A racist claims to not be a racist when the racist says he or she believes we are all one race, the human race. I make the same claim. The difference between the racist’s use of the phrase and mine, is my context is not the same. I recognise difference, the need for cultural intelligence and I have an understanding of history and accept in some circumstances affirmative action is required.
I’d heard rumours the “Bolt laws” are to be repealed and my attention was drawn to an article in The Guardian, titled ‘Bolt laws’: should it be unlawful to insult people because of their race? presenting for and against arguments.
The balance here is preventing “racial” vilification while allowing free speech, something I’ve never quite been able to settle in my own mind.
I made the (quick) comment reproduced below:
I’m caught between the devil and the deep blue sea on this one.
As much as I quite clearly despise racial vilification and worry about the power of the media “educating” people into hatred via such manipulative techniques as engendering moral panic in the community, I also believe in free speech.
Where does one draw the line between ensuring penalties for what can amount to endangerment of lives (racial hatred inspired physical attacks, for example) and ensuring adequate and constructive discussion about life in a diverse world? Cultural Intelligence requires we actually discuss difference, but if we stifle discussion, we potentially stifle understanding and progress.
People like Bolt are a danger to the community, peddling hatred and nastiness rather than understanding and acceptance of diversity.
The best solution for humanity is one we are perhaps yet to determine.
Eric of Altona responded as follows:
I think the first part of your comment is brilliant. But saying Andrew Bolt is dangerous and peddles hatred and nastiness is not really fair.
If you listen to his shows and read his articles (yes I know I’m asking too much) you’ll see that he doesn’t like anyone who uses racial division. He always makes the point that we humans all belong to one race which is true.
And btw he himself is a first generation Australian migrant.
There is the problem right there, you see. In my experience people are very good at using this “we are all one race, the human race” as a defence against a charge of racism. “Look, I’m good, I accept the scientific evidence!”
I’ve read “Am I Black Enough For You” by Anita Heiss (if you are interested in my review, it is here) which Anita wrote as a result of the article about her and other Aboriginal people by Bolt. The article resulted in a court case that Bolt lost. I highly recommend Anita’s book. In my view, Bolt should not have won the case.
When racists claim we are all one race, they are not speaking of DNA or other scientific findings. What they are really saying is “I believe we are all one race so I can demand we all be like ME!” In other words, if you are different, too bad.
The problem with this is a little thing called HISTORY. It is not that long ago people with really dark skin were considered non-human. I don’t think I need to provide links, we all know that historical fact. We can’t wipe out the results of that history overnight and say, “Oh, but I accept you as the same as me now so you have to BE the same as me.” While science now tells us we are all one race, science and society are two different things. Black people in various locations around the world were not considered the same race at all. They were treated as a different race. That treatment carries into the current day, irrespective of science: it is the social aspects, not the scientific ones, that require redress. The world of science may have accepted the facts, but society has a long way to go.
The following is written by an American and while in Australia we are not quite so into profiling, the sentiment is applicable to the above context.
I do not wish to get into whether or not race actually exists scientifically or not, because my approach is how it is used as a social construct. Racial profiling is here and ever present. Our census is based on it. Nearly every form we fill in for political, educational, financial or health surveys have some link to race and or ethnicity.
Irrespective of skin colour, there is the question of culture. Even Caucasians have a multitude of different cultures, making us, gee, DIFFERENT. Cultural Intelligence is the study of understanding, appreciating and respecting cultural differences irrespective of such minor DNA variations as skin colour. My apologies to those who feel my use of the word “minor” inappropriate, but from a scientific perspective, it is very small.
Culture also has an historical perspective. Even today many cultures are still what we westerners may consider very traditional. People relocate and hopefully adapt and assimilate, but while they are members of the same human race, they are different – their culture is different, their history is different, their way of being is different.
Affirmative action is a method of remediation of aspects of history many people love to argue about. I have no intention of arguing about it today. I will (yet again) let Tim Wise present the case because he does it so damn well!
When anyone says to me they believe we are all the one race, the human race: I wait. I wait to see what they say next. Do I see them recognising other aspects, cultural and historical, or do they go on a rant along the lines of “we are all the same and none need any special treatment“? Equality does not mean sameness. Not in relation to “race”, gender or any other of the grounds for discrimination we humans love to find.
Let’s look at the original question asked in The Guardian, “should it be unlawful to insult people because of their race?”. If the answer is “Yes”, then we have to outlaw all types of insults. Don’t insult a person because of their weight (too much or too little), their intelligence (again, too much or too little), their driving skills or anything else. Really, no-one should be insulting anyone, for what on earth does it actually achieve? The question is NOT the right question. The question should have been along the lines of, “should it be unlawful to engender or incite moral panic in the community by the use of ethnic vilification to the detriment of the subject ethnicity?” We are all the same race, the human race, so race isn’t really the basis of the vilification. The basis of the vilification is really “you are different to me and therefore I don’t like/trust/accept you.”
What is the difference between an insult and vilification?
Vilification: a public act that encourages or incites others to hate people
Insult: a disrespectful or scornfully abusive remark or act
To me, an insult is essentially a one-on-one event, a private act. Vilification is incitement of others and a public act. In Australia we are very good at inciting moral panic. I have used this example before, but to save you clicking about, I’ve reproduced it here.
The Sydney Morning Herald ran the headline:
“Stop boat people getting on boats – Julia Gillard PM”
This simple headline shows the escalation of fear or misunderstanding of illegal immigrants. The word ‘stop’ is a call to action and implies that something needs to be done. ‘Boat people’ is the label which implies the threat of illegal immigration and it ran in a national newspaper, purportedly endorsed by the PM and used to bring to the attention of the voting public an issue which is considered to be of grave concern. In reality, a study conducted by UQ research group says there were only 1033 boat people out of 48,700 illegal immigrants in Australia.
There is a fine line between moral panic and hatred. I am sure readers can see the similarities between the above and Bolt’s original article and subsequent case.
If anyone suggests vilification can’t escalate into violence, perhaps a little history about the Holocaust might remind everyone it does happen. Or the “ethnic cleansing” in any number of places around the world in more recent times. Don’t be fooled.
As to an appropriate legislative position on all of this? I repeat what I said earlier: “The best solution for humanity is one we are perhaps yet to determine.” Why? Because free speech is also very, very important. It is how we learn, communicate new ideas, develop understanding of each other, exchange concepts. Without free speech, climate change deniers could be running riot, for example. Free speech is also often impinged by social dictates of who can say what: my husband and I could say exactly the same thing and from him it would be accepted whereas I would run the risk of being called a racist. Neither the statement nor the facts would have changed, just the speaker. I believe in time, this will change too, but we aren’t there yet. This is why we are all caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. We have to be careful to both protect the innocent and not stifle development and progress. We’d all still believe the world is flat if we were to be too restrictive. No-one would be “allowed” to be an atheist. It is a fine balance and both the writers in The Guardian article make valid points.
I wouldn’t be repealing just yet. Society is not mature enough. If it was, Bolt would never have written the article which led to this debate. The law is an important stand against ethnic (even if the legislation still uses the word racial) intolerance and discrimination.
Over the past two decades the provisions have been in effect, the courts have struck a balance between a right to free speech and a right to be free from discrimination. While I value free speech very highly and restrictions on speech bother me, I recognise we need to be very, very careful about allowing people to invite hatred and moral panic. For me, this debate extends to the vilification of asylum seekers.
- Section 18C of the Act makes it unlawful to commit an act that is reasonably likely to ‘offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate’ on the basis of race.
- Section 18D makes explicit exemptions for free speech that is conducted reasonably and in good faith.
- A change in the law would send a dangerous signal that bigotry is acceptable particularly if it is the first piece of legislation introduced by the Attorney General.
- The Australian community values racial tolerance and harmony.
- The Australian community supports the current legislation.
A lot is made in the media of the right to not be offended. We have to trust the courts to take a sensible approach. For example, I don’t think every private interaction should be subject to the legislation, that would be impractical and impossible to police. However, neither would I expect to face being offended every day in the work place via a culmination of “private” interactions to which the management turned a blind eye. I would not expect newspapers to publish insults publicly: having done so that insult becomes vilification, a public act, seeking agreement from readers.
I do not know Andrew Bolt personally, therefore I can only assess his values based on what is in the public domain. He may merely be a lazy columnist who allows himself to appear racist as click-bait: not just to people like myself but to the courts.
I will keep to my line of “we are all one race” in the hope that one day society catches up with science. We aren’t there yet.
As usual when I write articles on the topic of cultural differences, I recommend Cultural Intelligence: Living and Working Globally as a good basic text on the topic.
Edit November 17: there are two petitions on Change.org that I am aware of currently in relation to the proposed repeal.
- ‘Racial vilification can escalate into violence’ (smh.com.au)
- ‘Bolt laws’ on racism to be dumped (smh.com.au)
- What lessons can Australia learn from the Zimmerman case? (teamoyeniyi.com)
- Race & Racial Vilification (bloggerme.com – March 2014)