You don’t need to do rocket surgery to see the above painting as a ridiculous farce, a racist mythology. The fact that Columbus Day is meant to actually celebrate a genocide should make us disgusted. And yet many “ordinary” people in the US don’t see the obvious things wrong with it.
To take another example, the Netherlands has a tradition called Zwarte Piet. Many people put on blackface to act out Dutch Santa Claus equivalent’s “servant boy”.
As I’ve posted before, the fact that many Dutch consider the Netherlands to be a Very Tolerant CountryTM only makes things worse. Recent criticism of the practice was met with the anger of how-dare-you-accuse-tolerant-me-of-racism? This was interspersed with racist threats and abuse.
Australia Day has both of the above elements. We should be just as horrified at Australia Day as at Columbus Day. But millions of Australians spend so much effort in not seeing the obvious that if we could harness it, we’d have renewable energy year-round. The self-image of Australian society as ‘tolerant’ is then used to ignore the horrible things that are happening AND as a rhetorical club against those who. Everybody wins! (If by ‘everybody’ you mean those who aren’t a target of racism and intolerance in Australia.)
A case in point is today’s article in Comment is Free: Australia Day is a time for mourning, not celebration by Nakkiah Lui. It’s a great article about the importance of Indigenous Australia’s opposition to Australia Day that everyone should read. What’s appalling is that it’s considered “controversial” or “novel” enough to be a subject of public debate. The fact that it needed to be written shows how fucked we are.
If you abandon rule #1 and read the comments, you’ll find that it really is considered a subject to debate. There are lots of really awful comments but here’s an excerpt from a gem:
[…]In 1788 people with a more advanced technology came and took your land away from you. They stole it, invaded it, settled it, use whatever language you like. The end result is you no longer control it.
On the other hand Australia is now a vibrant, reasonably prosperous, democracy in which many cultures thrive including my own Jewish culture.[…]
I take this comment more personally because he’s using his Jewishness as the vehicle for being awful. See, it was all worth it because now this person can go to a synagogue minutes from Bondi Beach, right? But this comment is actually typical of how Australia Day is (and must be) celebrated: with an obliviousness that makes it all about MY comfortable life in Australia.
Of course, this Australia Day is an even worse farce than it’s been for many years before. Via the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, singing the full Australian anthem now takes an even greater lack of self-reflection:
I don’t think we as a society are about to start soul-searching anytime soon. That’s why I recommend another Comment is Free article from a few days ago by Antony Loewenstein: It’s time for UN sanctions on Australia. Our government deserves nothing less. Our country should be a pariah state for human rights violations towards asylum seekers. We should have one ages ago for human rights violations towards Indigenous Australians.
If you celebrate Australia Day at all, I ask that you don’t. Not even in a small/token/”unpatriotic” way. This year (and maybe for a while), it requires even more cognitive dissonance than usual. It allows a majority of us to keep self-identifying as a “tolerant country” — which needs to stop if we’re to make any actual improvements.