Flat White

No hyphenation please, we’re Australian

26 July 2018

9:45 AM

26 July 2018

9:45 AM

Australia definitely benefits from learning from other societies and applying international best practices. But the grass is not always greener on the other side. Practices that make sense overseas may not necessarily make sense here and may actually constitute a case of trying to squeeze a round peg into a square hole. The increasing use of hyphenation to refer to Australians is an example of an overseas practice that is ill-suited to a country like Australia.

I can fairly be described as being a Christian fundamentalist. While my articles here may appear to speak ill of American cultural influence more often than not, guess where ninety per cent of my fundamentalist influence came from? Few would be surprised to learn that it came from the United States. But I think I have enough sense to figure out that not everything that is applicable to the United States is applicable here.

Take American gun culture, for example. Over time, my American influencers have managed to somewhat bring me to their way of thinking regarding the reasoning behind the second amendment. And my realisation that the average Swiss household probably packs more heat than the average American one (even in Texas) helped convince me that a heavily armed society does not necessarily translate into a dangerous and violent society.

But I just do not see the possibility of people walking around with AR-15s in Australia, whether to ward off a government with tyrannical designs or to hunt rabbits. I just do not see it happening here. Anyone wishing to replicate that part of American culture here is just being silly. American gun culture is sui generis.

Part of the reason Australia has been such a successful migrant nation is that Australians are more comfortable with assimilation over segregation. Not being a volkisch people, Australians will welcome and give a fair go to anyone willing to integrate and contribute; the historical record testifies to this. Only if immigrants are slow to integrate, or start to integrate in the wrong direction, will complaining noises be made. But this is only after they have been given the same fair chance and benefit of the doubt as would be given to anyone else.

Hyphenation makes sense in societies that are more comfortable with segregation over assimilation. In such societies, the adjective of nationality is often modified by another adjective that describes the sub-category of citizenship to which the person belongs. In such societies, there are “majorities” and “minorities”. By “minorities” they do not mean to refer to left-handed people or people with red hair or people under 18.

“Minorities” in such a society is a euphemism for the Other; the perpetual, unassimilable Other. It refers to the native-born foreigners in their midst who have an ambivalent claim to citizenship, one that is always being negotiated, sometimes by recourse to street riots and civil disobedience.

But in Australia, there are simply New Australians and prefix-less Australians. With time, it is understood, New Australians will naturally lose the modifying adjective. New Australians will never be required to sit at the back of the bus or engage in an open-ended negotiation over what rights of citizenship they are entitled to. They are expected to simply become Australian.

Unless, that is, we are to uncritically adopt practices of foreign lands even when they do not make much sense in an Australian context. Thus we may also find ourselves with the Other in our midst, who forever have separate needs and interests from prefix-less Australians. The Australian Other can never simply be (or aspire to be) Australian but must be recognised as belonging to a separate category of Australian, with a separate identity and a hyphen to show this – hyphenated-Australians. Accordingly, even the patently ridiculous foreign phrase “people of colour” is to be increasingly employed in Australia, which seems to imagine that “white” is somehow not a colour. Identity politics, some call it.

While we can, of course, learn from and copy what is good from America, we should also exercise the necessary sense to realise that not everything from America is good or can be applied here. American gun culture is a good example.

But is Michael Pezzullo, Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs, an Italian-Australian, or simply an Australian? Is Peter Varghese, former Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (and a former top spook), a Kenyan-Indian-Australian, or simply an Australian? Is Senator Wong a Hakka-Chinese-Malaysian-Chinese-Australian, or simply an Australian?

The culture of hyphenation (as well as ridiculous and redundant phrases like “people of colour”) is another example. I for one am a proud unhyphenated-Australian.

Illustration: Library of Congress.

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