Whites rule. Got it?

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Ruby Hamad, ‘White nostalgia: when “timeless” fantasies turn out to be incredibly racist’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 07.09.15

Two years ago, a lengthy Financial Times essay predicted that the discovery of some disturbing colonial-era photographs would signal the imminent end of “colonial nostalgia.”

Unearthed in what was once the Dutch East Indies and is now Indonesia, they included many “timeless” images associated with the bygone days of empire; young girls in flowing white dresses, men riding elephants, women tending out-of-place flower gardens.

But alongside these representations of “lost white paradise,” were gruesome pictures of colonialism’s less pleasant side. In one, Dutch soldiers smile for the camera shortly after gunning down an entire village. Dead bodies are clearly visible in the frame.

Europeans (and Australians) have long regarded colonialism with romanticism. But images such as these meant the “western emotional memory of colonialism is [finally] changing”, wrote Simon Kuper in the Financial Times essay.

As it turns out, Kuper’s optimism was premature. Colonial nostalgia is back and Taylor Swift is the latest artist to immortalise it in her new video ‘Wildest Dreams’, where she plays a glamorous Old Hollywood movie star falling for her (married) leading man on location in Africa.

‘Wildest Dreams’ is a homage to old films like ‘African Queen’, which were themselves a love letter to colonialism. As such, while there are lions and giraffes aplenty, there is little room for black people. Unsurprisingly, many Africans are unimpressed. Writing for NPR, James Kassaga Arinaitwe and Viviane Rutabingwa explain why:

“(Swift) should absolutely be able to use any location as a backdrop. But she packages our continent as the backdrop for her romantic songs devoid of any African person or storyline, and she sets the video in a time when the people depicted by Swift and her co-stars killed, dehumanised and traumatised millions of Africans.”

The video’s director, Joseph Kahn, who pointed out the multi-racial makeup of the video’s crew, said he limited the number of black extras for purposes of historical accuracy. “This is not a video about colonialism,” he protested.

Translation: this is not a video intentionally about colonialism. Nonetheless, Kahn has “accidentally” perpetuated the colonial interpretation of Africa as nothing more than a dry landscape of magnificent animals and dramatic sunsets. It’s not so much that there aren’t enough black people in it, it’s that they’re regarded as utterly inconsequential.

Local populations don’t have to be omitted entirely for colonial nostalgia to be in effect. The 2013 Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, consisting of mostly white models in exotic locales, did include people of colour but they were used interchangeably with animals and landscapes. One model poses with a spear-wielding African man, another reclines on a raft while being chauffeured by a Chinese peasant.

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It’s as if people of colour serve no role other than to highlight the individuality of westerners. Whiteness is centralised and the colonial myth lives on: that colonialism was really not so bad after all, and that it had the blessings of locals who did little more than stand around in colourful costumes smiling beatifically.

This is the power of colonial nostalgia – it has allowed the west to completely reimagine its own history. When the truth is too inconvenient, it is simply ignored.

‘Banished’, a BBC mini-series about the First Fleet that screened earlier this year famously included not a single Aboriginal person. Producer Jimmy McGovern claimed it would have been too difficult to get the portrayal of Aboriginal people right given the two-week timeframe of the series.

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Translation: Aboriginal people had to be left out because including them would mean telling a completely different story – not one of unlucky convicts and plucky explorers braving the treacherous ocean to find “nothing but bush” on the other end, but one of Aboriginal resistance and the beginnings of genocide.

Of course, it’s not surprising that artists neglect to portray the full truth of colonialism. They take their cues from a society that has, in general, proven to be nothing if not adept at absolving itself of any need for truthful recollection of its own brutal history.

Winston Churchill, who once said that Arabs have no more claim to land in Palestine than dogs, and who presided over some shocking atrocities in the colonies, has somehow been recast as a loveable old bear who went to war “for the arts.” Lachlan Macquarie, NSW’s fifth governor who has a city street named after him, is remembered as a great “colony builder.” He was reasonably nice to Aboriginal people – as long as they didn’t show any inclination to independence. This is what happened when they did:

“In 1816 Macquarie’s paternalism was tested when hostile Aboriginal people attacked settlers along the Hawkesbury–Nepean River. His reluctant response was to send a punitive military expedition with orders to take as many prisoners as possible, shoot any who resisted or attempted to flee and hang their bodies in the trees as a warning to survivors.”

Hostile Aboriginals. Attacked. Reluctant. Exactly whose land was being invaded here?

This is the reality that white colonial nostalgia obscures. Whether or not Swift, or Sports Illustrated, or the BBC intended to glorify colonialism, that’s exactly what they’ve done. Massacres, exploitation, and enslavement were not unfortunate by-products of colonialism – they were its modus operandi and what made the western world as we know it possible.

This uncomfortable truth must be reckoned with if we are to have any hope of putting the past behind us. You cannot isolate the “good parts” of colonialism from the brutality, and then expect people of colour to accept this romanticisation of a period in history whose impacts we are still reeling from. Not in your wildest dreams.

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What provokes a convict spirit and fills it with the desire for revenge?

Another Aussie, any Aussie, who refuses to ‘know their place.’

‘I see an independent spirit in your eyes. Go away or I will crush it.’

The same disease – ‘tall poppy syndrome’: ‘I’m on my knees looking up. I will ensure that you kneel, not stand, beside me.’

The origins of this lie in the underbelly of a developing English capitalism in the 18th century – authoritarian, exploitative, brutal.

Edward Backhouse ‘A chain gang, convicts going to work near Sidney [sic], New South Wales’, etching, 1843, National Library of Australia. Text below image: ‘You may save or print this image for research and study. If you wish to use it for any other purposes, you must declare your Intention to Publish.’

Edward Backhouse ‘A chain gang, convicts going to work near Sidney [sic], New South Wales’, etching, 1843, National Library of Australia. Text below image: ‘You may save or print this image for research and study. If you wish to use it for any other purposes, you must declare your Intention to Publish.’

Branding of a convict during transportation to Australia in the 19th century.

Branding of a convict during transportation to Australia in the 19th century.

‘Salt bath’ torture of a convict after being flogged, during transportation to Australia in the 19th century.

‘Salt bath’ torture of a convict after being flogged, during transportation to Australia in the 19th century.

 

A convict ploughing team breaking up ground at a farm at Port Arthur, Tasmania, 1926

A convict ploughing team breaking up ground at a farm at Port Arthur, Tasmania, 1926

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aboriginal prisoners on Rottnest Island, 1920s

Aboriginal prisoners on Rottnest Island, Western Australia, 1920s

An Aboriginal chain gang, c. 1900, going to work at Wyndham, Wester Australia. The guard is on the extreme right.

An Aboriginal chain gang, c. 1900, going to work at Wyndham, Western Australia. The guard is on the extreme right.

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Images from top: 1st/2nd/3rd/4th/5th/6th

White Australians are egalitarian – they treat non-natives the same as the natives

Ozzie culture, limbo culture

Ozzie culture, limbo culture

‘Five questions the Abbott government needs to answer on the people smuggling payment claims’, Sarah Whyte, The Sydney Morning Herald, 15.06.15

Last week asylum seekers and the Indonesian police chief claimed Australian officials handed money over to a crew of people smugglers to return a boat carrying 65 asylum seekers to Indonesia. The Indonesian government has now launched an investigation and the Abbott government is facing increased pressure from Labor and international organisations to explain what happened. Here are five questions the government should answer about the allegations:

1. Did Australian officials hand over payments to a crew of people smugglers?

Initially Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop denied the allegations, saying “no” when asked if Australian authorities paid people smugglers to return to Indonesia. But on Friday and again on Sunday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott refused to confirm or deny whether or not the allegations were true. All ministers have since fallen in line, quoting “operational matters” when asked about the allegations.

2. If the allegations are true, is this the first time that money has been given to people smugglers by Australian authorities and is this legal?

Immigration and law experts have said giving people smugglers money would be “unprecedented”, as it could constitute a form of people smuggling or bribery. Officials are well protected by the sweeping Migration Act, but the act says nothing about offering payments to criminal gangs such as people smugglers. If the payments were made, Australia could have also breached its obligations under the Convention on Transnational and Organised Crime.

3. Why did Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop give two different answers to whether the allegations were true only days apart?

Both cabinet ministers denied the payments took place last week, but have since changed their tune. On Sunday Mr Dutton said he would not comment on “specific operations”. Ms Bishop has now suggested Indonesia is to blame for failing to enforce sovereignty over its own borders, refusing to deny the allegations.

4. Is Australia’s international ASIS spy agency involved in the payments?

The Daily Telegraph claims that Australian spies may have been involved in the payments. ASIS falls under the responsibility of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and is Australia’s most secretive spy agency – even more secretive than Operation Sovereign Borders.

5. Will the Abbott government fully co-operate with a potential Auditor-General’s investigation, including handing over operational details not available to the public?

Labor has urgently written to the Auditor-General to investigate whether the government has used taxpayer money to fund criminal activities. The Auditor-General has the ability to independently review the use and spending of taxpayers’ money by the government.

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Club Oz Party Land

Michael Leunig, The Sydney Morning Herald, 07-08.11.09

Michael Leunig, The Sydney Morning Herald, 07-08.11.09

‘DJ Kevin’ refers to ex-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, but the names of other Prime Ministers before and after him could easily have been used.

This badge from 1910 was produced by the Australian Natives’ Association, comprising Australian-born whites. Prime Minister Alfred Deakin was a member.

This badge from 1910 was produced by the Australian Natives’ Association, comprising Australian-born whites. Prime Minister Alfred Deakin was a member.

BigBrother

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Images: middle/bottom

The Ebola crisis – exemplary of the sickness of a mean, myopic, racist culture

Crisis: Kenyan medical workers show how to handle an infected Ebola patient on a portable negative pressure bed. Photo: AFP

Crisis: Kenyan medical workers show how to handle an infected Ebola patient on a portable negative pressure bed. Photo: AFP

‘Washington wants 100 Australians to run Ebola hospitals in West Africa’

The Sydney Morning Herald, 01.11.14, David Wroe and Dan Harrison

Washington has asked Australia to build three Ebola field hospitals in West Africa and staff them with about 100 doctors and support workers as part of a stronger global effort to tackle the crisis.

Fairfax Media has learnt that as part of a third and much more specific request to the Abbott government, Washington has also suggested Australia put a further $30 million towards the United Nations Ebola fund and provide airlift capabilities such as helicopters, as well as ground vehicles, emergency communications equipment and logistics.

But, most notably, it is asking for a specific contribution of health workers. For several weeks, the Abbott government has baulked at sending Australian medicos, citing a lack of arrangements to provide treatment to any Australian who might contract the lethal virus.

The US request is for Australia to build and staff three treatment facilities with 100 beds each. It is understood that to staff each hospital around the clock would require nine doctors and 24 support staff such as nurses, taking the total to about 100 health workers for the three facilities.

Washington is also offering for Australians to be trained at a facility the US Department of Defence has set up in Monrovia, Liberia – one of the two worst-affected countries along with Sierra Leone.

And it is offering to co-ordinate training and preparation through its main health agency, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.

Fairfax Media understands the request, which took the view that Australia is “well positioned” to make such a contribution, was made on Thursday through the Australian Embassy in Washington and has been received by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

It is also understood that the National Security Committee of Cabinet will further consider any Ebola contribution next week, and that a decision may be made soon after that.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Friday that the government was “continuing to discuss with our friends and partners, including the USA and the UK, our response to addressing the situation in West Africa”.

Mr Abbott told Parliament during the week: “I certainly do not rule out Australia doing more.”

Australia has so far contributed about $18 million towards the crisis.

Washington has been ratcheting up the pressure on the international community to make greater contributions to solving the crisis, which has infected nearly 14,000 people and killed about 5000, making it the biggest outbreak in history.

The CDCP estimates that the number of cases in the two worst-affected nations, Sierra Leone and Liberia, is doubling every 20 days, and by January could reach 1.4 million.

Speaking from the United States, where she has been meeting with UN and US officials, Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said the request showed the Abbott government had done “nowhere near enough to respond to this serious global crisis.”

“If the Abbott government is serious about helping to get this crisis under control, there isn’t a moment to lose – it must immediately act on requests from our international partners to step up and do more,” Ms Plibersek said.

The White House also confirmed last week that President Barack Obama and Mr Abbott had discussed “additional commitments” in a telephone call last Wednesday.

After touring the Ebola-hit nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea this week, the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, took aim at some nations that she said were not doing their share to help combat the outbreak.

“This is a crisis that is so vast, with needs so great, with potential consequences so dire that no country can afford to stand on the sidelines. A few are doing a lot. But a lot are doing very little, or nothing at all,” Ms Power said.

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The Ebola Crisis – Exemplary of the Sickness of a Mean, Myopic, Racist Culture

The Sun-Herald 26.10.14

The Sun-Herald 26.10.14

From the editorial in the same issue:

‘(Prime Minister) Tony Abbott is unlikely to be a fan of the It’s Time jingle, which was dusted off and replayed many times as the nation farewelled Gough Whitlam this week, but he needs to start singing a similar song. In his case, it’s time to dump or significantly recalibrate his still overly generous paid parental leave scheme.

Action is needed, but the Prime Minister seems paralysed: unable or unwilling either to take the decisive step to kill the initiative he so unfortunately labelled his “signature policy” …

The proposal, which originally offered parents on incomes up to $150,000 full salary replacement for 26 weeks plus super, has always been a difficult fit with the government’s mantra of ending the entitlement mentality. …’

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