricated gradations of bloodline ancestry to establish a racially stratified society were legislated.

One drop of blood – indigenous or black – was all that was needed to classify a person as coloured. While those laws may have officially passed, the ideology remains. Coleman elaborates how she is on the receiving end of accusations – why indigenous? Why don’t you identify as Anglo? Coleman tries to explain it for the benefit of Australian audiences – “I’m a Vegemite sandwich on brown bread.”

As Coleman elaborates:

No matter what happens to Aboriginal children of mixed race, no matter whose ‘fault’ it is that their skin is lighter than they would like, it’s not their fault. Nobody gets to choose their race. I am mixed-race because my family is and I did not choose my family.

Nor would I choose to be anything other than who I am.

Demanding DNA tests

Andrew Bolt, right wing commentator, accused white-presenting Indigenous Australians of perpetrating a racial scam – pretending to claim indigenous ancestry for financial gain from government institutions. Slandering indigenous persons as ‘race-fakers’ is a serious charge – and a group of indigenous activists successfully sued Bolt for defamation.

It is the height of perverse hypocrisy to accuse indigenous leaders of being ‘divisive’. This falsity rests on the cynical assumption that Anglo Australia is colour-blind. But everyday that white Australians shout their contempt at Senator Faruqi, or deny the indigenous ancestry of Claire Coleman, or scream ‘go back to where you come from’ at me from moving cars, they expose the racially-driven resentment of their worldview.

DNA ancestry tests are all well and good, but they are not instruments to buttress white racial resentment. If the only time you demand a DNA test is to purportedly ‘expose’ a ‘race-faker’, then you are not interested in questions of ancestry, but only in reinforcing your bigoted worldview. Empirical veracity is a commendable objective, but do not deploy it exclusively in the service of racial stratification.

In fact, DNA tests are a double-edged sword; the more we study about ethnicity and race, the more we realise how multicultural societies are. Even the Vikings, the epitome of white European conquering warriors, were not the ‘pure’ master race that white supremacists would have us believe. Projecting racially motivated fantasies back in time creates an imagined past that distorts our understanding of our ancestry, but also of our present circumstances.

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