As Stratton views multiculturalism problematic in that it bases itself on the objectification of ethnic groups by an already empowered majority, this consequently produces the idea of ‘othering’. Through Australian history, particularly in relation to government policies, an Australian national identity has been formulated which has excluded ethnics which can be seen through the White Australian policy which constructed the identity of Australia as exclusively Anglo. Castles writes: “Being Australian has…
been defined in racist terms” (1990, 7) and as a result, Australian national identity has ‘othered’ these ethnic groups.
Dr Helen Shoobridge writes: “So traditionally the others in the Australian nation have been women and anyone who did not fit the British identity… Australia’s history includes many deliberate government policies to ensure that these groups were othered” (2003, 1). Such policies have been the White Australia, Assimilation and Multiculturalism policy which were all enforced by a male white government which have consequently ‘othered’ those who do not fit the ‘British identity’.
Ethnic communities have undoubtedly been ‘othered’ within Australian society in the past as well as in contemporary society, which consequently advocates the idea that those who are objectified are fixed.
Dr Helen Shoobridge writes that to ‘other’ is primarily a way to objectify an object which advocates the idea that: “the other cannot change, the other is fixed” (2003, 2). A second element of othering is the idea of the other as homogenous which stereotypes the object (Shoobridge, 2003, 2).
As ethnic groups have been clearly othered and segregated from being included within the Australian national identity the process of multiculturalism may be seen to ‘pigeonhole’ and ‘permanently marginalize’ these migrants and restrict and limit other ways of knowing and being.
This process ensures that such migrants will be constantly seen for their ethnicity, which is presented as homogeneous and are consequently excluded from being ‘authentic’ Australians.
Due to such ethnics encountering this objectification by the dominant white society within Australia such migrants consequently endure what Stratton describes as being ‘permanently marginalized’ and ‘forever ethnicised’ (1994, 153). Another important element that Shoobridge advocates within the concept of the ‘other’ is the issue that the “Other makes the subject real and authentic. Since the other is always in relation to me the other is compared to me” (2003, 4).
Through the othering of ethnic groups in relation to an Australian national identity it consequently emphasized the authenticity of those ‘othering’ as the ‘real’ Australians. In this way, the process of ‘othering’ can be seen as a way for the dominant groups within society to reassert their dominance as a legitimate Australian subject in comparison to a clearly marked ‘other’ that is evidently viewed and positioned as unauthentic. Stratton perceptibly writes that: “In the system of official multiculturalism where ethnic groups…
are objectified, the increasing self-consciousness of the ‘real’ Australians is manifested in the new description of them as ‘Anglo-Celtic’ and ‘mainstream Australians'” (1998, 209). Official multiculturalism can thus be seen as a way of objectifying or othering the ‘ethnic communities’ and through such objectification manifests the idea of the ‘real’ Australians as Anglos, who reassert their authenticity through the process of ‘othering’.
Therefore, multiculturalism creates a binary between the ‘real’ Australians who ‘other’ the ethnic communities in order to reassert their authenticity as well as to enforce the ‘ethnics’ illegitimacy as part of the ‘real’ Australian society. Stratton writes that: “… official multiculturalism has conceptualized ethnic cultures, offered culture as an object of study, in the process Othering the members of that culture” (1998, 210).
Effectively, Stratton identifies Official multiculturalism as a notion constructed by Government policies which consequently enacts a process of ‘othering’ ethnic groups which produces a clear binary dividing ‘ethnic communities’ and ‘Australian society’. Ushered in through a policy of multiculturalism is the idea that different ethnicities should be more tolerant of each other, as Robert Hughes states that ‘multiculturalism means tolerance’ (Hage, 1998, 82), primarily meaning that white society should be tolerant of migrants.
Advocated from this idea has been the consequent development of a binary between tolerance and intolerance where to give people the ability to be tolerant of the other consequently promote and reasserts that they have the ability to be intolerant. Preston King writes: “Where we empower an agent to be tolerant, we empower him equally to be intolerant” (Hage, 1998, 85). And consequently Hage writes: “when those who are intolerant are asked to be tolerant, their power to be intolerant is not taken away from them.
It is, in fact, reasserted by the very request not to exercise it” (1998, 85). So to say ‘be tolerant’ is to consequently empower the idea that they have the power not to be which reinforces and reminds them that they are initially intolerant. As multiculturalism can be seen through Hughes as an act of tolerance (Hage, 1998, 82) this signifies a dilemma in that it is a process which enforces the idea of ethnic groups as a fixed group that is consequently marginalized by the dominance of Anglo-Celtics.
Hage emphasizes the effects of tolerance on the ‘other’ when he writes: “To tolerate is not just to accept, it is to accept and position the other within specific limits or boundaries” (1998, 89). Here, the act of tolerance that is consequently encouraged through multiculturalism can be seen as a way of fixing and limiting the marginalization of ethnic groups who are ‘tolerated’ by the dominant society, which in turn has the effect of further empowering such dominance.
Hage writes: “The tolerated are never just present, they are positioned… this power to tolerate is … the power to position the other as an object within a space that one considers one’s own” (1998, 90). Here, we have the notion of tolerance that multiculturalism activates as a way in which the dominant society objectifies and ‘others’ the migrants and through such power they consequently have the authority to position them within a society they perceive as ‘theirs’ and not the migrants.