US-Australia ‘mateship’ built on white supremacy

One of the mass vigils organised following the racist terror attack in El Paso, Texas, on August 4.

It has happened again. A white supremacist has committed another atrocity, this time in El Paso, Texas, in the United States. Like the Christchurch murderer, he took to the internet to promote his motives.

The document he posted begins with support for the Christchurch shooter, whose attack on peaceful worshippers in New Zealand left 51 people dead. Like the Christchurch shooter, he also described non-white immigration as an “invasion”.

Interviewed by CNN at the time, NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern shrinks in her chair as the interviewer lists recent gun atrocities in the US — in schools, synagogues, churches, nightclubs and on the street.

Ardern then cites NZ and Australia as places where mass gun deaths prompted new laws regulating guns. Ardern said she did “not understand why America has not toughened its gun laws” and why the vastly greater numbers of people being killed is tolerated in the US.

Why does the US continue to allow military-style weapons to be freely available? What prevents the US government from acting to stop more innocent people from being killed?

Commentators describe the power of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

For the El Paso shooter, much has also been made of the hateful and divisive rhetoric of US President Donald Trump. As well as employing language used by Trump, the El Paso shooter “liked” an image on Twitter showing “Trump” written in guns.

But there is more to the story than that.  

In his poem “America is a Gun”, Brian Bilston writes:

England is a cup of tea.

France, a wheel of ripened brie.

Greece, a short, squat olive tree.

America is a gun…

Guns are as American as apple pie.

A look at US history shows that armed militia fought the War of Independence because the states lacked standing armies. That is why there is the provision in the Constitution to maintain a “well regulated militia”. It celebrates the 18th century US freedom fighters who defeated the British.

Today, US conservatives have captured that narrative for their own political purposes. The idea of being armed remains deeply embedded in US culture.

The NRA’s narratives do not ring hollow in US ears. After each mass shooting incident, gun sales rise.

Ardern’s frustration shows the depth of the rift she sees between New Zealand and the US.

Meanwhile, the Queen of England remains Australia’s head of state — a revolutionary war against the mother country is the last thing Australians wanted. Instead, Australians went off to die for the Empire.

Australia’s posture as the US’s “mate” in Asia makes assumptions about cultural similarities being essential to the alliance.

Aside from the differences in geography, climate and demography that shaped both countries’ settler occupations, the history from which US identity has been forged is uniquely theirs.

Looking beyond the myths cultivated around Thanksgiving for the Pilgrim Fathers and the Declaration of Independence, there is a history of Black slavery and subsequent Civil War — events that took place just 150 years ago.

It is plain that for African Americans, US history and the racism that drove it is a continuing source of trauma and death at the hand of the “master” race: the Black Lives Matter campaign is just one manifestation.

Until the US comes to terms with its past — slavery, civil war and white supremacy — those traumas will continue to play out, breeding racism and gun violence.

The contrast with Australia’s historical trajectory could hardly be greater.

The reality is that the interests of the US and Australia’s governments do not go beyond being settler relics of Europe’s colonial age. Informed by colonial thinking, they share a belief in white supremacy.

This assumption is the greatest threat to Australia that, in contrast to the US, is an outpost of white colonialism in Asia.

Ultimately, we have to choose between the reality of our geography and the ideology of white colonial supremacy.

Despite the relentless effort to Americanise Australia, the differences between the two, as Ardern has suggested, remain.

There is hope for us yet.