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The feared other: Peter Dutton’s and Australia’s pathology around race

Joumanah El Matrah comments in The Guardian (8.1.18) that, in recent comments about African youths and ‘crime gangs’ in Victoria, Peter Dutton wants to persuade us that those who are most disempowered in our society are our greatest threat, only widening the divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

‘In David Marr’s book Panic he came to the realisation that he had been writing about panic, Australian panic in particular, all his career. If we are a fearful nation, we are also a compulsive one. We aggressively return to our fears, stoke our hatreds, and obsessively and routinely project everything that is disturbing within us onto others.

‘As a nation, we return again and again to the feared other. First it was the Italian mafias, then the unemployed youth gangs (AKA white boys) terrorising our suburbs, then the focus turned to Vietnamese gangs, moving then to Lebanese and Middle Eastern gangs, and most recently the Sudanese gangs. All the while, we are perpetually the victim of a perpetrator whose identity only shifts in class and race. It is a partnership we seem unable to do without.

‘From a psychological perspective, compulsions evolve in part from a failure to resolve a deeply rooted pathology. In this case it would be about our collective national delusion and the consequent obsession with gangs, specifically those with a racialised and class profile, were it not also about power and persecuting an already disenfranchised community.

‘Home affairs minister Peter Dutton understands the truth of our collective pathology around race. He is both mired in it and a master of stoking it. He knows we will respond every time and we will do this, no matter if the acting Victorian chief commissioner of police, Shane Patton, informs us otherwise (that there are no Sudanese gangs as such), or no matter if Victoria’s crime and youth rate are declining, or if the statistics only show an over-representation of Sudanese young men if they are organised in a particular way.

‘No matter if in centuries of analysing crime we know that race is neither correlative nor causative. In fact, the only factors that reliably correlate with crime among youth is poverty and alienation from society and its institutions. But even then, these factors cannot be said to cause youth crime; to be poor and disenfranchised does not mean you will break the law.’

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