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The latest edition of Borderlands e-journal is now online, and it has writings around the theme 'regimes of terror'. I found one article particularly stunning, so much so that I want to publicise it further through this blog. Suvendrini Perera's 'Race Terror, Sydney, December 2005' is a thorough thinking through of the 'race hate' that permeates Australian culture at the moment, symbolised by 'events' like the Cronulla riots last summer and the rise of figures like Keith Windschuttle, the racist academic, to positions of cultural power (I'm thinking particularly of Windschuttle's appointment to the Board of the ABC, the public broadcaster, earlier this year). For example, in one section Perera explores race hate on telegraph poles, talkback radio and websites and connects them to broader cultural currents of racism in Australia which culminated at Cronulla over the summer. You can read or print the article directly off the web here. :-)


Ann, thanks for the information about Borderlands, and I totally agree with you about Suvendi's article. Suvendi Perera has been making these powerful interventions for at least a decade now -- at least that's been my own exposure to her work -- and it's staggering to see how prescient her work and thinking has been. Cold comfort for her, I'm sure.

Staggering -- well, yes, and disturbing, and depressing. I found this essay to be exciting in several ways, but two I'll mention here: the remorseless playing out of a logic she's been tracing over many years, which she traces with a certain dispassionate attention to detail I find very moving, and the very useful function of the essay as a kind of mobile archive, especially in the wake of a communal, convenient, national "forgetting" of Cronulla. It's not hard to understand a desire to forget Cronulla, though to do so cannot be countenanced; what Suvendi documents and archives is the way in which Cronulla is as much a part of the everyday as it was an exceptional moment (exceptional beacause so candid, I think -- not sure).

Reading the article by Suvendri Perera that you refer to was interesting, but to be honest it only suggested to me that Suvendri should actually do a bit more research at first hand by actually speaking to the people involved in the recent race riot and other similar disturbances. The notion of the simering racist undercurrent is, in my opinion and experience, a beat-up of monumental proportions. This does not of course excuse the stupidity of the people that distribute the printed material that she uses to build her case.
Of more concern to me though is your reference to the "racist academic" Keith Windschuttle, and I wonder where you get this from. Are you a serious academic, whose research has produced evidence of Mr Windshuttle's racism, or are you a silly child who has their nose out of joint because Keith Windschuttle has pointed out in factual detail the fantasies and fabrications of some of your cultural heroes. If the former, how about posting your fullname so that the person that you accuse can at least know who is slinging mud at them. If the latter, maybe you should look into the issue independently and in detail, and when you have made up your own mind, post your identity and stand by your statements. The frivolous slinging of the racist tag at will, and from a protected or anonymous position, is a disgusting habit.

And by the way, the ABC may be a publicly funded broadcaster but it certainly fails to represent the views of many Australians.

To be honest, I find your response to Ann very rude Jim, and way out of line! Nevertheless, a few home truths just for you.

As a person and researcher who has spoken to people who took part on December 11 2005, and has been a part of the Cronulla surfing community I back up Perera and Ann. Rascism did underpin what happened, even though some of those taking part did not intend to be rascist.

This is a key point Perera was making.

Issues around turf and masculinity were also vital though. And acted as a conduit for this racism, and hid it.

To belong as a local people spend many years becoming intimate with the complex rules of the territory - in Cronulla these rules have evolved to fit a very Anglo-Australian perspective. Once locals get to know these rules they begin to think they’re the guardians of them. They have a vested interest in how their fine-tuned know-how sets up who belongs because it affords them privileges.

For example, some of the local blokes I know hang out next to the best beach facilities, and claim rights to car parks, park benches and girls. If people move too close to where they hang out they’ll begin talking in a loud and offensive manner – borders can be acoustic. Sprawling over a large area is also a useful marker of turf.

There is a hostility to outsiders based on these privileges, and an understanding that one has to sometimes reassert their rights to this privilege by deflecting a threat. That threat can be imagined or real.

Some of the Lebanese-Australian blokes used similar methods to set up an equal place at Cronulla so they could feel comfortable. In some cases they intentionally contested rules, like what sports could be played where. This action challenged the authority of the locals, and interrupted normal routines. Some locals began to feel like a fish out of water in their own backyard.

The distress of the locals was real. Several Lebanese-Australian blokes used racist taunts to invert the authority of the locals. It was the same us and them tactic locals were using to exclude them. As cultural anthropologist Ghassan Hage writes

the division of people as good and bad relies on a common racist conception of racism as always white … [however], everybody can be racist. White people of a European background do not have a monopoly on racist beliefs and attitudes; it is a feature of all cultures (Hage, 2006: 2).

Talking part in what happened at Cronulla worked as a problematic way for some locals to express care for ‘their’ women, families and turf. This form of care/mateship does not exempt violence. So itcan get ugly. It meant backing each other up to chase off these ‘dangerous others’ and to put these others back in 'their place'. At Cronulla, in light of Sept. 11, Tampa, Bali Bombings etc. the easiest marker of difference of these have become along ethnic, cultural and racial lines.

But what the locals didn’t realise is that such a version of care isn’t the preserve of white Australians. According to Randa Kattan (2006), the executive director of the Arab Council of Australia, there is an old Arabic saying: ‘Me and my brother against my cousin, me and my cousin against the world’ (The Australian, January 28, 2006).

Simply saying the whole thing is beat up means it is your shcolarship that is lax mate. And demonstrates a concerning lack of self-reflection that allows racism to continue.

Come back when you have some constructive to add to the discussion *biting toungue here*

Thanks for the response Cliff, I'm gratified to see that my contibution was approved for posting.

My entire contention, and it is not 'scholarship' but experience,is that the bulk of the trouble in the Cronulla and subsequent trouble is tribalism and not racism. Being a Victorian I did not grow up with the Sydney beach culture, but did grow up with the Mornington Penisula beach culture for all of my teens and twentys, and with the Frankston skinhead culture, the Melbourne soccer playing culture and the general pub-going lout culture, and I stick by my contention that applying the racist tag to even a majority of the Cronulla rioters, and to the Australian population as a whole, is a beat-up. It would not have mattered whether the 'dangerous others' had come from the other side of the world or the other side of the street. Yes, the easiest markers in this case may be along ethnic lines, as it was when we played soccer against other clubs from different ethnic backgrounds, but it didn't mean that we were racially motivated against them or they against us. We were us and they were them. The passion was as real when we played against other anglo based teams, and the aggro was usually worse. The self reflection on those days has been continuous for over twenty years; I don't think that it has been lacking.

I agree with the bulk of your description of the tribal surf culture and the setting up of comfort zones and habits, but as you point out with your quote from Randa Kattan, these start very close to home and sometimes don't spread too far. I stick by my contention that, although there will always be the dead-set racists handing out stupid literature, most of the same trouble would have happened of the anglo (name a suburb) boys had been harrassing the local girls and moving in on the local turf. This is not race hate to me, and to extrapolate a perceived racism to Australia in general is not therefore a valid move.

No contibution on the Windschuttle debate?


Dr Hull,

Surely the whole point of being a scholar is to go beyond our own 'experience' in making analyses of society and culture, and events that take place herein? Two recent informative academic publications that you may find useful to this end are:

Moreton-Robinson, A. 'Whitening Race: essays in social and cultural criticism', Aboriginal Studies Press 2004; and

Poynting, S. et al. 'Bin Laden in the Suburbs: criminalising the Arab Other', Federation Press 2004.

Further, you can find a very thorough analysis of the various ways in which racism manifests in Keith Windschuttle's self-published (as opposed to 'serious academic') research in 'Whitewash: On Keith Windschuttle's Fabrication of Aboriginal History', Black Inc. Agenda, 2003. The book contains contributions from scholars across the Australian academy.

Thank you Ann,

I shall find time to read the two articles that you refer to. I especially like the statement in the introduction to Whitewash where Robert Manne writes that"... writing history invariably takes imagination...". It is an excerpt from a sentence but I think it reads according to its intent. You would be familiar with the statement.
I assume that you are thoroughly familiar with the replies to the criticisms in Whitewash that can be found at places like www.sydneyline.com.

I would like to have much more time to read more authors, but work intrudes. I would make the point though that once a hypothesis is put forward it usually pays to actually examine the evidence for yourself , thus the reference to 'experience'. Some research into whether the bulk of the rioters in Cronulla actually see the Lebanese guys as racialy inferior would seem to be in order. I would be surprised if too many of them did. I would be even more surprised if this attitude was found in wider(and older) Australia.

The bandying around of the word "racist" does concern me and I find it interesting that in the introduction to Whitewash I could not find the word racist anywhere. The days of people being sued over accusations of racism seem to be a thing of the past, and I wonder if this is because the redefinition of the word to mean "one who does not agree with me" has led to the complete loss of impact of the term. I will leave you with an anecdote of some years ago. The World Bakery in Springvale (a suburb of Melbourne) caused a salmonella outbreak among it's customers that caused some to become extremely unwell (I think some were hospitalised). When the health department inspected the premises they found many violations and closed the place down. On national TV that night the owner accused the health department of racism because she was Vietnamese. At this point I felt that the term was being misused. I still think the same. I would like to see a statement, quote, citation, published position, or some similar evidence accompanying such alegations, to show that the accused person actually views a person of another race as racially inferior, but it rarely seems to happen.

Good luck in your research. I hope that you get the chance to survey Australians for racist attitudes if that's what interests you. Maybe you can also propose another word for the type of people who print the supremacist rubbish being handed out at Cronulla.

Jim Hull

Dr Hull,

The admirable imperative that you present to Ann of academic rigour is tempered somewhat by your own willingness to polemicise, and to infantilise those whose cocepts (here the concept of "racism") you object to. As you write:

"Are you a serious academic, whose research has produced evidence of Mr Windshuttle's racism, or are you a silly child who has their nose out of joint because Keith Windschuttle has pointed out in factual detail the fantasies and fabrications of some of your cultural heroes."

What is curious about the image of the "silly child", with her "cultural heroes" proudly defended, is that it has it's own kind of essentialising logic that is far from reasonable. The distinction between the reasoning and self-generating subject and the determined, childish subject is a distinction that appears again and again in colonial discourse, for example. I would suggest that the use here of this scheme actually communicates an affectively-imbued image that you hold to of Windschuttle - indeed, as a kind of hero, setting childish noses out of joint, a free thinker - that is itself antithetical to the rigorous mode of reasoning that you espouse.

Conflating Ann's use of the term "racist" with the use made of it by a baker under Health Department investigation is also telling on this front. In that context, the utterer of the term was on the defensive after being put out of business for selling diseased food. Are you implying, perhaps, that the circulation of the concept "racist" is itself facilitated by those on the 'cultural back-foot', and indeed that it is time for the intellectual hygienists to move in? This is an interesting image, and also a very interested one, to be associating with academic debate over the term itself.

I welcome your thoughts, Dr. Hull. Aside from a tendency towards polemic, I think the exchange as it has taken place so far has quickly demonstrated the potential of this blog as a site of genuine intellectual exchange.

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