Racism’s ugly cousin

John Dawson (The Australian, Letters, 21/3) says it is not racist to tell indigenous Australians to abandon tradition and “adopt a modern Australian culture”. He is right: it is not racism but its ugly cousin, cultural supremacism, whereby a careful comparison of the merits of various cultures concludes that one’s own is the best after all. The next step is making everyone else submit to it for their own good.

As Dawson writes, people are not “bound by their genes” to their culture, but they are bound to it by their social bonds and formative experiences. You can’t choose a culture as if it were a shirt.

In reality, cultures as a whole blend, change and influence each other. This may be by healthy processes like immigration, trade and communication, or unhealthy ones like conquest and colonialism. The latter are clearly the cause of the problems faced by indigenous Australians, which are no different from those in other countries with a colonial history. Blaming the victims’ culture is a self-serving obstacle to solving them.

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