By Carolina Lee
In critiquing the counter-protests to Reclaim Australia, Brad Chilcott labels the counter-protestors as abusive, violent and as hateful as Reclaim Australia supporters . I understand that the counter-protestors’ chants of “F*** off racists” may well have upset the sensibilities of “reasonable” progressives or “middle” Australia. However given what I observed of the Reclaim Australia supporters – people who had attended a public rally to shout about how much they hate Islam and the need to defend “the Australian cultural identity” – shouting profanities as part of a counter-protest seemed less like mere foul language and more like defiance in the face of racism; acts of self-defence.
Some readers may label me over-dramatic, no less because I am a young woman of colour. Let me be clear: when I saw the Reclaim Australia rally in Sydney, in the city in which I grew up, I wasn’t taken by surprise by the racism and nationalism on show. Due to the colour of my skin, I have an intimate and lifelong understanding of Australia’s racism.
I was struck, however, by the confidence that seemed to emanate from this rally of a few hundred people in Martin Place, draped in the Australian flag and chanting “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!” Although Reclaim Australia is a fringe group, the rallies were a signal that they are becoming more organised. I knew that neo-Nazis were in attendance (mostly without their Nazi paraphernalia as requested by the rally organisers – well, apart from their tattoos) in order to recruit from amongst the Reclaim Australia supporters.
And so I applauded the women who disrupted the stage and shouted at the Sydney rally that they should be ashamed. Where Chilcott saw an unacceptable hatred amongst angry counter-protestors, I saw people who looked like they hated racism and fascism.
And yet Chilcott chose to equate the counter-protestors with Reclaim Australia. I hate the views of racists and fascists and am scared of them; racists and fascists hate the colour of my skin and seek to dominate and harm me. Although Chilcott’s views are in themselves flawed, the far bigger problem is his positioning of himself as a voice for “reasonable” progressives so as to draw a false equivalence between the counter-protestors and Reclaim Australia. In suggesting that the counter-protestors were being hateful in their opposition to racism and fascism, Chilcott marginalises anti-racists by mobilising, rather than challenging, the assumed, ordinary and otherwise “common sense” racism of (white) “middle” Australia. Indeed, part of Chilcott’s criticisms of the counter-protestors is that they did not adequately address the “unanswered questions and latent fears” of Australians regarding Muslims.
Chilcott’s response to some of the counter-protestors’ burning of the Australian flag is also revealing. By asking which section of society was being strategically appealed to with this act and insinuating that the act contributed to images of violence, Chilcott reveals his inability or unwillingness to conceive of a “rational” politics outside of nationalism, including for “progressives” in Australia. The Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR) that burnt three Australian flags at the counter-protest in Melbourne did not design their acts as appeals to Australian nationalists, whether “progressive” nationalists or otherwise, but as acts of anti-colonial resistance. WAR state: “Australia’s national flag is a symbol of racism, genocide and dispossession … [We] didn’t just burn the Australian flag, we set fire to an expression of Australian racism in an act of anti-colonial resistance. Burning the Australian flag is an act of defiance against the colonial state, a symbolic gesture of our continual fight for freedom and a message that is hoped to reverberate outside of the monopolised media within this country.” 
Chilcott fails to acknowledge that a defence of the flag is not in itself neutral. For many the flag is a source of division because it is a symbol of racism and colonialism. It is a symbol of arguably the original ‘Reclaim Australia’ movement, the Federation of Australia. One of the first, central and long-impacting accomplishments of Federation was the White Australia policy, a response to migration by people like the Chinese – my ancestors. Given Reclaim Australia’s use of the flag as a central symbol and WAR’s perspective of the flag as a symbol of racism, genocide and dispossession, I ask what is more violent: the burning of the flag during an anti-racist and anti-fascist protest, or the flying of the flag at a white supremacist rally?
When Chilcott positions himself as a “reasonable” voice for (white nationalist) “middle” Australia I am reminded of Hage’s concept of the “national-spatial manager”: someone who believes that they have a right to contribute to the management of a nation such that it remains their home . In this respect, Reclaim Australia, Chilcott and the nationalist elements of the counter-protests all perform variations of the “national-spatial manager”. In positioning himself against the “extreme” counter-protestors as a voice of reason for “progressives” in the Australian nation-space, Chilcott assumes the authority to speak for a “progressive” Australia, which is configured as a space where white-skinned citizens still dominate and nationalism is not in question. The insinuation, then, is that the “progressive” but “rational” management of Australia lies with white-skinned nationalist citizens who have the authority and ability to govern social relations between white supremacists and minorities.
Chilcott’s ultimate effect is not to challenge but to defend the white nationalist status quo in Australia, albeit in a “progressive” form. The “progressive” form here is that anti-racism is a legitimate concern but that minorities and anti-racists should negotiate in “rational” terms with moderate white nationalists if they want their grievances to be heard. After all, it is only through the lead and consent of moderate white Australians that minorities and anti-racists will be granted changes under the white supremacist status quo.
Despite the narratives about white nationalist “progressives” presented by people like Chilcott, it has always been Aboriginal people and migrants of colour that have forced the struggle against racism in Australia. These struggles have always been considered “unreasonable” by white Australia. Chilcott presents the image of a “good” migrant who is assimilating into Australian (Judeo-Christian) society via activities like Easter camp in contrast to the implied “bad” migrant, someone who challenges white supremacy with “violence” and adds to a sense of fear and division in Australian society. In doing so, Chilcott minimises the fear and division experienced by Aboriginal people and minorities in Australia in the face of white supremacy as embodied by such groups as Reclaim Australia. Chilcott also effectively erases the ways that Aboriginal people and migrants of colour have always had to make demands that have been considered “disruptive” in order to win some changes under white supremacy.
Although I speak against a politics of “respectability”, where anti-racism needs to perform “reasonableness” for “middle” Australia, let me be clear that my opposition to appealing to the white nationalism of “middle” Australia also extends to my opposition to the white nationalist elements amongst the counter-protestors. I find it symptomatic of the dominance of white supremacy, for instance, that most of the speakers at the counter-protest rallies across Australia, certainly in Sydney, were white-skinned.
I believe that any person or group that purports to be anti-racist, whether those in a similar camp to Chilcott or those amongst the counter-protestors to Reclaim Australia, must seriously confront their own investment in racism and the white nationalist status quo. Only then do I believe that we can have an effective discussion about tactics, and move from white nationalist “progressiveness” to transformative and powerful racial justice.
Like Chilcott, I am also a Christian. Given Australia’s Judeo-Christianity roots, Christians speaking publicly enjoy the privilege of being heard as a voice of “middle” Australia. Chilcott particularly enjoys this privilege as a Christian pastor and the founder and director of the group Welcome to Australia, which calls upon the nationalism of Australians.
Instead of seeking to police anti-racist movements, I believe Christians should choose to amplify the voices of those that are the targets of racists and fascists, and to encourage “middle” Australia to understand the perspectives of those that are in the margins. There should be no ambiguity for Reclaim Australia supporters on where Christians stand regarding their views. Given our privileged position, Christians have a unique responsibility to speak out against Islamophobia and alongside Muslim groups , Christian groups should publicly call on political leaders to condemn Islamophobia. Ultimately I believe that Jesus calls Christians not to be part of defending a white nationalist status quo, but to actively work against racism, fascism, nationalism and colonialism.
Addendum: This piece should be read alongside the following piece by Sanmati Verma: https://newmatilda.com/2015/04/19/why-were-most-anti-reclaim-protestors-white
 Chilcott, B 2015, ‘Fighting hatred with hatred at Reclaim Australia rallies is a failure of progressive politics’, The Guardian Australia, 6 April, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/06/fighting-hatred-with-hatred-at-reclaim-australia-rallies-is-a-failure-of-progressive-politics.
 Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance – WAR, MEDIA RELEASE – WAR burns butchers apron in defiance of racist ‘Reclaim Australia’ rally, Facebook update, 9 April 2015, https://www.facebook.com/WARcollective/posts/823222714439956.
 Hage, G 1998, White Nation: Fantasies of White Supremacy in a Multicultural Society, Pluto Press, Annandale, NSW.
 The Islamic Council of Victoria, 2015, ‘ICV disappointed with Government Response to Anti-Islam Rallies’, The Islamic Council of Victoria – Media Release, 5 April, http://www.icv.org.au/index.php/latest-news/media-releases/353-icv-disappointed-with-government-response-to-anti-islam-rallies.