Australia's most popular news columnist, Andrew Bolt, found himself on the wrong end of a Federal Court decision this week. Justice Mordy Bromberg found the right-wing polemicist and his publisher the Herald-Sun guilty of a breach of the Racial Discrimination Act. The paper will be forced to print an apology. The court found that 2 articles Bolt penned about certain fair-skinned members of the Aboriginal community were racially offensive, humiliating and "destructive of racial tolerance".
You can read the articles for yourself (White fellas in the black, and It's so hip to be black) although for legal reasons they may not stay up on the web for too long.
Predictably, the Right in Australia have collectively tut-tutted about the threat to free speech, with the Coalition signalling it will try to amend the Act if it gets in to power. By contrast the Left in Australia, who have long viewed Bolt as some kind of racist climate-change-denying Antichrist, seem happy to see the guy cop a legal beating.
For me, there are a few aspects to consider. Will this truly be a landmark ruling ushering in a new Orwellian approach to censorship in this country, as some are saying? Time will tell. While I believe there is certainly a place for legislation dealing with racial discrimination and vilification, I'm skeptical about its use in anything that's not a clear and fairly extreme case. I don't like most of what Bolt has to say, but in the main I think he should have a right to say it, just as other people should have the right to call Bolt a bit of a douche in reaction. Rather than trying to shut Bolt up, I'd prefer the Left lift its game, since Bolt's primary drawcard is his ability to point out stupidity on the Left. (Let's be honest, both sides of the spectrum have stupidity in spades if you look for it.) But it's important to keep in mind the particular details of this case. Bolt got facts wrong, quite basic facts, about the people who subsequently brought the case against him. While Bolt denies accusing fair-skinned Aborigines of identifying as black for cynical motives, the tone of these articles and others (this has been a long-running theme on the Bolt blog) certainly casts these people in a negative light for having the nerve to call themselves indigenous.
I've never been a fan of Andrew Bolt and have had my share of things to say about him on this blog, particular his love of highlighting "ethnic crime". I do feel a tiny bit sorry for him on this occasion, however, because I happen to agree with one of his points.
I have no issue with people claiming Aboriginal identity even though they might be predominantly European in ancestry and have a corresponding appearance; I'm in no position to judge how Aboriginal their upbringing was. I also have no issue with affirmative action policies for Aboriginal Australians; given our shameful history, there needs to be at least some measures in place to give them a leg up. However, it is where these two concepts meet where a problem can occur. Positive discrimination for Aborigines occurs in order to counter the racism and disadvantaged upbringings that they so frequently experience... yet does someone who is 3/4 white and is raised in a predominantly white environment actually experience these challenges to a substantive degree?
So while I don't think it is fair to question whether a "white" Aborigine is actually an Aborigine, it does seem fair to question whether they are entitled to all the financial benefits and opportunities that come with being Aboriginal when they almost certainly do not suffer the same level of disadvantage that a "black" Aborigine does. Particularly in cases where "black" Aborigines, a great many of whom are truly needy, are actually missing out on opportunities to Aborigines who are effectively white in appearance.
So Bolt actually had a point in there somewhere. It's a shame then that it had to be made by someone whose writings have shown repeated antipathy to the Aboriginal cause, and indeed to any culture that is not North-Western European in origin. It didn't take a court decision to prove that Bolt is a racist, or at very least "racially insensitive" or "racially inflammatory"; that was pretty well known already. But a wise man can admit that once in a while, one's ideological opponents can sort of get it right on some things. And if Bolt's overall tone was not so contemptuous of non-white people, maybe people on the other side of the spectrum might actually be able to listen to him without working themselves into a rage.