Span: Journal of the South Pacific Assoc for Cwlth Lit and Language Studies
Number 36, 1992
Postcolonial Fictions:
Proceedings of the SPACLALS Triennial Conference 1992
Edited by Michèle Drouart

Either/Or: Multiculturalism and Biculturalism

Marian Boreland

But every place she went/ they pushed her to the other side/ and that other side pushed her to the other side/ of the other side of the other side/ Kept in the shadow of the other. [1]

For as long as any difference between us means one of us must be inferior, then the recognition of any difference must be fraught with guilt. [2]

I would first like briefly to address the title of this paper, and note that I am not advocating a position of opposition, of multiculturalism versus biculturalism, or reducing the issues surrounding multiculturalism and biculturalism to an either/or debate. To hold with either of these options is to force a choice between one or the other, to establish a binary and therefore to assign one or the other to an inferior role. Rather, I wish to explore the issues raised in the epigraphs: first, the "out-othering" of the other, indeed being "out-othered" by the idea of the other and otherness, and second, the guilt with which I am fraught, studies of difference, in this instance ethnic and cultural differences. In doing so I hope to explore the politics behind the increasingly prevalent tendency to propose an opposition between Aboriginal and Islander studies and studies of multiculturalism. This is also where issues surrounding problematic terminology come into play. This paper will examine some aspects of the supposed conflict between studies of multiculturalism and studies of Aboriginal literatures - the suggestion that the promotion and study of multicultural writing overshadows Aboriginal and Islander literatures and effects another form of colonization.

Mainstream theories of postcolonialism are vague regarding issues of race and ethnicity, indeed expressing a nervousness when addressing ethnicities, and there exists a tendency to think of "settlers" as homogeneous, thus failing to come to terms with continuing immigration and integration and the relationships between theories of multiculturalism and postcolonialism. The relationship produced thus far is maintained as the exclusive domain of Anglo- and indigenous Australians, and is reduced to simplistic categories of black and white, conflating ideas of race and ethnicity and failing to recognize the differences within those groups or allowing for the presence and positioning of others. In these instances, race becomes a metaphor for ethnicity, wherein the diverse ethnicities and cultures in the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities are ignored. Theories of multiculturalism in an Australian literary context challenge and reject the construction of a "monolithic other."3

Positioned as a contestant to the place and construction of Aboriginal literatures, multicultural literatures often appear rated an unglamorous second to postcolonial literatures, as though separate and completely unrelated, except through challenges and diversions, to the position of Aboriginal literatures in the national schema. Studies of multicultural or non-Anglo non-indigenous literatures are positioned to be in conflict with studies of Aboriginal writing, and somehow multiculturalism is presented as operating against postcolonialism. Criticisms of multiculturalism often manifest themselves in ideas and concepts of "white guilt" and its obvious concerns with the construction and positioning of Aboriginality. Subsequently, the Aboriginal is represented as the authentic and authoritative voice of Australian literature, against which the multicultural voice is viewed as a challenge.4 While I am not implying that the concerns regarding the construction and positioning of Aboriginality in an Australian literary context are in some way unjustified, I am suggesting that the effect of this "white guilt" on the construction and positioning of both Aboriginal and multicultural literatures is problematic, that "differences have been misnamed and misused in the service of separation and confusion"5 and both Aboriginal and multicultural writers are "[k]ept in the shadow of the other."6 In this sense, then, I intend to examine some of the ideas and manifestations of "white guilt" as they relate to notions of authenticity and authority in both the writing and speaking subject in Australian literary studies and the subsequent relationship between Aboriginal and multicultural studies.

Because of obvious time constraints, I have decided to confine my discussion to a small number of texts, two of which arose as part of the debate surrounding what was being mooted as the new multicultural orthodoxy. Rather than recapitulate the debates sparked by Robert DessaixÕs Australian Book Review article, I will intervene in the discussions and examine some of the issues raised in this and three other texts.

The term and terms of "white guilt" are difficult to define, but exhibit themselves in a number of forms. The first that of "duelling others" in which the Aboriginal and multicultural writers fight it out for the position of the most victimized, the most "othered" and therefore the most authoritative and authentic "other." This idea of authenticity is one that haunts multicultural literary criticisms in numerous forms.7 The second is the question of silencing and of being silenced, which can result in discussions being abandoned and ghettoized, suffering through lack of serious theoretical attention while issues of who should and shouldnÕt speak dominate. This sensitive self-censoring act is often also taken up by well-meaning critics, who question their own ability or authority to talk at all since they have never experienced this "otherness," and so in effect say little or nothing. Interestingly, this is most often associated with Aboriginal literatures, when the necessary consideration of ways of discussing without re-colonizing is taken to its extreme. In an interview with Sneja Gunew, Gayatri Spivak refers to this practice as "salving your conscience, and allowing you not to do any homework,"8 and suggests "Why not develop a certain degree of rage against the history that has written such an abject script for you that you are silenced?"9

Studies of multicultural literatures are seen to distract, detract and divert attention away from the more authentic "other" in the Australian context, that is, Aboriginal and Islander literatures. While the role of the indigenous "other" must not be underestimated in studies of postcolonialism, placing the Aboriginal in opposition to studies of multicultural literatures succeeds only in diverting attention away from the important issues of the overall exclusion of both these literatures in theories of postcolonialism and in the context of Australian literary studies. No sooner are they place in competition than, as with all binaries, one of them must eventually take on a subordinate role, and neither deserves nor can afford this reduction in status. Further, the energy and attention diverted from other issues, subsequently encourages the reluctance of mainstream theoretical schools to seriously engage with either area.

In an edition of the Melbourne University student newspaper, Farrago , entitled "Whose Multi-Culturalism?" the Yuroke Aboriginal Student Corporation explained that they would not contribute to this particular edition devoted to discussion of multiculturalism by stating "we are sick of being lumped in with other so-called 'ethnic minorities.' "10 This is a legitimate reaction to the idea of the inappropriate attempts to universalize the margins, to assume that the criteria for exclusion are shared and to unify multiculturalism and Aboriginality under the rubric of "other." The process of defining the "other" raises theoretical issues concerning the conventions and ideologies that inform the social context, and this is recognized, interrogated and questioned by multicultural literary criticism. In relation to this and to the naming of the "other," Trinh Minh-Ha writes: "Identity: the singular naming of a person, a nation, a race, has undergone a reversal of values. Effacing it used to be the only means of survival for the colonized and the exiled; naming it today often means declaring solidarity among the hyphenated people of the Diaspora"11 and that there is a "necessity of re-naming so as to un-name."12 It is important that multicultural and Aboriginal writers not be homogenized through what is generally characterized as their marginality or "otherness," or that their experiences be proclaimed as "universal." However, returning to the edition of Farrago, the Corporation instead donated a cartoon in which, when asked how multiculturalism has enriched his life, an Aboriginal figure replies: "Well, IÕve been called a black bastard in about a hundred different languages."13 At a conference held at that same university, and at the same time as this edition of Farrago was published,14 this cartoon was used by Mudrooroo as an example of how Aboriginality and multiculturalism have related in both policy and academia. He pointed to a lack of interest on the part of both these areas to historicize and contextualize Australia with reference to an Aboriginal history, and stated that both so called "white" and non-Anglo non-indigenous Australians are complementary kinds of colonizers. This opposition underscores many of the criticisms directed toward studies of multiculturalism. Yet Mudrooroo is not the sole commentator to have posed this idea of multiculturalism as simply another form of oppression and colonization.

In an article published last year in Island magazine, in a review of The Temperament of Generations: Fifty Years of Writing in Meanjin entitled "The Temperament of Editors and A New Multicultural Orthodoxy," John Docker levels much the same criticism at multicultural literary studies on the basis of an early essay by Sneja Gunew entitled "Migrant Women Writers: WhoÕs on whose margins?"15 While Docker concedes that at the time of writing Gunew was making "a powerful point,"16 not only does he imply that the need for critical inquiry into these areas is no longer necessary or demanding of attention, but that studies of multiculturalism have formed a new orthodoxy, one which overshadows and devalues studies of Aboriginal literatures. Criticizing GunewÕs use of Edward Said and theories of Orientalism, Docker argues that the "real" history of Australia is displaced in studies of multiculturalism, and that it represents in fact a continuing form of colonialism, one which enforces a new "white mythology."

Docker's basis for this lies in several areas. First, he states that "however variegated our experiences and however much there has been racism and ethnocentrism and differential access to power within the invading group, [we] have benefited from the original invasion and dispossession of the Aboriginal peoples, and still benefit."17 Docker proceeds by noting that the Aboriginal communities themselves "refer to those who invaded their continent as 'Europeans' not as British or Anglo-Celtic."18 While this in itself is quite true, it does not negate the fact that studies of multicultural literatures are on the whole excluded from national literatures and that this exclusion needs to be addressed. DockerÕs criticisms simply set up the opposition between Aboriginal and multicultural discourses, projecting "white guilt" regarding colonization onto multiculturalism, and thereby avoids the problematic and discursive debates that surround the exclusion of both Aboriginalty and multiculturalism, and indeed of discussion of the avoidance itself. It also succeeds in homogenizing the "invaders" as one unified colonizing force, thereby nullifying any calls for recognition of diversity and difference within this body.

How then does one position non-Anglo non-indigenous peoples in this context? Docker seeks to answer this question and strengthens his point by adding: "When Sydney University students in 1965, in Student Action for Aborigines returned to Walgett [following the freedom rides] they found the cinema, which insisted on segregating Aboriginal and other patrons, was owned by a Greek."19 Of this I have no doubt, indeed I am certain that racist ideologies prevail in all ethnic groups, but the question for multiculturalism is to consider why non-Anglo non-indigenous writers are also excluded from the canon. Docker also notes that while "Gunew complains that AustraliaÕs 'dominant culture' (conceived by her as unitary) forces unity and homogeneity onto the migrant, her own argument and terms are enforcing an impossible unity onto the heterogeneity of immigrants to Australia."20 This statement is a cause of concerm to me, since terminology is extremely problematic in these areas and so is constantly defined and discussed. This forced unity to which Docker refers is in fact avoided, and Gunew is fully aware of these problems and does not present a unitary force or a unitary dominant culture. Docker himself falls into his own trap of terms, however, by insisting on a unitary invading force.

Second, Docker criticizes the use of Derrida, interpreting GunewÕs statement: "If something requires an addendum then it was incomplete from the beginning, and the supplement ends up supplanting the original." Docker argues that this is deploying "the centuries-old spatial metaphors of colonialism, of colonial expansion, penetration, dispossession, and 'supplanting' of prior "territory" occupied by previous owners," which Docker has already stated to be Aboriginal Australia. Ignoring the deconstructive and interrogative uses of GunewÕs paper, Docker therefore implies that the discourse that will be supplanted will not be the dominant Anglo/Celtic, but Aboriginal discourses already relegated to the position of "other." As such Docker has constructed the Aboriginal as the "real" and sole victim here, and that the non-Anglo non-Aboriginal "other" lacks authenticity as a victim. It has been argued that Docker has expressed a "type of repressed sentimental romanticism attached to the term victim, as if the status is something worth competing for,"21 almost envying the unique reading and writing positions which, as authentic victims, Aboriginal writers are somehow "lucky" to have. This "sentimentality" invested in the figure of the Aboriginal is in itself a manifestation of "white guilt," which displaces the history and effects of colonialism in Australia onto multiculturalism.22 This notion of multicultural literatures as lacking authenticity in comparison to Aboriginal literatures is also expressed in DessaixÕs criticisms of "multicultural professionals."

The second expression of "white guilt" in establishing an opposition between studies of multiculturalism and Aboriginality is similarly linked to ideas of authenticity and authority, and also to ideas of silencing within literary traditions and discourses. In this sense the issue of who should and should not speak takes on an interesting role, one in which both sides of the opposition are effectively silenced through an unwillingness to discuss either of them seriously. This silencing is achieved in subtle ways when critics refuse to discuss the issues out of a fear of speaking for, or because they feel they lack the authority, and indeed the authentic voice, needed to discuss such writings. In other words because they lack the experience of the writer, they are unable to discuss the writerÕs work. This avoids any serious discussion of the debates surrounding multicultural and Aboriginal literatures. Alternately, critics may invest one literature with more authority and authenticity through their expression of the degrees to which they experience this guilt and the way they approach the various literatures. In Gelder and SalzmanÕs The New Diversity, the prefatory disclaimer offered at the opening of a chapter on Aboriginal writing - "As a white Australian I am, of course, hardly implicated in the experience of being Aboriginal. It may be a presumption even to address such an 'other domain'"23 - is closely linked to discussions of who is allowed to speak: if speaking from a privileged position, to speak about and not for is also an issue. The act of speaking about, as opposed to speaking for, entails the interrogation of the social and political capital and the positioning of the speaker as well as the audience being addressed. Interestingly, since neither Gelder nor Salzman offer such disclaimers on the chapters concerning multicultural writing or womenÕs writing, this highlights the guilt surrounding discussions of Aboriginal literatures, when critics tread so carefully around one obviously authentic "other." The double bind that results is of course the claims made by various critics that they are being silenced by their inability to speak on issues that they consider too "other" to contemplate.

Although both multicultural and Aboriginal literatures are excluded from definitions of national literatures and dominant social discourses, if, as stated earlier, the Aboriginal is a more authentic "other," then the interrogation and deconstruction of this silencing and exclusion is more urgent. As Gunew has stated, there is "an automatic gesturing towards Aboriginal Australians, but this is often left at a very general level and used as an 'alibi,' a way of not having to engage seriously with the unsettling implications of this or any other marginal group."24 And so both groups are again pitted against each other in an effort to find recognition and promote discussion at the expense of the other "other." This is the ultimate effect of Docker's argument that even the very discussion of multicultural literatures effectively silences and devalues the role of Aboriginal literatures in a national context, and until the constructs and positioning of Aboriginality are fully interrogated, discussions of multiculturalism are viewed as a hindrance to the real issues and the "real" victims. As such, any concerted attempts to introduce studies of multicultural literatures and criticisms into the contexts of postcolonial theory and constructions of Australian literatures are seen to undermine, threaten and invade the newly won or carefully negotiated Aboriginal territory. As Lorde has noted:

Too often we pour the energy needed for recognizing and exploring differences into pretending those differences are insurmountable barriers, or that they do not exist at all.25

Deakin University

1 Gloria Anzaldua as quoted in "Cotton and Iron," in When the Moon Waxes Red: Representation, Gender and Cultural Politics, ed., Trinh T. Minh-Ha (New York: Routledge, 1991) 14.

2 Audre Lorde, "Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference," in Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures, ed., Russell Ferguson et al. (New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1990) 283.

3 See, for example, B. Ashcroft, G. Griffiths, H. Tiffin, The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures (London: Routledge, 1989).

4 Chris Prentice, "Grounding Postcolonial Fictions: Cultural Constituences, Cultural Credentials and Uncanny Questions of Authority," Conference: "Postcolonial Fictions," 9th December, 1992.

5 This representation of the Aboriginal as the authentic and authoritative other within Australian literary studies is a desired rather than an actual representation. In other words, Aboriginal and Islander literatures are not usually presented in this manner, and if they are, the representation is limited to what is and what is not regarded or defined as authentic and authoritative by the dominant Anglo-Australian literatures.

6 Lorde, 286.

7 Anzaldna, in Trinh Mirh-ha, ed., 14.

8 These issues are discussed in the paper by Chris Prentice and also in an interview between Sneja Gunew and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, "Questions of Multi-culturalism," in Sarah Harasym, ed., The Postcolonial Critic: Interview, Strategies, Dialogues - Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (New York: Routledge, 1990) 63.

9 Gunew and Spivak 63.

10 Gunew and Spivak, 62.

11 Melbourne University Student Union, Farrago, April/May 1992: 1992.2.

12 Anzaldna, in Trinh Minh-Ha, ed., 14.

13 Anzaldna, in Trinh Minh-Ha, ed., 14.

14 Farrago 2.

15 "Postcolonial Australia?" Conference, 1st May, 1992.

16 John Docker, "The Temperament of Editors and A New Multicultural Orthodoxy," Island 48, (Spring 1991): 50 - 55.

17 Docker 53.

18 Docker 54.

19 Docker, 54.

20 Docker, 54.

21 Docker, 54.

22 Efi Hatzimanolis, "Victims and Victimisers," Typereader 7:25.

23 Gelder and Salzman, The New Diversity (Melbourne: McPhee Gribble Publishers, 1989) 205.

24 Sneja Gunew, "PMT (Post modernist tensions): Reading for (multi)cultural difference," in S. Gunew and K. Longley, Striking Chords: Multicultural Literary Interpretations (Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1992) 45.

25 Lorde 283.


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