A statement of purpose: on the Australian legacy of racism

Since its inception in October 2013 this blog has mostly covered the subject matter of racism against non-Europeans, particularly East Asians, in the history of quarantine stations in Australia. The main reason for this is that in both academic and popular discourses, racism in quarantine is not discussed enough. In fact there has been no space or forum for an Australian scholar whose non-European heritage would be pathologised during the heydays of quarantine stations under their racist schema. Hence the reason for this blog as an expression of intellectual resistance; and may many more written materials by non-European Australians follow.

Given the dispossession of Indigenous Australians, who are yet to be formally recognised as first Australians in our 114-year-old Constitution, Australia is a country fraught with problems caused by a legacy of racism: the very foundation of the Federation in 1901 was established upon the exclusion of non-Europeans. Even to this day, in our so-called multicultural democracy, many immigrants, particularly those of non-European background, are challenged by conservatives – let alone outright racists – when they lay claim to Australian identity.

Australia today is undergoing a major demographic shift: precisely the kind that was feared and loathed by the quarantine administrators of the past. For those who cling to the old dream of restoring Anglo-Celtic supremacy against the steady streams of multicultural immigration that began in 1975, quarantine stations, as sites of Australian heritage, can be places of nostalgia for a past glory. However, given the historical reality of large groups of Asians and Pacific Islanders having gone through the Australian quarantine system as Australia managed to find a profitable position in the economy of the Asia-Pacific region – then largely aided by the transnational hegemony of British colonialism -, quarantine stations, as sites of heritage, are also contested grounds where European and non-European identities continue to play out against one another. The fundamental question to ask is always: Whose heritage? Or can we appreciate – but not necessarily morally approve – all heritage aspects of quarantine stations under the one heading of “Australian identity”? This can only happen if the history of racist oppression of non-Europeans at Australian quarantine stations can be truly integrated into a national discourse and be not limited to anything less than that, out of a concern not to offend European sensibilities. Generally speaking, when it comes to the legacy of racism in this country, Australians fall short of the intellectual courage of Germans in their educational ability to confront the horrors and the aftermaths of National Socialism.

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