Archive for the 'Tolerance & prejudice' Category

Political xenophobia 2

A referee for my political expenditure laws paper pointed out that – contrary to the title of an earlier post – that someone doesn’t have to be a xenophobe to have theoretical concerns about foreign donors.

Perhaps not, though I am not entirely clear what concerns about foreign donors could not be dealt with via other provisions that do not distinguish based on nationality. There are some foreigners whose influence is plausibly seen as bad, but the disclosure regime can deal with them the same way it deals with undesirable Australian donors (for example, I think Labor refuses donations from tobacco companies).

But given the vagueness of concerns about foreign donors, xenophobia does seem like at least a plausible explanation of this proposed ban.

In a Canberra Times op-ed yesterday I noted how the media is repeatedly investigating people with Chinese names, with echoes of the ‘yellow peril’ fears of the White Australia policy era.

Perhaps the machinations of the Chinese regime justify this attention, but after following this issue for a couple of years it is striking how much attention Chinese-background people get.

The ‘xenophobia’ evidence here is stronger than other similar claims, for example about ‘dog whistling’. It directly targets foreigners and assumes that their desire to be involved in Australian politics is improper. It’s a big generalisation, with too many exceptions to justify a ban.

Why is religion in anti-discrimination law?

The exemption [from anti-discrimination law for religious schools] stands or falls on whether there is something so unique about religious belief in education that it should over-ride the principles of equal employment opportunity that the community applies to virtually every other workplace. …. Why should some employers be able to discriminate on the grounds of religious belief when the law specifically proscribes this for the general population?

Ken Lovell, 20 July.

To me the issue stands or falls on the conceptual basis for including religion in anti-discrimination law in the first place.

On one view it is because religion is deeply important to many people, and as a community we accept that we all should be allowed to live according to our spiritual-cultural beliefs. Anti-discrimination law means that people don’t have to hide their religion when looking for a job or buying services. This is likely to be especially important for people who display religious symbols or dress in accordance with religious norms.

On another (not mutually exclusive) view, religion has a long history of causing social strife. With some glaring exceptions like Northern Ireland, Western countries have largely dealt with this through the practice of toleration. Anti-discrimination law gives legal force to this practice of just putting up with other religious beliefs, whether we like them or not.

On these justifications, the legal exemptions given to organisations based on religion are not conceptual exemptions. Rather they give effect to the underlying ideas that religion is important and that the chances that religion will cause social strife should be minimised. Read the rest of this entry »

How much power should government funding give?

The Age this morning reported on religious groups mobilising to fight possible changes to anti-discrimination law, which could force religious organisations, including private schools, to end otherwise-prohibited discriminatory practices against people who do not share their beliefs or lifestyles.

In this dispute, I favour religious freedom and believe the current exemptions to anti-discrimination law should be retained.

But ANU academic Margaret Thornton raises a possible complicating issue:

“I think that if private schools receive money from the state, as they do, they should be subject to the law of the land, they should not be able to claim all these exemptions,” she said.

But this kind of argument has huge implications for government’s broader financial relationships with civil society. Should taking any government money give the state total control? (And state governments are minor funding sources for private schools.)
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Prejudiced attitudes vs prejudiced behaviour

Andrew Leigh has released interesting research he and co-authors have been doing on ethnic prejudice and discrimination, using several tests: sending employers CVs that are identical except for the ethnicity of names and seeing how many applicants get a call back, seeing whether there are differences in how many mis-addressed letters are returned to sender depending on the ethnicity of the sender’s name, and the implicit association test which I encouraged people to take last year.

Compared to an Anglo control group, Chinese and Middle Eastern names particularly were received less favourably in all three tests. Italian and Indigenous names generally did better. Here is the The Age‘s write-up of the research.

While I think this research is valuable, I differ slightly with Andrew L in how I look at the issue. For example, in discussing the various methods of examining ‘racism and discrimination’ Andrew and his co-authors Alison Booth and Elena Varganova say:
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The politics of crime and race

Today Victorian police chief Simon Overland, with Premier John Brumby, announced further measures to crackdown on crime against Indian students.

This issue has been an interesting one, and is yet to fully play out.

The politics of crime 1

Mixing crime and race has brought the cultural left into the crime debate in a way that would have been unlikely otherwise. Though there is nothing intrinsically right-wing about being tough on crime, the propensity of right-of-centre parties to pursue ‘law and order’ politics pushes the cultural left into an oppositional stance: that fear of crime is exaggerated, that punishment doesn’t do much to rehabilitate, etc. Would Guy Rundle and David Marr have leapt into print if there was a crime wave without a racial angle?

The politics of crime 2

Even without an expressly racial element, this issue is interesting because a group has firmly, persistently, and successfully demanded that more be done to enforce the law. Usually, being a victim of crime is a lonely experience: people will sympathise with you, but they won’t mobilise for you. They don’t see your victimhood as a substantial risk to themselves. By targeting Indian students, the thugs picked on a group for whom a common identity is still strong, which provided the basis for political action.
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Could hate crime legislation increase risks for others?

Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls is introducing hate crime provisions for sentencing laws:

Mr Hulls said the laws would apply to hate crimes motivated by race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

I’m not sure how the ‘hate’ element is determined in law, but in the media the racist element of attacks on Indian students has usually been inferred from the racial abuse handed out during the assault or robbery.

As yet, however, there is no evidence that the offenders have any particular racist ideology. Indeed, the Indians seem like odd targets for Anglo racists (Andrew Bolt claims that many of the attackers are Africans). English-speaking cricket lovers have more in common with the majority population than do many other migrant groups.

Because there is little history of anti-Indian racism in Australia the surveys on ethnic views don’t have much on Indians, but what polling there is suggests they barely register on the racist radar. For example, in a 2004 Saulwick poll conducted for the federal election that year, just 0.6% of respondents nominated India as a country from which we should not receive migrants. In the 2007 Mapping Social Cohesion survey, just 1.9% nominated India as a country from which we should receive fewer migrants.

The racist abuse Indian victims have received may have more to do with verbal intimidation than with actual racist views, an added element of picking on victims unlikely to fight back.

But assuming criminals have some basic level of rationality, could the prospect of a harsher sentence for picking on a ‘victim’ group make them more likely to pick targets with little chance of providing the prosecution with a ‘hate’ angle? With the Australian-born already at greater risk from criminals, ‘hate crime’ laws could add to their woes.

What can politicians do about crimes against Indian students?

Sunday’s protest by Indian students certainly drew plenty of attention, with Rudd and Turnbull both making statements on the issue in Parliament the following day. That’s what Age online subeditor Sam Varghese, of ‘distinctly sub-continental’ appearance, had called for on the paper’s opinion page:

My biggest fear is that, if nothing is done to stop this scourge, if the authorities do not stand up and shout with one voice, then the violence will start to bear fruit. (emphasis added)

Though it is sensible for political leaders to make reassuring statements when a group in the community is feeling anxious, will this affect the underlying problem? I seriously doubt that this would be the case. Despite decades of denunciation, a smallish minority in the community are still self-confessed racists, and a much larger group will admit to some prejudice.

Add to this that the people responsible for these attacks are flouting not just widely-held norms of tolerance but near universally-held norms and tough laws (passed by politicians) against assault, and we are clearly dealing with a group of people with little regard for the moral or legal authority of politicians.

Certainly the norms in favour of tolerance are worth reinforcing as a general principle, but they are not the solution to this particular problem, which is a sub-set of a much larger law and order problem. While no doubt there are things the Indian students can do to reduce the risks they face, ultimately additional policing and punishment of offenders will be needed to return crimes against Indian students to isolated incidents.

Capital xenophobes

Two polls this week confirm that Australians take a largely negative view of foreign direct investment. On Monday, an Essential Media poll reported that only 25% of respondents agreed with the proposition that Chinese investment in mining companies should be welcomed because it helps our economy and provides jobs. Yesterday’s Newspoll, as reported in The Australian, found a small majority against any foreign company being allowed to acquire shares in Australian mineral companies.

As Tom Switzer’s recent paper on attitudes to foreign investment showed, there is nothing new in these attitudes. There also seems to be a particularly xenophobic flavour to some opposition. The Lowy Institute found stronger opposition to investment from Asian countries than from the UK or US.

While there are some political concerns in this as well as ethnic – state-owned companies raise slightly different issues to privately owned companies, particularly when the state involved is not democratic – ethnic or cultural factors do seem to influence attitudes. Japanese investment is strongly opposed along with that from undemocratic countries such as China.
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Educational apartheid?

In yet another of her articles attacking private schools, Jane Caro puts the shift to private schools as down to:

largely anxious middle-class parents who want to separate their kids from the mad, the bad and the sad (and, it seems, the ethnically diverse)

Having a somewhat traditional view of what constitutes good parenting, I think wanting to shield kids from the mad and the bad is worthy of praise rather than condemnation. (And if Caro thinks that a selling point of public schools is the opportunity to spend 5 days a week with mad and bad kids she is not the greatest advocate for her cause.)

Caro’s evidence for concern about ethnic diversity is a re-hash of last year’s white flight stories about white kids leaving schools with large Indigenous enrolments. As I pointed out at the time, if this is happening it probably has more to do with actual social and educational dysfunction among Indigenous students than prejudice.

But what of ethnic diversity in schools more generally? Since the white flight post last year, I have examined 2006 school attended census data on this issue. I used language spoken at home rather than ancestry as a proxy for ethnic diversity, to focus on the groups most likely to be weakly assimilated.
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Is the Pope stirring up hatred of homosexuals?

The Pope’s reported comments* about homosexuality being as much a threat to the world as climate change have drawn the expected condemnation (surely gays are helping reduce climate change by not having kids??).

But I think Fred Argy worries too much when he fears that these comments may ‘stir up hatred of homosexuals’.

Certainly, religious doctrines on homosexuality help explain why non-believers are more likely than believers to be unworried by gays and lesbians. But Catholics in particular have long had a pragmatic approach to the sexual teachings of their church, as seen in the very low birth rates of many Catholic countries (and no, this is not due to abstinence).

Clive Hamilton and Michael Flood pointed out some years ago, using Morgan polling research, that Catholics are less likely than members of other Christian religions to believe that homosexuality is immoral (only 34%). Consistent with this, the 2005 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes found that Catholics were more likely than other Christians to support gay civil unions (50% support).
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