Joint thoughts on race, migration, and culture…

In which Evan and Barbara share their reflections in conversation with each other.

BT: Our reading group’s emphasis on connection between Australia and the rest of the world and the groups within Australia has pushed me to think a lot of belongingness. One of our group’s first readings was a chapter focused on Australian national identity wherein the authors Duncan, Leigh, Madden, and Tynan present particular values, including embracing diversity and reconciling with indigeneity, that would promote a truer, more multicultural Australian identity. One that would reflect the Australia of today. The writer’s hearts seemed to be in the right place, and in many places, these writers used the all-encompassing “we” to talk about the nation. I kept wondering, who is included in that “we”? Would the people of color within Australia agree with the values put forth? Is it that simple? I came to Australia looking for any evidence of that inclusive spirit. How does Australia talk about its Aboriginal people? What is the representation of different ethnic groups in these major cities?

ER: I read something recently by Robert Manne that suggested that there are three threads of Australian identity at the moment: the aboriginal peoples, the white anglo/settler culture, and a third wave of recent  and diverse migration under the banner of multiculturalism. Indeed, contemporary Australia is a profoundly racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse place and nearly a third of the present population was born elsewhere. At the same time it is plainly a place shaped by a fairly recent history of explicit and profoundly violent white supremacism. These might be points to frame approaches to your questions…

BT: We definitely saw evidence of those threads in each city, to varying degrees. Sydney, even with the significant numbers of tourists in town for Vivid Sydney, felt incredibly homogeneous racially. The second we landed in Melbourne, I knew I would find myself more at ease there. The racial and ethnic diversity was evident before we’d even left the airport. In Melbourne, however, with so much immigration from Asia, we learned firsthand that multiculturalism was not a value held by everyone (no surprise there). Tours in Melbourne were in stark contrast to those in Sydney that spoke about indigeneity and diversity with pride.

Bill Bryson writes in In a Sunburned Country about the Aboriginal invisibility and disconnection between Australian native and white peoples, and that even he, as an American white man, grew to not see the Aborigines as well. I’m interested in some of your insights to this end.



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