Australian Whiteness and Refugee Politics

Kim Huynh*, Siobhan Neyland

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    This paper offers the historical context and a conceptual framework to understand how race has shaped Australia's identity, border and asylum politics. It examines how socially constructed whiteness has fostered a perceived need to exert strict and often violent control over the movement of people of colour in and around Australia. We outline the colonial foundations of Australian whiteness and how it has fostered anxiety and bigotry at Federation and during the First World War, in contemporary multicultural and Indigenous policies, and on sporting fields. Whiteness operates along horizontal axes that promote racist insecurities and vertical axes that promote racist hierarchies. An imperative for spatial and racial mastery also underpins the twentyfirst century militarization of Australia's migration policy, as exemplified in deterrence measures such as mandatory detention, excision, interdiction and offshore processing and resettlement. Moreover, this whiteness is present in paternalistic claims that border policies are motivated by a compulsion to save lives at sea. Understanding the distinctively anxious and punitive character of Australian refugee politics requires coming to terms with Australia's history of white authority and committing to displacing it from the prominent place that it holds in the national identity.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)111-129
    Number of pages19
    JournalAustralian Journal of Politics and History
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020


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