How racists are co-opting multiculturalism

Some very confusing symbols at the Reclaim Australia rally in Sydney last week.

Some very confusing symbols at the Reclaim Australia rally in Sydney last week. Photo: Michele Mossop

The organisers and attendees of the nationwide Reclaim Australia rallies over the weekend would like you to know they are most definitely not racist. In his speech at the Queensland event, Liberal MP George Christensen said:

"The apologists of the left… said I should not address you because you were a crowd of racists, bigots, Islamophobes, extremists, white supremacists, skinheads and Nazis… But I look out at the crowd and that's not what I see. I see mums and dads who love their country- the Australian culture and the Australian lifestyle."

Who knew being a parent and being a racist were mutually exclusive? There were also signs that cleared up any lingering confusion about whether racism and white supremacy might actually be the same thing:

"Patriotism is not racism. Stop non-white immigration."

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Reclaim Australia also can't be racist because they were protesting Islam and, in case no one has ever mentioned it to you, "Islam is not a race". Just ignore the fact that it happens to be a religion that is associated primarily with brown people and has never been sanctioned by a Western country.

But, most of all, Reclaim Australia isn't racist because its organisers made sure to let us know how many people were there that are not even white.

There was Rise Up Australia's Danny Nalliah, the main speaker at the Sydney event, who reminded the crowd  "They call it a racist rally and here I stand, guest speaker and the official speaker — I'm not white mate, I'm black."

There was singer Jonathan Eli, of Cook Island heritage, who sang Amazing Grace, a curious choice considering it was written by a former slave owner who'd had a change of heart in how he regarded non-white people.

There was even an official acknowledgement to the 'traditional owners of this land', an irony that should strike fear into the hearts of the nation's satirists who are now teetering on the verge of obsolescence.

So, how can a movement be racist when it features participants that look like this? Because Reclaim Australia is little more than a co-opting of multiculturalism to further a racist and white supremacist agenda.

In actuality, multiculturalism- essentially the co-existence of different cultures- is the antithesis of what these rallies stand for, which in their own words, are all about centring and elevating "Australian culture" and the "Australian way of life" above all others.

This not some indecipherable code. What the Reclaim rallies blatantly promote is that they will accept people of different races and ethnicities if, and only if, these people accept the inherent superiority of white, Western culture.

As Waleed Aly said following the furore over Adam Goodes' 'invisible spear' dance at an AFL game, "Australia is generally a very tolerant society until its minorities demonstrate that they don't know their place… The minute someone in a minority position demonstrates that they're not a mere supplicant, we lose our minds."

As I've written before:

"Whiteness is essentially those cultural beliefs, practices, norms and values that are sanctioned by white, Western society... Rise Up Australia (a movement started by the Sri Lankan Danny Nalliah) is an example of how you can share in the bounty of white privilege even if you are not white, as long as you are willing to play by the rules. And one of these rules is to talk about race in a way that legitimises the dominance of white culture."

Even the name "Reclaim Australia" is a dead giveaway. Reclaim it for whom and from whom? Despite the nod to the "traditional owners", they clearly they do no want to reclaim it for them. It's about the ideals of whiteness.

As experts are now warning, we are going to see a lot more of this sort of thing in the future as our understanding of race and racism evolves.

When the dominance of the white race was indisputable and seemingly insurmountable, racism was simply about skin colour. Now, decades after the abolition of the White Australia policy, the civil rights movement in the US and the end of apartheid in South Africa, it's about assimilation. Who is willing to play by the rules, to show us they are really "one of us"?

Islam is the primary target of Reclaim Australia not because of any real threat it represents to our country but because many Muslims visibly and defiantly hold onto their traditions and clothing. Islam and its traditions- be it the hijab, halal food, or praying at the mosque- is regarded as an explicit rejection of Australian (and more broadly Western) ideals, and for that reason, Muslims are seen as a threat that must be extinguished.

Never mind that "tolerance" is one of those values we supposedly do better than anyone else.

Racist statements and ideologies do not magically become non-racist when a non-white person espouses them. Nor does racism have to take the form of neo-Nazism (although there appears to be plenty of that lately), but simply the persistent insistence that non-white people fall into line, that we know our place and that we acknowledge that white culture is the best one.