Racism – The New Black?


Words like ‘eccentric’ and ‘unpleasant’ don’t quite capture the import of Andrew Fraser’s racist musings aired in the press and his academic writing.

Last month in ‘Rethinking the White Australia Policy’, an article administratively prevented from being published in a university-based law journal, Fraser made a number of claims about scientific ‘advances’ and ‘real and important’ racial differences and what they mean for White Australians facing ‘a life-or-death struggle to preserve their homeland’ against non-Whites.

Fraser who teaches law at Macquarie University in Sydney quotes himself when he says ‘an expanding Black population is a sure-fire recipe for increases in crime, violence and a wide range of other social problems.’ And ‘a heavily Asian managerial-professional, ruling class’ is being created out of academic merit which will eventually see them promote ‘the interests of co-ethnics at the expense of White Australians.’


Fraser’s backers range from academics who have defended his right to publish and a band of Internet scribblers who are neither shy nor euphemistic in their praise of the professor and their defamation of his detractors. A sample of the virtual toilet door can be tasted by doing a search on his name.

But is it really a debate on race and immigration that Fraser wants when his observations on African and Asian immigrants are in his own words ‘self-evident’? Or are his public comments a crude piece of politics to put these folk on the back foot and fertilise the seeds of fear and loathing in the rest of us? Should we, as Voltaire would have it, defend to the death the right of violent transnational extremists and their local apologists to use their civic freedoms to mainstream hatred and bigotry?

A spokesman for a group who oppose non-White immigration in Toowoomba, Queensland, where African refugees have been resettled, remarked in July: ‘when you get crime in these areas, you know it’s going to be the Blacks.’ Sound familiar? A debate or a baiting?

Any debate should at least acknowledge that Fraser’s views, whatever their final agenda, have their place the last couple of decades of the 18th century is about right. The post-Enlightenment spread of empire out of Europe spawned racial theories and cultural generalisations that twisted and turned through the linguistic scholarship of Ernest Renan and Edward William Lane’s An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, right through to early 20th century politicians and colonial bureaucrats like Lord Balfour and Lord Cromer.

To accurately place a minor voice like Fraser, read these men and discover how political conquest was buttressed by ‘useful knowledge’. Expanding colonies was a political enterprise supported by an empirical ‘science’ that shaped popular perceptions of Arabs, Jews, Indians, Muslims, Africans.Politicians like Balfour used the accumulated weight of such ‘scholarship’ to support propositions like ‘Egyptians can’t rule themselves’ and counter nationalist movements. As new colonies were added, categories of ‘subject races’ with their innate habits and mental deficiencies expanded with the geographic frontier.

When the dust settled a lot of this scholarship amounted to little more than the merging of physiological with moral types no prizes for guessing which races came out on top. And then there was social Darwinism, measuring skull sizes, the eugenics movement, fascism, and so on.

Descriptions of Arabs’ sensual habits in imperial times closely match Fraser’s portrayal of Africans in 2005. His bogeymen too are expandable according to prevailing policies, moods and anxieties. So don’t be surprised to hear some obscure research applied to a new threat or subset of an existing one: Arabs, Pakistani/Brazilians, Pacific Islanders. Who’s next?

Fraser’s depiction of Australia as becoming a ‘Third World colony’ is just a postmodern version of this frontier thinking, and signals a shift in the focus (but not the virulence) of the prejudice from race to culture. Old racism of the colonial era was about a fixed hierarchy of races, a kind of superiority scale. Once the ‘science’ on which this was based was debunked, a new ‘racism’ emerged, sometimes called ‘new tribalism’..

This did away with the racial hierarchy and replaced it with a fixed group identity based on ethnic and cultural belonging. Inter-group relations were typically hostile and given to violent conflict, even ethnic cleansing. Ethnicity and cultural factors rooted in history defined group interest and determined how they behaved in relation to other groups.

Fraser’s comments about Africans is old racism, his attack on Asians the new kind. The latter is even more fluid than the former as group profiling slides between race, religion, ethnicity and nationality. Partly for this reason, culture has become a highly politicised, blunt instrument in defining the enemy in global conflict and public diplomacy.

There’s been some attempt by scholars (political scientists, not biologists) at century’s end to give cultural stereotyping some empirical backing. An example is Samuel Huntington’s ‘bloody borders’ thesis that says Muslim societies are prone to violence. Is religion the critical link or is it distorting to single out religion divorced from political and historical circumstances?

Many regard Huntington’s ‘clash of civilisations’ theory as highly abstract and unconvincing “ a long shot – but one astute observation he made was that culture follows power. As groups become more powerful, they are more willing to assert themselves in cultural terms and explain their new-found power in terms of values unique to their group. This was also true of the classical imperial powers.

Citing achievement levels or the propensity for crime of new arrivals might provide a convenient and flexible rationalisation for those behind recent racist backlashes in Southeast Queensland or at Newcastle University. But it is often the social and cultural assertiveness of new groups which unsettles the nervous racists. Sometimes just being visible or numerous is taken as a sign of self-confidence, self-assertion and effrontery. In smaller communities, there may also be some sexual competition at play (note that the Toowoomba man also referred to a scarcity of ‘Australian women’).

It hasn’t helped that we are engaged in a highly charged public debate about religious values and criminal violence.

Debates are healthy but we should not be so naïve as to think that opportunists will not try to seize a moment of panic to to mobilise intolerance for political purposes. Any open debate needs to be tempered with a critical look at who is running with these ideas and who is paying the price for others’ intellectual liberties.

The most unconvincing part of Fraser’s public spruiking has been the phony victimhood, the mock persecution, the sense of the embattled truth-seeker. His academic rights and freedoms have never had it so good. Shame we can’t say the same for the groups he slanders. He will likely continue to exploit one part of the democratic revolution and ignore the others. What ever happened to egalite and fraternite?

There’s been much talk about Fraser’s academic freedom to invoke the university brand name when speaking publicly outside his expertise. What has gained less attention is academic freedom as it affects the professional relationship between lecturer and student. Every student in a university has an unqualified right to be treated equally, disinterestedly and fairly. If Fraser doesn’t like Africans and Asians entering the country, where does this leave members of these groups entering his classroom ?

Has the law professor – by making his racial prejudices known to all “ fatally compromised his relationship with his students? Is the university confident Professor Fraser has been able to disassociate his ‘self-evident’ racial truths from the student assessment process and remain impartial, in all cases? What will Macquarie University do if one of his students challenges his probity?

It seems purely on the basis of professional ethics there are grounds for Professor Fraser to step down. This is because whatever his contractual arrangements, the real world of teaching is an open education market and that means any student “ regardless of race or background “ if they follow the rules, jump through all the hoops and pay their fees, can attain a university place with all the implied rights that go with it.

Those who don’t want to teach in this kind of environment can start their own tutorial group at home and hand pick their students in a way that is better attuned to their notion of what a distinctive national identity is and should be.

Steve Sharp is director of Telinga Media, a media and communications consultancy business based in Sydney.