The third and final instalment of the determining race series is here! I’ve decided to cut out a section of the original essay because a) I think we’re all ready to move on, and b) it really is a dry section about the origins of race and racial ideology. In short, racial thinking emerged in the late 17th C and coincided with the development of theories about natural selection and ideal evolutionary traits (on ya Darwin). These theories weren’t developed specifically for humanity, but it didn’t take long for them to be applied.
I won’t bore you with the ins and outs of the debates about whether race is or isn’t a social construct – if you’re interested I’d encourage you to do some reading. However, during the 19th and 20th centuries, the dominant perspective was that race was biological. The idea that some human beings are less than or inferior to others is a dangerous one, because it has been used through history to justify some of the most atrocious actions.
How then, does racial ideology lead to genocide? That’s the question I wanted answered when I wrote this paper a few years back. Here’s the answer that I found…
Racial Ideology = Genocide?
Racial ideology is dangerous and with it comes a plethora of challenges in the context of the study of genocide. Flynn (2004) is extremely critical of ideology in the broader sense, stating, “ideology deludes, inspires dishonesty, and breeds fanaticism”. When being guided by nothing more than ideology, one can find themselves closed off from fact, experience and logic, thereby minimising the legitimacy of their ideology and providing a grounds for ideas that – to any rational person – would be ridiculed or deemed reckless (that is, genocide). How then, does an ideology evolve into a crime against humanity on the scale of the genocide in Australia or the Jewish Holocaust? The liberal concept of ideology is integral to linking these ideas. Defined as, “an action-oriented system of beliefs” (Sypnowich, 2014), the liberal concept purports that ideology can motivate people to do or not do certain things. That ideology is defined as “action-oriented” is significant in terms of illuminating the link between ideology and genocide as it unpacks that blurry component of the path.
In light of the role ideology plays in creating an environment in which genocidal acts can occur without significant protest, it is important to then examine how exactly the ideology of the German Nazi Party and the ideology of Australian colonisers was utilised. Nazi Germany saw exemplary use of propaganda and control of the media (Crowe, 2008). Newspapers and advertisements were flooded with anti-Semitic propaganda. So much so that when the government began removing civil liberties and breaching human rights through things like ghettoization and the Nuremberg Laws, little objection took place (Crowe, 2008). One of the key figures (aside from Hitler himself) that can show the extremity of anti-Semitic ideology and how it was communicated to society is Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda from 1933-1945 (Manvell & Fraenkel, 2010). His role allowed him control and supervision over news media, arts and information in Germany (Manvell & Fraenkel, 2010). His perceptions – and the perceptions of others within the Nazi party – were expressed clearly during the lead up to the Holocaust. In Hitler’s 1939 Reichstag speech (which Goebbels had a hand in writing), Hitler asserted, “If international finance Jewry in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the bolshevization of the earth and thereby the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!” (Kershaw, 2008). It is also essential to remember that the social and political climate in Germany when Hitler rose to power was fairly conducive to these Semitic sentiments taking off (Weikart, 2004).
The Australian climate differs significantly, however, racial ideology still played a prominent role in sewing the seeds for genocide. This is seen in the racist policies implemented throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, in addition to the strategic and intentional conditions inflicted upon Aboriginal people to bring about their demise (McGregor, 2008). These acts were justified by making the claim that it was in the best interests of Aboriginal people – this is particularly true of the forced removal of Aboriginal children (the Stolen Generations) who were taken from their families and placed with non-Indigenous families or in institutions where they were taught to be domestic servants and farm hands (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), n.d.). The Australian public were assured that Aboriginal people could be ‘bred out’, based on illegitimate scientific research (McGregor, 2008). A. O. Neville, Chief Protector of Aborigines in Western Australia barracked for the integration of ‘half-caste’ Aboriginals into Australian society so as to see an end to the ‘full-blood’ (Dirk Moses, 2004). Arguing his point, Neville asked delegates at Canberra, “Are we going to have a population of 1,000,000 blacks in the Commonwealth, or are we going to merge them into our white community and eventually forget there ever were any Aborigines in Australia?” (Dirk Moses, 2004, p. 219). There is irony in Neville’s title – “Protector” of Aborigines – as his murderous attitude is evident in his statement.
The primary justification for acts of genocide can be attributed to racial thinking and racial ideology. This is evident in the analysis of the Australian genocide and the Jewish Holocaust, especially when the context of each is understood.
I’d like to add, as a bit of a disclaimer, that in no way does this analysis of racial ideology intend to dismiss or minimise the harm or loss experienced by people at the hands of the state (or other). No justification for genocide is a reasonable one. One of the hopes I had when writing this paper was that if we better understood how and why events in history were able to occur, then we might be able to prevent similar actions from occurring in the future. I realise now that that’s one of the most naive thoughts I’ve ever had, but I still believe that we need to learn about, think about and critically reflect on our past if we are to have any hope of a peaceful, happy future.
This is the last in the ‘Determining Race’ series. I’ve cut out quite a lot of the more repetitive and dry sections for your convenience! Reading back over this has been a really fun experience for me so I hope you’ve been able to take something from it. As I said in the first of these three posts, re-reading and reflecting on past work is a really great way to witness your own growth. It doesn’t have to be an old essay or piece of writing – go and find something you created a few years ago and see how much you’ve changed and/or improved.