At a time when we need analysis that defends the virtues of the liberal democratic experience, albeit without neglecting our own mistakes, we often have simplistic academic analysis that downplays our own social achievements.
Take academia’s increasing adherence to the concept of structural racism which generally refers to institutional, historical, cultural, and interpersonal practices within a society that disadvantages or excludes a social or ethnic group when compared to others to make them less likely to succeed, thus entrenching or creating disparities between groups over time.
For example, Larissa Behrendt, one of the authors of the DoBetter report bagging the Collingwood Football Club’s history as racist, told ABC sport that
...structural racism is usually something that sits within an organisation that has sat there since it was constructed with the original philosophy … A really good example is the Australian constitution, which has a structural racism, because when it was set up it was with the view that it should allow racial discrimination to facilitate a White Australia policy.
Of course, Behrendt is referring to the late 19th century reasoning behind s 51(xxvi) power which allowed the Commonwealth to “regulate the affairs of the people of coloured or inferior races who are in the Commonwealth”.
But given Behrendt is adamant that Collingwood has entrenched racism, and the report also implies that what happened at Collingwood reflects societal attitudes, such claims are clearly inadequate in terms of academic analysis given that attitudes towards race in Australia have changed dramatically over many decades.
This includes much better attitudes for Australia’s Aboriginals since the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 was amended in 1962 to extend universal adult suffrage to Aboriginal people, and the 1967 Referendum removed discriminatory references to Aboriginal people from the Constitution.
Quite simply, structural racism is a static concept which is incapable of explaining the dynamic nature of Australia’s liberal democracy towards issues such as race which is shaped by interaction between its different peoples mostly for the better, notwithstanding the ongoing reality that incidents of racism are likely to remain and Australia’s Aboriginals are likely to face disadvantage for some time yet.
To dismiss Australian laws, institutions and changing Australian attitudes towards race, which are today the antithesis of the structural racism that once existed, is indeed proof that such authors are merely advocates for a particular cause rather policy students more willing to reflect developments in an evolving liberal democracy.
Hence, while past racism has contributed to entrenched disadvantage for Australia’s Aborigines, which does produce much higher crime rates and adverse health outcomes, such biased authors will use such data to fuel their accusations of racism rather than consider other research which will show that disadvantage today is not merely caused by racism.
As one prominent American black commentator Thomas Sowell pointed out in 2002, “nothing is easier than to find statistical disparities between groups. They exist in countries around the world, with and without discrimination”.
Sowell notes that, whereas once discrimination focused on disadvantage,
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