Features Australia

White privilege as the face of modern Labor

Tu Le should have been picked, not KK

18 September 2021

9:00 AM

18 September 2021

9:00 AM

The runner-up in this year’s US Open tennis women’s final was 19-year old Leylah Fernandez who was born in Montreal to Ecuadoran and Filipino parents. And wasn’t it wonderful to have, on the sombre anniversary of 9/11, a celebratory full stadium with barely a mask in sight? The champion is 18-year old Emma Raducanu from Britain, born in Toronto, Canada to Romanian and Chinese parents who moved to England when she was aged two. Both seem well-adjusted personalities uncontaminated by victimhood culture. Neither shows bitterness or anger at the pervasive racism of her country. Both have profited to the highest levels of attainment from the professional opportunities open to them in Western countries. They, their success, joy and smiles have been possessively embraced by compatriots. We saw the same with our own middle-distance runner Peter Bol of Sudanese descent during the Tokyo Olympics.

I have no idea of their political values. In my own case, I am deeply conscious and appreciative of the political freedoms, civil liberties and individual human rights as protection against the tyranny of governments. My experiences in and familiarity with India also make me a strong opponent of criminalising speech and behaviour at which ‘protected’ groups take offence and which has turned India into the Republic of Hurt Sentiments. Ditto state-mandated and enforced affirmative action policies based in group identity that have entrenched caste divisions even more firmly, spawned millions of instances of individual caste-based injustices through public policy and fostered a greater consciousness of caste identity today than existed at independence in 1947.

In the decades since 1971 that I have lived in Canada, New Zealand and Australia, I am yet to experience racial hostility (occasional profiling by security operators at Sydney International excepted). Yet my politics do not blind me to the reality of ubiquitous caste injustice in India nor to systemic racism that persists in parts of Australian life. I thought at the time that Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane’s hounding of brilliant cartoonist Bill Leak was abhorrent and the pursuit of the Queensland University of Technology students by him and his chief Gillian Triggs betrayed appalling judgment on the meaning of and threats to human rights. But one of Soutphommasane’s better initiatives was an important study in 2016, with an update in 2018, of the backgrounds of senior leaders across business, government and academia. The dismal picture it painted of Asian and indigenous Australians missing in action from top leadership positions was a stark illustration of structural racism in Australia’s institutional leadership. White Australians with European roots still rule the roost across all sectors, with 95 per cent of senior leaders being Anglo-Celtic and European. Non-Europeans make up 21 per cent of the overall population but only 2.7 per cent of senior leaders. Canada, the UK and the US do visibly better. The number of Asians in Australia’s cabinet is exactly zero. The leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party, the minor but nonetheless national third party, is Jagmeet Singh – a turbaned Sikh whose parents immigrated from India. Another Indo-Canadian, Herb Dhaliwal, was elected to parliament in 1993 and became the first Asian-Canadian federal minister in 1997. In 2016, Justin Trudeau (unwisely) boasted he had more Sikhs in Cabinet than India’s PM Narendra Modi. In the US we have examples of Kamala Harris, Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal as major political personalities and in the UK, Rishi Sunak, Sajid Javid, Priti Patel, Nadhim Zahawi and Sadiq Khan.


Asian students tend to be an ‘an inconvenient minority’ for white liberals convinced that Western education perpetuates white privilege. In the Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard case, Asian-Americans have alleged systematic bias in Harvard University’s admissions policy. Lower courts have upheld Harvard’s racial affirmative action policy and the Supreme Court is considering whether to take up the federal lawsuit. The students allege Harvard’s ‘holistic’ admissions process with considerations of race and ethnicity when reviewing applications for admission actively discriminates against them. The statistics support them. According to Students for Fair Admissions’ analysis, Asian applicants in the 90th academic percentile lose out to whites in the 80th, Hispanics in the 60th and blacks in the 40th percentile of all applicants. Harvard’s pretence that attempts to favour blacks and Hispanics don’t discriminate against Asians is disingenuous. True, Harvard doesn’t believe Asians are inferior and bears them no animosity. This is no comfort to the Indo-American woman denied admission because of her skin colour in order to right a historic wrong for which she bears no responsibility. But I’m not holding my breath: top judges live in foreign lands and the reasoning behind some of their discombobulating decisions is often lost in translation.

California Governor Gavin Newsom has just won a recall election. The leading Republican opponent was Larry Elder, a conservative black radio show host. On 8 September, Elder had an egg thrown at him by a white woman in a gorilla mask, referencing a familiar racist trope. The US mainstream media (CNN, Washington Post, New York Times) mostly ignored the incident. Meanwhile Erika Smith described Elder as ‘the black face of white supremacy’ in the Los Angeles Times. This when Newsom is the very face of white privilege who was elected mayor of San Francisco at age 36 (2004-11) and has moved up since then to Lt. Governor (2011-19) and Governor (2019-).

Last week reports emerged that Labor frontbencher Kristina Keneally is to be moved down to the almost unwinnable third slot for a NSW Senate seat. In the factional deals, she will shift to the lower house as the candidate for the very safe seat of Fowler. But she can only be parachuted in by pre-empting the selection of Tu Le, the local favourite and preferred choice of retiring MP Chris Hayes. The lawyer daughter of Vietnamese refugees, Tu Le has been active in community advocacy. In other words, the Australian-born face of diversity – without the need for a quota, a well-qualified, engaged in the community and politically attractive hope for the future – is to be shoved aside for the face of white privilege, an American immigrant who doesn’t live in the electorate. Sky News host Paul Murray describes Keneally (KK) as being the politician who has been given a million chances yet every time she fails, somehow continues to climb higher up the ladder. ‘So she goes from being the deputy Senate leader to presumably eventually the leader of the opposition and one day Prime Minister KK, then governor-general, then pope,’ Murray quips.

KK not Tu Le is the face of modern Labor. Says it all, really.

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