Who is an ethnic?

Are the Australian Irish-Catholics ethnics? They are no different from Australian British Catholics. … could every other religious sect be termed ethnic too? But then, is not the Jewish community, made up of diverse language groups, treated as an ethnic community?

Following this, a few friends and I decided to examine the ordinary Aussie of today. We had in mind a claim that, only when the British deemed themselves to be an ethnic community in Australia, could we become a true republic. What an interesting claim! A socio-political construct becomes a defining term intended to rewrite history. The British, who founded the Australian nation, now realise that Australia is no more Britain’s backyard for entry and residence purposes. Their share of Australia’s population is also diminishing (not unlike the position of the Kanaks in French Caledonia). And now are they expected to think of themselves as ethnic in a nation whose core institutions are totally British?

This is the best argument I have heard for getting rid of the term ‘ethnic’ (and its derivatives). Is it not also time for anti-British Australians to accept that their inherited prejudices are a very substantial barrier to social cohesion in a nation which is maturing wonderfully? …

How has the Australian evolved? Today, it is as difficult as it was when I arrived in this country to identify the national or tribal origins of an individual’s parents. Then, the Aussie seemed to be a very satisfactory blend of Scot, Welsh, and English, with some Irish, French, Scandinavian, German, and other origins. He was proud of his ancestry. Today’s Australia continues to remain predominantly British, with the mixture widened to include other Europeans, Asians, Latin Americans, and some Africans, as well as others. One would have difficulty in identifying the country of origin of these other parents, even where the parent was coloured. Their behaviour, attitudes and values are Australian. The prejudices of the past (that of their parents) have little sway.

Yet, as soon as the politics of republicanism, or ethnic empowerment, or multiculturalism are raised, there arise all the barriers to social cohesion raised by the older generation. The ethnic Dreamtime, having flashed across our skies, has left far too many of us old folk with an after-image of divergence.

Those who love the concept of ethnicity may have in mind only culturally homogeneous communities, families, and marriages. That love may, in fact, display xenophobia or religious or colour prejudice. The Jewish girl, who would not be seen with me, an Asian, in a public place by day, because her community would not like it, had a message for us all. The Asian father who bought off his son’s Australian wife had a similar message. Hopefully, these messages are now out of date.

There are also some discrepancies in the delineation of ethnic communities. Sometimes, they are based on language (e.g. Vietnamese), at other times on national or regional boundaries (e.g. Dutch or East Timorese) or religion (Sikhs). Self-delineation seemed to be the rule. Who decides – the power brokers? Or are there objective rules for exclusion? In the definition of individuals, the answer given by academics, and adopted by the bureaucrats, was self-identification. On what basis?

For example, a Greek marries an Italian; what’s the ethnicity of their child? An Indian Moslem marries an Anglo-Saxon Protestant and the child is neither baptised nor taken into the Moslem faith; what’s the ethnicity? … A friend of mine had an Italian father and a Greek mother. He married an Anglo-Saxon and has a daughter … Both father and daughter say they are Italian. “What happened to your mum?” I say to both father and daughter. “We feel a bond with Italy,” each said. But neither has been there. They have no family or business connection there. They have never read Italian; the daughter does not even know the language. They have not been exposed to Italian culture, apart from some historical material to which we were all exposed. What do we have here – selective ancestral bonding? My Italian mother-in-law would have been interested!

(The above extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ identify a significant problem when ethnicity is upheld as a marker of cultural identity in a multicultural nation in which marriage is crossing all sorts of boundaries, with a progressive merger of the population into a societally integrated people – with a few religio-political dissidents excepted.

Not long ago, the readers of ‘The Bulletin,’ a journal of some significance then, were asked the ethnicity of a person who is Australian by citizenship, Malaysian by birth, Ceylonese by ancestry, and Hindu by faith. There were no responses. His tribal origin, when he has had no contact or relationship with Ceylon?)

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