Our ability to assimilate into our Australian population migrants from a multitude of countries is often held up as an indicator of our tolerant and largely inclusive society. There is no doubt that strongly embedding such people into our society has aided both the economic and cultural advancement of our country.
Of course in doing so we have largely sidestepped the question of what is the desirable rate of population growth. Both business and government seem to favour a big Australia. Business applauds increasing population because it means growing markets and increased labour competition which tends to moderate wage increases. Governments applaud increasing population because it results in rising GDP which many seem to think is a good thing (whereas for the individual it is per capita GDP that matters). Governments also support high immigration particularly to meet skills shortages which then absolves them from doing the hard yards of ensuring we train people to meet the skills needs of the economy.
Others, on the other hand, argue against high levels of immigration pointing out the stresses it places on the infrastructure of our major cities where such people typically come to live.
Our immigrants have substantially modified the demographics of our major cities. For example I read recently that now only half the population of Melbourne has Anglo/Celtic origins. It is a significant achievement that this racial transition has occurred without the creation of significant ghettos.
The most inspiring aspect of this integration of a significant immigrant population into the Australian population is the fact that such people have embraced being Australian whilst often maintaining their own native cultural traditions. They celebrate such cultural traditions in many ways and they often allow us to join in such celebrations. It is indeed a joyful thing to be able to be included in their festivals and cultural ceremonies. In the course of such generous acceptance we reinforce our commonality as human beings. But despite enjoying these opportunities to share these immigrant cultures we have made no concessions to such immigrants in terms of our law. All Australians, despite their country of origin have been required to abide by Australian law and that too reinforces our commonality.
In my experience work relationships are very helpful in promoting racial tolerance. Some of us who would, given the choice might choose to do otherwise, find themselves compelled to work alongside others whose race and culture are substantially different from ours. It does not take too long to come to an understanding that these “different” people are only different in superficial ways. Sooner or later we are compelled to acknowledge they love their children, just as we do, they worry about the cost of living, just as we do, they aspire to freedom, just as we do, they suffer and struggle, just as we do.
When I was young one of my aunts lived in a sugar community where there were many Italians, Her next door neighbour on one side was Italian. The neighbours were friendly enough but my Aunt could speak no Italian and the Italian lady, whose name was Bella, could speak little English. My aunt’s son was preschool age and played happily with the little daughter of the Italian woman who was of a similar age. The Italian lady was in an advanced stage of pregnancy. One afternoon, my Aunt’s son came running to her crying, “Mum, Mum, you must hurry next door. Bella’s baby is coming.” My aunt arrived to find Bella in labour. The baby was duly delivered. My aunt admired the baby and Bella hugged her, thanking her profusely for her assistance. It is not surprising that they subsequently became good friends. Bella gradually improved her English and like most housewives of the era the pair spent a good deal of time hanging over the side fence gossiping about whatever women gossip about!
Now I don’t want to overegg this story but this must be one of millions of such stories explaining how our immigrants assimilated into our society. And it was interesting how the children learnt to communicate with each other before the adults did. My aunt’s son had picked up a smattering of Italian and Bella’s daughter a little English just by playing together, and their combined communication skills were sufficient to ensure Bella got assistance in her hour of need.
But importantly, in this small act of compassion, all of a sudden my Aunt’s neighbour was no longer an isolated Italian woman struggling to be part of a new, and probably, to her at least, daunting community; she was a woman just like my aunt that needed to be cared for. The superficial differences were quickly put aside. True compassion arises out of a sense of Oneness. All the more painful then when we reach out to help or be helped but don’t quite meet the challenge.
Albert Einstein spoke eloquently about this challenge. He wrote:
A human being is part of the whole called by us the universe. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us, Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
Without wanting to go over old ground that I have covered many times before, essentially our lack of compassion and inclusiveness comes from a misunderstanding of who we are at the most basic level.
All of us seem to be born into the experience of separateness. In infancy we come to distinguish between “self” and “other”. As we develop we construct a sense of self which we cling to define our sense of identity. The particular markers we come to rely on for this sense of identity, whilst they might reinforce our closeness to various “in” groups are built on such identifiers as race, gender, nationality, profession, politics and so on, through which our sense of separateness and specialness is also promoted.
In the beginning, given a loving family environment, we identify first with our mother (because she is the one that most frequently provides us with comfort and nourishment), then other close family members. As we get older and the world opens up to us we identify with a wider kinship group. Because of our social needs we have a desire to belong and be included; our peer group then becomes particularly important. We are so desirous of “fitting in” with our peer group we adopt their mannerisms, their style of dress, their tastes in music and go so far as to affect their manners of speech.
But if we are able to escape the insecurities of ego, the circle of those we can identify with becomes wider and wider. But not all of us can be a Buddha, Mother Theresa, Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela or a Martin Luther King. We get stuck somewhat short on the enlightenment journey. So most ordinary mortals can show great love and compassion for those they identify closely with but there are some people that they will always see as “others” and therefore beyond their purview of unconditional love.
This dysfunctional worldview is responsible for the proliferation of identity politics. And in a self-reinforcing way, rather than concentrating on those substantial things we have in common, identity politics deliberately seeks to magnify and reify our differences. And unfortunately identity politics tends to accentuate many of the attributes we have no choice about, like our gender, race, nationality or whatever.
I have often said whilst I feel fortunate to be Australian I am not proud to be Australian because I had nothing to do with it. I didn’t choose my parents let alone their nationality. And I must confess I cringe a little when someone identifies as a “proud Darumbal man”, or whatever,
At the beginning of this essay I related how well, in general, immigrants to Australia have integrated into our society. In contrast to this we have had great difficulty in integrating a portion of our indigenous population into mainstream society. In saying this I would need to urge some caution. Very many indigenous people have taken a meaningful place in our society, contributing just as well as any other Australian, fulfilling their responsibilities and partaking of the benefits of our liberal, capitalist democracy.
But there is a significant demographic of indigenous people who have not assimilated well into Australian society at all. These people have been conditioned to believe they have no internal locus of control and, consequently, that they are victims of our society. A significant industry has developed about maintaining and promoting this sense of victimhood.
In my opinion the most sensible commentary on indigenous affairs in Australia is provided by people such as Anthony Dillon, Warren Mundine and the fabulous indigenous Senator, Jacinta Price.
Let me share with you a quote from a recent newspaper article by Jacinta Price:
We are all entitled to the dignity of being treated as individuals who can make choices and have responsibilities. Unfortunately this is not how the left see it. The left seek to divide us by pigeonholing society into two classes: the oppressors and the oppressed. They have carefully manufactured gender stereotypes for men and women while simultaneously generating brand-new gender constructs. They have also developed racial stereotypes enshrined within Critical Race Theory, to condemn the “white race” as oppressors, and subjugate “people of colour” as victims. If I was to follow leftist dogma and regard myself as nothing more than an oppressed Aboriginal woman, I would be wallowing in my victimhood and rationalising the notion that I am inferior to my oppressors. According to that dogma I have no agency in my life and no ability to make choices. This is dogma we must reject, for many reasons, not the least because it is patronising and deeply dehumanising.
That statement, I think, encapsulates y the ongoing indigenous dilemma better than anything I’ve heard before.
But I cannot conclude without going back to a consideration of the “Voice”. I find it hard to see the Voice as anything other than a tool of division. Returning to the theme of this essay the Voice does not to seek to foster inclusion but to promote division. Anything that seeks to augment the rights of one section of our society on the basis of race should be rejected on principle. Surely there is already an authentic indigenous voice to parliament and it comprises those dozen or so indigenous people (including the likes of Jacinta Price) who through existing democratic means are already in our parliament.
Peter Dutton, who thankfully, seems to me more wedded to conservative values than Scott Morrison ever was, is still vacillating about support for the Voice complaining that the government hasn’t provided sufficient detail to allow the opposition to make an informed decision. But he is mistaken in this assessment, Never mind the detail, the Voice is wrong in principle. No conservative government should support an initiative that seeks to give any Australians special privileges based on race.
Let us then seek to find ways to promote inclusiveness thereby allowing all Australians to contribute meaningfully to our democracy and eschew all acts of division, including those of race, which seek to unnecessarily to partition our society.