Borderline anxieties: what whitening the Irish has to do with keeping out asylum seekers
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It has become practically a cliche that Australia has the most penalising regulations for those now described as 'asylum seekers' of any first or second world country. The Department of Immigration's Fact Sheet on 'Border Control' tells us in stern rhetoric that: 'The Australian Government is firmly committed to ensuring the integrity of Australia's borders and to the effective control and management of the movement of people to and from Australia'. The origins of the present bipartisan policy of detention of asylum seekers go back to 1992. Among the reasons given for the implementation of this policy, the Department of Immigration's Fact Sheet on 'Immigration Detention' tells us that it ensures 'unauthorised arrivals do not enter the Australian community until their identity and status has been properly assessed and they have been granted a visa'. Here we find clearly illustrated the Australian government, in its role as executive of the Australian state, concerned with regulating as tightly as possible all access to the Australian national community.Central to this preoccupation has been the claim that settler Australia has always been overwhelmingly white. Historically, there was one white race which, in England, and in the first half of the nineteenth century in Australia, was considered so very different, and so inferior, that it was often not thought of as white at all. The Catholic Irish were considered to be so un-white that, using marriageability as our scale here, John Beddoe, the English proto-social anthropologist, could write in The Races of Britain (1885) that, 'Englishwomen very rarely marry Irish, or at least Catholic Irish, men'. What we will find is that, as the notion of an Australian nation takes hold towards the end of the nineteenth century, so the Irish, previously racialised and, to all intents and purposes, excluded from whiteness both in England and Australia, become reconstituted within Australia as acceptably white, helping to produce a claimed homogeneous white nation.
Citation of published book: Stratton, Jon. 2004. Borderline anxieties: what whitening the Irish has to do with keeping out asylum seekers, in Moreton-Robinson, A. (ed), Whitening Race: Essays in Social and Cultural Criticism, pp. 222-238. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.
Authors Note: The attached article was written in 2002. A shortened version, without the first eleven pages, with the same title appeared in Aileen Moreton-Robinson ed Whitening Race: Essays in Social and Cultural Criticism, Aboriginal Studies Press, 2004, pp. 222-238.
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