UITE often these last couple of days (weeks, months, years!), I am feeling like the world shifted and got ugly while I wasn’t looking. It’s not at all true, of course, just a mark of the ways privilege inflects my life. But I can’t seem to shake the despondency that shudders up a gear into anger occasionally. Well, I’m going to try writing some of it out, and see how that goes. And then I’ll follow it (hopefully) with some notes on ‘The Time of the King’ so my hopefully not too horrible self-indulgence doesn’t sit at the top of the blog.
One of the worst things, actually, about the wake of the announced ‘national emergency’ is the demonstration of how very big the world is. I think WOC Blog is one of the only non-Australian blogs I read that mentioned anything about Howard’s sudden concern for childhood innocence (yeah, I know, it might just be the stuff I read, I get that); the rest of the blogosphere seems to not have recognised that this is happening, or perhaps it’s just not close enough to home to really matter. But the cheerfulness of some of the blogs I read has felt grating the last two days. It’s a bit like grief (and that’s probably not a coincidence): can’t everyone see the world has changed?
And of course it hasn’t, not precisely. To suggest that is to suggest that the plans being put into place for the Northern Territory had no precedent, when probably the scariest thing about them is that they are merely the extension of existing logics. Normalising logics. Assimilatory logics. White logics. The logic of guilt and innocence. The extraordinary thing is that the Liberal government has managed, in the midst of all this, to claim their own innocence. And not least over the latest death in custody horror: the erasure of the death of Mulrunji Doomadjee in this new plan for the NT ensures the acquittal of Hurley (and the government, really) remains uninterrogated; the declaration of innocence gets to stand because those indigenous people are just so guilty. Really. I mean, how long have they been in power? I don’t think I’ve voted in an election where Labour won (altogether too depressing a thought). But the point is, they’ve had more than ten years in which to actually begin (or, you know, not just undermine every single move towards) the amelioration of the sources of justified white Australian guilt. But without a ‘sorry,’ they move cheerfully on, marginalising entire communities of people until they find a space/Cause terrible enough for them to be able to declare their innocence (an innocence that they thereby make to extend back in time), a space which will allow them to deploy race yet again in service of the ‘tough on x’ election spin. All the better when what they’re doing can be ‘tough on Aboriginals’ at the same moment as being ‘tough on child sex abuse.’ You can catch the racists and the little-l liberals that way (and of course the pretty overlap between those two groups); and it’s the perfect way to crack the Labour lead (though given that… what, two? of the recommendations of 96 in the Little Children are Sacred are actually being taken up, you’d think that Labour would be able to suggest something other than manky ‘bipartisanship’! (I can’t remember where I read this, so I’m sorry; if you know/remember/wrote it(!), let me know, and I’ll edit it in.)) Not that I’m recommending those recommendations; just pointing out that there is, actually, an already-legitimised political platform they could use to stand on and perhaps even (gasp!) vaguely against Howard.
But it’s in the sweet dovetail the government has managed between small-l liberals and racists that the real pinch lies, I think. The introduction of draconian* measures which are apparently (though without real causation, as s0metim3s pointed out in the comments on the last post) in aid of ‘obvious’ liberal goods: no child sex abuse (huh! see dot-point 2 for a hint on the fact that we might want a national initiative on this front; can you imagine what that would look like? Rather different, I suspect!), kids attending school, sobriety and ‘proper’ sexuality means that a discussion of and disagreement with the means (let alone the assimilative tendencies of the ends) becomes a querying of that which the ends seek to ‘fix’. That is, it’s all too clear a risk to start asking too many questions. In the current climate, we’ve seen how this works: questions about the why of ‘terrorism’ are cast as disrespectful to the dead; questions about the why and why like this here get cast as a failure to act at best, and an approval of child sex abuse, alcohol and substance abuse, house ‘disrespecting,’ porn use and so on at worst. Or they will do.
In this context, there’s no space for responding the specificity of the situation: there’s no space to wonder about how unambiguous are the goods of education (especially after a Western liberal framework), for example. There’s no space to think critically about the ends we’re implicitly aiming to engender (it’s really not just about child sex abuse now, is it?), about how and why we can’t conceive of subjectivity let alone community done differently. Now, I know there’s complexities here that I’m treading all over with very big boots, but these are just the pained turning over of ideas: why is it so impossible to find spaces and ways to think the intersections of cultures? I know it’s very complicated, truly, and I’m not anywhere near well-versed enough in critical race studies to know if there are answers already (fill my parentheses in the comments, please!), but in amongst the discussions I am reading, I can’t help but wonder: are there really no ways to think through and negotiate the relations between cultures and communities (and I don’t just mean the ‘white’ and the ‘indigenous’ because they are already too homogenising and leave out a rather large chunk of the population besides (kinda my point)) in ways that don’t simply become assimilative, that don’t merely attempt through differently violent means (is that too strong?) to attempt to produce the same, the Same, the Same? Is it so impossible to enable (and I mean big-p politically, I’m not so naive as to imagine it’s not already happening) the envisaging of indigeneity, whiteness and community in ways that neither erase difference nor reify or romanticise it? In the end, I get the need to move forward; I’m just worried the PM is up to his usual tricks of leading us into the past in the name of a future comforting only because it’s familiar, because it’s already envisaged on the fantasies of that past, one we (well, some of us) know too well was and is a problem. We can only move forward from here, and I get that the intentions of some—perhaps even most, though I don’t really feel that generous—arise from the concern to make a viable future; but I think that to forget the past that brought us here can mean that we forget the specificity of the future we continue to envisage; and worse, to forget that what is actually needed is to find other (non-assimilative? hey, I can dream!) ways to think, dream, live, be other (and maybe unknown) futures.
Sigh. And my heart hurts.
*(y’know, I really like that word, but the context it’s used in means it almost always has bad associations. But dragons, really, on the whole, I suspect would do a better job)