No reconciliation with racism!
After massively cutting the budget of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, extinguishing native title in all but name and giving the go-ahead to the destruction of Aboriginal women's sacred sites on Hindmarsh Island (Kumarangk), PM John Howard is now pretending to be sympathetic to the plight of Aboriginal people.
On federal election night, Howard announced his support for "true reconciliation with the Aboriginal people of Australia by the centenary of federation". He has now announced that $2.4 million in additional funding will be given to the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (CAR) to organise a national event to launch a reconciliation document in May 2000.
What has caused this apparent turnaround?
No doubt, Howard is keen that there are no big Aboriginal protests in the year 2000, when Sydney hosts the Olympics. The Labor Party's support for Howard's announcement reflects that it shares this concern.
Another reason is that Howard needs to win back some of the voters who deserted the Liberal Party in the federal election to vote for the Australian Democrats. These were voters who supported the Coalition's economic agenda, but felt that Howard should not have pandered to One Nation's racism.
While some Aboriginal leaders are sceptical about Howard's intentions, others, such as CAR chairperson Evelyn Scott, believe Howard is "quite genuine" about reconciliation now.
Everyone who is serious about fighting racism must reject Howard's reconciliation project.
This project is not intended to challenge racism. On the contrary, it is designed to con Aboriginal people into reconciling themselves with racism, turning the other cheek in the interests of national harmony.
There are many people who genuinely support reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians as a means of opposing racism. However, reconciliation does not provide a framework in which racism can be fought.
Reconciliation is premised on the idea that racism is the result of people's lack of understanding and tolerance for "cultural differences"; that is, it is a problem of ignorant individuals. On this basis, the principal means of fighting racism is education campaigns aimed at undermining racial stereotypes, and appeals for tolerance.
Because the idea of reconciliation reduces racism to a purely individual issue, it fails to acknowledge that large corporations in Australia benefit directly, and always have benefited, from the oppression of Aboriginal people.
The corporate owners are able to reinforce racist ideology through their ownership of the mass media, and their influence on the major political parties, the law and government policy.
It doesn't matter how many public education programs are run, or how many appeals for tolerance are made by well-intentioned activists: if the corporate interests in maintaining racial inequality and exploitation are not exposed, racism cannot be challenged, let alone eradicated.
The rhetoric of reconciliation, focused as it is on vague calls for tolerance and unity, does not commit "supporters" to actively oppose specific racist policies. This allows people who benefit from racial oppression to masquerade as anti-racists under the banner of reconciliation. During the debate about the Mabo decision in 1992-93, for example, CAR member Robert Champion de Crespigny, also executive chairperson of Normandy Mining, campaigned strongly against native title.
Because the reconciliation "movement" makes no specific demands on the government, it allows governments also to masquerade as anti-racist, while carrying out racist attacks.
In order to combat racism, the corporations that profit from racism and governments that represent their interests must be challenged by campaigns which oppose racist policies and advocate measures which will help eliminate racial inequality.