Last week Andrew Bolt, journalist, blogger and conservative gremlin of The Herald Sun and the seventh circle of hell, proved once again that he is not to be trusted with an audience.
A collective sigh of exasperation could be heard all around the world as Bolt uttered the well-known maxim: “dividing people on the grounds of race is racist”. His comments on The Bolt Report (Channel Ten’s answer to Fox News) arose amid discussion of Recognise, a campaign that is aimed at promoting constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Organisers and supporters of the campaign see it as not only a movement to challenge discrimination and exclusion in the constitution, but also as a process of healing, and acknowledging the ownership of country that is so often denied in pursuit of the myth of terra nullius.
Bolt believes it’s problematic to specify separate groups of people in a constitution, as do the other two middle-aged, heterosexual, able-bodied white men he rounded up for the chat. To his credit, it is well known that constitutional recognition in its proposed form is perhaps not within the best interest of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, and the campaign has been the subject of extensive discussion within the community. However, instead of proposing other solutions such as a treaty that doesn’t involve trading Melbourne for some handkerchiefs, Bolt’s answer to the very complex issue was to speak loudly and incoherently.
Gary Johns, who edited a collection of opinion pieces titled ‘Recognise What?’, challenged the campaign for being a waste of government funds on “weepy-eyed” sentiment for institutionally oppressed peoples and suggested that instead of an amendment, the Constitution include a preface to acknowledge the history of Aboriginal occupation of Australia before European invasion. Bolt’s response was one of outright denial: “No, but they weren’t here first . . . We were here the moment we we’re born . . . that’s racism”.
A later clarification on his blog persisted in his objective of utterly confounding anyone with a reasonable grasp on the concept of time: “No one of any ‘race’ – Aboriginal or other – who is younger than 54 was here before me. They have no greater right to this country. It is racist to say a group of Australians living today were here ‘first’ on the basis of who some of their ancestors were”.
On a later episode of The Bolt Report, former Labor frontbencher Craig Emerson identified the hypocrisy of Bolt’s simultaneous denunciation of racial divisions, and condemnation of the race that happened to be irritating him that week, to which he again responded by speaking loudly.
You might remember Bolt’s particular brand of distasteful gibberish from his other scandals, such as the time he was sued by nine different people over his delightfully-titled op-ed, “It’s So Hip To Be Black”, not to be mistaken for a separate piece he wrote, “White Is The New Black”. Bolt seems unreasonably preoccupied with the Aboriginal community, and it’s quite telling that many of his attacks have been found to violate the Racial Discrimination Act. His denial of the Stolen Generations in 2006 was as offensive as it was absurd. In 2009, he made it a point to attack the so-called “political Aborigine”. You know, those of us who are mixed race or white passing, who dare to identify with the culture we were denied through genocide.
The issue we have when we give people like Bolt oxygen, let alone a news programme, is not merely the spread of his poison this week’s flavour being, it’s racist to talk about race unless you’re a white person. His insistence on seeing race as an abstract notion, unrelated to disparities of wealth, infrastructure, housing, mental health issues, incarceration rates and life expectancy, is only relevant when he wants to condemn anyone who dares call themselves Aboriginal. However, this doesn’t meet the stereotypical standards he clings to, rather it is an act of epistemic violence. It speaks to the gross ignorance underpinning the discourse on race in the Australian media.
To acknowledge race and to treat others differently depending on their ethnicity is racist, Bolt insists, calmly rejecting the benefits of affirmative action and culturally specific approaches to health and education, all the while ignoring that for hundreds of years the West has been built on institutions that privilege people who look like Bolt, at the cost of those who don’t. He objects to the racial division of Australian people, because society tells him that he is the default, and to acknowledge that he is the recipient of these advantages would destabilise his achievements. When Bolt insists that we should not divide Australia by race, he is enacting a privilege that is not an option for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. For us, talking about race is part of an ongoing process of acknowledging disadvantage, voicing trauma, repairing the damage of colonial violence, rebuilding communities, and finding ways of practicing our culture in the new world that was forced upon our ancestors. For Bolt, talking about race means admitting that it has never been a problem for him.
Dealing with racism is time-consuming and forces myself and other individuals to coherently dispute fallacies, prove self-worth and respond to accusations we should never have had to face. I am not here to be a “political Aborigine.” I am here because my people were here first, despite what Bolt would like to splutter about. No one has the right to complain about the money being spent on advertising campaigns, scholarships, infrastructure or government support for Aboriginal people, not when the economy of this nation has been built on the denial, exploitation and illegal occupation of Aboriginal land.
What he is saying to me is that he does not see me as Aboriginal, as Koori, let alone a Bundjalung girl living in Dharug country. He does not acknowledge that I go to University in the Eora nation, because this is Australia, undivided not a melting pot, but a bleach bath.
There is no place for racism in Australia, Bolt claims. It seems we do agree on something.