Tag Archives: racism

Why is the Confederate flag so offensive?


Clare Corbould, Deakin University

Most Australians — aside from a few groups dedicated to reenacting American Civil War battles and history buffs including Bob Carr and Kim Beazley — were not familiar until recently with the charged history of the flag of the Confederate States of America.

Now the flag is in the Australian news with reports SAS military in Afghanistan in 2012 used the bold red, blue and white flag to guide in a US helicopter. Two SAS personnel also posed for a photograph with the flag.

Why do these images of Australian soldiers posing with a flag from another country’s long-ago war provoke such strong reactions? Because the flag has long symbolised defiance, rebellion, an ideal of whiteness and the social and political exclusion of non-white people — in a word, racism.

The Confederacy defeated, but not punished

The flag represents the Confederate States of America (CSA or Confederacy), created in 1861 when 11 states seceded from the 85-year-old nation. This rebellion was prompted by the election of Abraham Lincoln as president. Lincoln argued slavery should not be extended to new territories the United States was annexing in the west. Southern enslavers feared slavery in their established states would be Lincoln’s next target.

The ensuing four-year Civil War between the CSA and US was resolved in 1865 with the defeat of the Confederacy and the near-abolition of enslavement.

In the aftermath of the war, a longer battle began: how to interpret the war. For 155 years, this struggle has turned largely on the contradiction that although the US fought to end slavery, most white Americans, including in the North, had little commitment to ending racism.




Read more:
The Confederate battleflag comes in waves, with a history that is still unfurling


After a decade of military occupation of the South, known as the period of Reconstruction, the US military withdrew its forces. White Southerners, who had retained their land, implemented unjust legal and labour systems, underpinned by violence and racist ideas about black people’s inferiority.

Memorials of war

The reembrace of white Southerners into the nation showed a desire to “heal” the nation by downplaying the horrors of enslavement and the struggle to end it.

New narratives depicted the war as a righteous, though tragic, struggle over “states’ rights”. By avoiding a conversation as to what those rights were about — that is, enslavement — by the 1890s, they remade the meaning of the war.




Read more:
From Louisiana to Queensland: how American slave owners started again in Australia


Confederate flags were a powerful symbol in reinterpreting the War of the Rebellion. In the 1915 box-office hit feature film, The Birth of a Nation, for example, the central battle scene involves a key character, Ben Cameron of South Carolina, ramming the pole of a Confederate flag down a United States army cannon.

In the very next shot, however, the injured Cameron is rescued from the no-man’s land between trenches by his longtime family friend, Northerner and US Army commander, Phil Stoneman.

The movie’s second half cemented the theme of reconciling white Southerners and white Northerners. As it stated in an intertitle, “The former enemies of North and South are united again in common defense of their Aryan birthright”. It even became a tool to recruit new members to the Ku Klux Klan.

The war, in this telling, was a struggle between white and Black Americans, not between the US and the rebel Confederacy.

Old film footage of Civil war film.
Jamming the flag in the famous war film The Birth of a Nation.
YouTube

Blowing in the wind

The Confederate flag featured prominently in Gone with the Wind (1939), another immensely popular film that again glorified the way of life of white Southerners during and immediately after slavery. In this case, however, Hollywood used the more visually striking Confederate Battle Flag, which General Robert E. Lee had flown during the war, rather than any of the CSA’s national flags.

As Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) arrives at a makeshift hospital, the camera pans back to a field of hundreds of wounded and dead soldiers. The scene shifts only once those soldiers are framed by a Confederate flag, blowing majestically in the breeze.

Confederate flag flies over the battlefield in Gone with the Wind.
The battlefield in Gone with the Wind (1939).
IMDB

These two films buttressed a political economy that relied on a cheap labour force of disenfranchised Black Americans. But as African Americans began to make headway in the fight for civil rights, starting during World War II, symbols such as the Confederate flag became even more important to those who felt affronted by their gains.




Read more:
I am not your nice ‘Mammy’: How racist stereotypes still impact women


Enter the ‘Dixiecrats’

In the late 1940s, a new political party of Southerners opposed Harry S. Truman and the Democratic Party’s relatively sympathetic stance on civil rights.

These “Dixiecrats” adopted the Confederate battle flag as their party’s emblem. From that point, the flag was clearly associated with racist opposition to civil rights and with umbrage at perceived government intrusion into the lives of individuals.

When civil rights activism was at its most visible, in the 1950s and 1960s, many white Southerners became firmly attached to the flag.

The state of Georgia, where resistance to desegregation was fierce, adopted a new state flag that incorporated the Confederate flag.

A few years later, in 1961, neighbouring state South Carolina began flying the Confederate flag above its state Capitol.

Banning the flag

In 2000, after years of protest, South Carolina legislators moved the Confederate flag to the State House’s grounds. Then, after white supremacist Dylann Roof endorsed the Confederate flag and murdered nine black churchgoers in 2015, activist Bree Newsome shimmied up the pole and removed it in a galvanising act of civil disobedience.

Two weeks later, the flag in South Carolina’s house of government was finally removed for good. In the years since, hundreds of Confederate flags, statues and memorials have disappeared, including in the national Capitol.

In 2016, recognising the flag’s toxic history, major retailers announced they would no longer sell the flag.

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the removal of Confederate symbols has accelerated. In recent months, Southern company Nascar has banned the flag and the Department of Defense has effectively done so, too.

In a polarised political and media environment, many white Southerners continue to defend their allegiance to the Confederate flag.

They claim the battle flag represents their Southern heritage, as if that heritage comprises an innocent history of mint juleps and church-going. The problem with that claim, as the history of the use of the flag demonstrates, is that the heritage it symbolises is also that of enslavement, inequality, violence and gross injustice. The Conversation

Clare Corbould, Associate Professor, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Dove, real beauty and the racist history of skin whitening



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The Dove ad published on Facebook, which the company took down after many complaints of racial insensitivity.
NayTheMUA/Facebook

Liz Conor, La Trobe University

This week the marketing office of Dove, a personal care brand of Unilever, found itself in hot water over an ad that many people have taken to be racially insensitive. Social media users called for a boycott of the brand’s products.

The offending ad showed a black woman appearing to turn white after using its body lotion. This online campaign was swiftly removed but had already hurtled through social media after a US makeup artist, Naomi Blake (Naythemua), posted her dismay on Facebook, calling the ad “tone deaf”.

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Dove responded initially via Twitter.

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The company then followed up with a longer statement: “As a part of a campaign for Dove body wash, a three-second video clip was posted to the US Facebook page … It did not represent the diversity of real beauty which is something Dove is passionate about and is core to our beliefs, and it should not have happened.”

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One has to ask, were the boys destined for Dove marketing kicking on at the pub instead of going to their History of Advertising lecture, the one with the 1884 Pears’ soap ad powerpoint? Jokes aside, Dove’s troubling ad buys into a racist history of seeing white skin as clean, and black skin as something to be cleansed.

The original Pears’ soap advert based on the fable Washing the Blackamoor white, published in the Graphic for Christmas 1884.
Author provided

Racist history

Dove has missed the mark before. In a 2011 ad, three progressively paler-skinned women stand in towels under two boards labelled “Before” and “After”, implying transitioning to lighter skin was the luminous beauty promise of Dove (Dove responded that all three women represented the “after” image).

Many of the indignant comments reference the longstanding trope of black babies and women scrubbed white. Australia has particular form on this front. Gamilaraay Yuwaalaraay historian Frances Peters–Little (filmmaker and performing artist) has demanded an apology from Dove. She posted a soap advertisement for Nulla Nulla soap from 1901 on Facebook to show the long reach of racism through entrenched tropes still at work in the Dove ads.

A soap advertisement for Nulla Nulla soap from 1901.
Author provided

Wiradjuri author Kathleen Jackson has also written about the Nulla Nulla ad and the kingplate, a badge of honour given by white settlers to Aboriginal people, labelled “DIRT”. She explains that whiteness was seen as purity, while blackness was seen as filth, something that colonialists were charged to expunge from the face of the Earth. Advertising suggested imperial soap had the power to eradicate indigeneity.

This coincided with policies that were expressly aimed at eliminating the “native”. In Australia the policy of assimilation was based on the entirely spurious scientific whimsy of “biological absorption”, that dark skin and indigenous features could be eliminated through “breeding out the colour”.

In New South Wales, “half-caste” girls were targeted for removal from their families and placed as domestic servants in white homes where it was assumed “lower-class” white men would marry them. These women were often vulnerable to sexual violence. Any resulting children, however begotten, would be fairer-skinned, due implicitly to the bleaching properties of white men’s semen.

Aboriginal mothers were vilified as unhygienic and neglectful. In fact, they battled against often impossible privation to turn their children out immaculately in the hope police would have less cause to remove them.

Real beauty?

Cleanliness and godliness, whiteness and maternal competency: these are the lacerations Dove liberally salted with its history-blind ad. It unwittingly strikes at the resistance and resilience of Aboriginal families who for generations fended off fragmentation, draconian administration and intrusive surveillance by state administrators. Its myopic implied characterisation of beauty as resulting from shedding blackness is mystifying.

In 2004, Dove kicked off a campaign for “Real Beauty”. It proclaims itself “an agent of change to educate and inspire girls on a wider definition of beauty and to make them feel more confident about themselves”. Dove’s online short films about beauty standards – including Daughters, Onslaught, Amy and Evolution – have been recognised with international advertising awards.

Yet Dove also sits in Unilever with Fair and Lovely, a skin whitening product and brand developed in India in 1975. This corporate cousin to Dove touts its bleaching agent as the No. 1 “fairness cream” and purports to work through activating “the Fair and Lovely vitamin system to give radiant even toned skin”. It is sold in over 40 countries.

Skin whitening products (there is also a Fair and Handsome for men, not associated with Unilever) are popular in Asia, where more than 60 companies compete in a market estimated at US$18 billion. They enforce social hierarchies around caste and ethnicity. Since the 1920s the racialised politics of skin lightening have spread around the globe as consumer capitalism reached into China, India and South Africa.

The ConversationDove responded to its controversial ad by saying that “the diversity of real beauty… is core to our beliefs”. But “core” here seems skin-deep when it fails to penetrate into the pores of its parent company and its subsidiaries.

Liz Conor, ARC Future Fellow, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Monumental errors: how Australia can fix its racist colonial statues



File 20170825 28115 1nebnya
Aboriginal dancers from Pinjarra perform at the unveiling of the counter-memorial in Esplanade Park, Fremantle, April 9 1994.
Courtesy Bruce Scates

Bruce Charles Scates, Australian National University

War memorials are a feature of the Australian landscape. Obelisk and arch, broken pillar and stone statue remind us of the crippling loss a young nation faced in campaigns overseas. But where are the monuments to conflicts fought in our own country – a brutal war of dispossession that left deep and enduring scars on countless communities?

As the recent debate over Australian statues demonstrates, sanitised symbols of violence and dispossession have long stood unchallenged in the heart of our towns and cities. By occupying civic space they serve to legitimise narratives of conquest and dispossession, arguably colonising minds in the same ways white “settlers” seized vast tracts of territory.


Read more: The politics of public monuments: it’s time Australians looked at what, and whom, we commemorate


Stan Grant has called for a Sydney statue of James Cook that claims Cook “discovered” Australia to be corrected. Others have called for the renaming of buildings and public spaces named after Lachlan Macquarie and people associated with Queensland’s slaving (known as “blackbirding”) history.

In response, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, along with other politicians and commentator Andrew Bolt, have labelled these calls to alter monuments “Stalinist”.

In debating the place “explorers” or “blackbirders” might occupy in civic space, Australians face a choice in how we engage with a past that is painful, multivocal and complex. White Australians raised such memorials as tributes to their colonial pasts; other than as subjects, there was no place for Indigenous peoples.

Should politicians, bureaucrats or the apologists for our country’s racist past decide the fate of these memorials today? Or can this debate empower previously displaced voices? These monuments have maligned and marginalised first nations’ peoples from the first day they were erected. And they stand, after all, on land whose sovereignty was never surrendered.

Indigenous communities have confronted such challenges before. And they have acted with courage, wisdom and generosity. In Fremantle, Western Australia, a monument that celebrated the racism that mars Australia’s past has today become a symbol of dialogue and reconciliation.

Susan Carland and Bruce Scates discuss Australia’s frontier conflict.

Revising the past

The Explorers’ Monument in Fremantle was unveiled in 1913 to commemorate three white explorers – Frederick Panter, James Harding and William Goldwyer – who were killed in the far northwest in 1864. For generations it stood unquestioned in the centre of the Esplanade Reserve in Fremantle, enshrining a pioneer myth writ deep in Australian history.

A series of plaques circling the monument claimed that the explorers were attacked at night and “killed in their sleep” by “treacherous natives”. The land where they died is portrayed as hostile and alien: a “terra incognita”. Aboriginal people are described as savages, the whites as “intrepid pioneers”.

The orignal plaque on the Explorers’ Monument.

Other features of the monument are stridently belligerent. An imposing bust pays tribute to Maitland Brown, “leader of the government search and punitive expedition” who carried the explorers’ remains back with him to Fremantle. Brown’s expedition ended in the massacre of around 20 Aboriginal people; mounted and well armed, none of his party were killed or wounded.

In 1994, the United Nations Year of Indigenous Peoples, a counter-memorial was set in the monument’s base. Elders from Bidyadanga (formally La Grange) unveiled a new plaque outlining the history of provocation that led to the explorers’ deaths. It was a striking instance of what scholars call “dialogical memorialisation”, where one view of the past takes issue with another and history is seen, not as some final statement, but a contingent and contested narrative.

The plaque added to the Explorers’ Monument in 1994.

Equally importantly, the plaque acknowledges the right of Indigenous people to defend their traditional lands and solemnly commemorates “all those Aboriginal people who died during the invasion of their country”. The dedication service ended as Aboriginal people scattered dust from the site of the massacre and two white children laid wreaths of flowers decked in Aboriginal colours.

The Explorers’ Monument carried the same inscription chiselled on war memorials the length and breadth of our country. “Lest we forget” was the chilling phrase chosen to commemorate Panter, Harding and Goldwyer in 1913, and those words back then were an incitement to racial hatred.

Over 80 years later, the people of Bidyadanga and the Baldja network in Fremantle added “lest we forget” to their counter-inscription. This invites us to widen the ambit of remembrance and recognise the common tragedies that attended the so-called settlement of Australia.

Authorised and unauthorised history

In the United States, symbols of the nation’s racist past have been the flash points of violent confrontations, such as in Charlottesville. Protesters demand the removal of statues that celebrate slave owners and white supremacists. Right-wing militia groups rally to their defence.

Similar debates have emerged elsewhere. Should great centres of learning like Oxford pay tribute to Cecil Rhodes, a man who pioneered the policies of apartheid?

Can a democracy enshrine the advocates of racial, sexual or religious discrimination, or peaceful communities honour those who carpet-bombed Europe? In each case, statues and memorials stand at the heart of these controversies. Once the meanings of monuments were thought to be set in stone; now they crumble in the relentless critique of history.


Read more: Fair Game? The audacity of Héritier Lumumba


Would those opposing the altering of Australia’s colonial statues have also opposed the demolition of the Berlin Wall, or the toppling of statues of Saddam Hassein? In monuments, as in written histories, some narratives are authorised, others denied or disputed.

And such critique raises deeper questions, interrogating the very nature of history as a scholarly discipline. Does history cease to exist when a memorial is removed from public view and civic sanction – or is that act of removal, a forceful repudiation of the past, itself an act of choice and agency in history?

Ray Minniecon was an Aboriginal student at Murdoch University who led the liaison with Indigenous communities. “Monuments,” he said on the day Fremantle’s counter-memorial was unveiled, “are not just a window into our past; they are a window into ourselves.” We can choose. We may cling to the racism and hatreds of the past or make our own commitment to what the constitutional convention at Uluru aptly dubbed “truth telling”.

The ConversationPerhaps, at this critical juncture in our history, Fremantle suggests the way forward.

Bruce Charles Scates, Professor of History, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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