Australian Politics / Current Affairs

National Flags, Racism and the Colonial Past

  • Blog Picture Leah de Haan
    In October 2014, I was in the audience of the current affairs tv programme, Q&A, on Australia’s ABC tv channel. It’s roughly equivalent in coverage and popularity to the BBC’s Question Time .

This was the question I asked:

Professor Barry Spurr, who is supposed to be reviewing school curriculum, was caught sending racist emails and a new “border protection” video has been released which is disgusting in its portrayal of asylum seekers. Isn’t it time for people to stand up and show the world that not all Australians are racist?

Matt Colwell – better known as the rapper 360 – responded to my question by equating the Australian flag with racism. HIs response went viral in the media and on the internet:

The Australian flag, to me … I identify that with racism… Does anybody else? On Australia day, you see a bunch of dudes walking around with their tops off, and they’re getting on the drink and all that, they’ve got an Australian flag wrapped around their neck. I’ve seen it so many times. I’ve been in a taxi where we’ve pulled up because these dickheads have been walking across the road. And they start yelling at the taxi driver: ‘get out of the country, this is not your country,’ you know what I mean? They’re wearing Australian flags. I’ve seen it so much growing up, and still today. It’s pathetic.

360’s response was covered on the Q&A page on Facebook with the heading Racism on 20 October, reaching the national and international press. Here is a selection of the articles:

Rapper 360 defends Q&A comments about Aussie flag: ‘If ur not a racist I was not referring to you’ – Sydney Morning Herald
Has Australia’s flag been co-opted by racists? – BBC, UK
Aunty’s rapper sort of got it right – there is plenty of anti-white racism on Q&A – The Australian
‘I identify the flag with racism’: Social media storm over Aussie rapper 360’s comments on Q&A – Daily Mail, UK
Rapper 360 ‘identifies Australian Flag with racism’ – Daily Examiner
Let’s reclaim Australia from Reclaim Australia – The Northern Star, Australia

Although the Q&A format does not give the opportunity for the person asking the question to respond, I agreed with 360’s comments about the relationship between the flag and racism. In addition, our national flags often provide a direct link to the colonial past. In that context, New Zealand’s initiative to break with the past and to have a whole new flag The NZ flag – your chance to decide can be applauded, recognising as it does the history of the current flag:

[The] current flag is derived from the maritime British Blue Ensign. The stars of the Southern Cross were added and, similar to other Commonwealth countries at the time, the Union Jack placed in the first quarter to recognise New Zealand as a British colony.

In November-December 2015, the Kiwis will decide on which of the 5 new designs – selected from a grassroots consultation process – and in March 2016, another referendum will decide between this new design and the current flag.

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