Tim Blair


New Criterion



Tuesday, July 01, 2003
I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN. My apologies to my entire slavishly dependent readership for leaving them with the impression that Mahathir the Mad would have to move to the US to take up his Adjunct Chair in Whiteness Studies.

Of course we already have our own academic coven devoted to this "subject".

And, of course, it's at the University of Western Sydney, where every prospect is political, provided you're facing in the direction sinister.

This is the joint that bleats that it's $35 mill down the tubes if it's funded like its equals, and has started a political campaign to force more than its share out of the commonwealth government.

So, what is Whiteness Studies, antipodean version?

In the US, interest in whiteness was raised by call from within black feminism to study the particular identities, divisions, and paranoias inherent in whiteness, rather than approaching it as a homogeneous, neutral, and transparent category.

In Australia, by contrast, the uptake of whiteness studies has been much slower, taking its cue from the US work rather than arising from a self-consciousness regarding whiteness in the Australian public sphere.

They'll soon remedy that for us at UWS. But not without more money.

In his essay "Multiculturalism and the Whitening Machine, or How Australians Become White," Jon Stratton suggests that the late turn to whiteness studies in Australia stems from the differences between Australian and US forms of multiculturalism.

In short, he claims, that in the US "white hegemony has been much more seriously challenged and unsettled that in Australia."

By contrast, Australian multiculturalism has involved the negotiation and management of cultural and ethnic difference, failing to address the unequal dynamic of racial power that still haunts the national imaginary.

Whatever opinion one takes of official multiculturalism in Australia, it is an unavoidable fact that whiteness has been, and continues to be, a key factor, if not the key factor, in the shaping of national identity.

Too right! Omo nation.

How has this been disguised from the punters of colour?

This means that whiteness can be accumulated by a subject who does normally identity as white; e.g., an Aboriginal such as Ernie Dingo. Equally, it points to the existence of white subjects with a relatively low possession of the symbolic capital of whiteness; i.e., the people often referred to as "white trash."

Does that mean Ernie is white trash? Or that white trash have great on-screen presences and make a packet from commercials like our Ernie? Is it the dirt that makes poor people less white?

How can UWS help us out of our moral swamp?

In exposing this internal differentiation of whiteness, advocates of whiteness studies seek to displace the normativity of the white position—to understand it not as a transparent or neutral position from which all ethnic or racial differences are measured, but as a marked identity in its own right

I think I get it! UWS wants John Howard, leading white man, to get his battlers to pay more taxes so that the deeply fashionable thinkers of UWS can tell them why they're trash. And how they can buy their way out of it, I suppose.

Better still, let's just do away with white.

One group of whiteness critics in the US, those associated with the journal Race Traitor advocate a total abolition of whiteness (as symbolic privilege), bringing attention to bear upon the world of the downtrodden: bankrupt schools, corrupt police forces, failing labour unions, etc.

Bhabha is suspicious of such a call for the abolition of whiteness because he believes that this symbolic privilege might perpetuate itself under another name, such as nationalism, civility, or tolerance.

Now there are some deep social evils.

Are the problems that critics like Stratton and Hage have identified in official Australian multiculturalism more to do with the fact that it is Australian rather than with the fact that it is multicultural?

Of course, you dills, We'd worked that out already.

University of Western Sydney. Just the spot for Mahathir the Mad. But nor for my money.