Every country has a variation of this phase, usually heard whenever immigration hit the headlines, new cultures are introduced to a place, or whenever the values of a nation are criticised: if you don’t like it here then you can piss off.
It’s a powerful sentiment: this is our nation. Faults and all we love it, so if you don’t like it here, if you find it so unbearable, then quit trying to wreck it for the rest of us and go somewhere you think is better. And when the debate in question is happening in a developed nation like Australia – where even the poorest have it pretty excellent compared to most other countries – it’s pretty persuasive as well. Many places wouldn’t even let you criticise your nation like that son! Better shut your mouth and appreciate that freedom before it gets taken away from you!
My home town of Melbourne is having this debate again right now, after one of our major supermarket chains removed a certain singlet from sale, after the news caught wind of it:
Unsurprisingly the poop hit the fan in a spectacular way. Half the population emerged from their coffee shops, looked over the top of their glasses (no lenses), emitted scandled gasps and set up a chant of ‘racist!’. Meanwhile, the other half pulled up their utes, hitched up their tool belts, put down their beers and hollared ‘patriotism!’.
And absolutely nothing of value was achieved.
There is nothing new about the struggle between tradition and change in any country, or even in the war between inclusion and xenophobia. It’s an tale as old as humanity and usually a pretty easy one to solve, both in principle and practice.
But this slogan is different. This slogan, with its incredible power to divide us between the camps of national-pride and anti-racism, never fails to get up my nose and make me very seriously annoyed, because this slogan is neither of those things.
‘Love it or leave’ is not racist.
Racism is the association of an ethnic group with negative behaviors or beliefs. This slogan does not do this – it doesn’t even mention race or culture, and in practice is often directed at other Australians as much as new immigrants. Sure, the slogan is often used by racists, summoning up the mental image of your classic anti-brown people thug, but that doesn’t mean it is inherently racist itself. Arguing that is not only unfair and bluntly false, it also drains the impact of the issue, making it just that much harder to combat actual racism.
What do you think will happen when a defender of this singlet is next criticised for saying something that is actually, legitimately racist? “Pft, you’re just looking for something to be offended about. Just like when you called that singlet racist – bullshit!” and you know what? They’ll be right.
But before said defenders of the singlet start celebrating a win for the cause of free speech and patriotism, allow me to burst that bubble:
‘Love it or leave’ is also not patriotic.
I am no fan of patriotism. Call me a traitor, but I find the idea of being proud of something you had nothing to do with (ie. the achievements, history and culture of an ENTIRE COUNTRY) just a little stupid, especially when that country is guaranteed to include people and practices you aren’t proud of.
But at least patriotism has some positive elements – the celebration of the good parts of a nation. Something that the slogan ‘Love it or leave’ completely fails to do. There is no celebration here, no listing of positive aspects of the nations or even defense of the bad – just the demand that you love ‘it’ or leave.
‘Love it or leave’ is completely fucking stupid.
What the hell does that even mean? Love ‘Australia’. What, the whole thing? Every part of it? The traffic jams? Having to stand up on the train in some guys armpit? Politicians? The insane housing prices?
And what about the people that don’t ‘love it’ and you want to leave? If you want them to leave then they’re definitely here already, meaning they’re part of the ‘Australia’ you want everyone to ‘love’ – which logically would mean that the person wearing this shirt, by their own logic, has to leave Australia, because they obviously can’t love the entire thing.
‘Love it or leave’ is actually about power – and cowardice.
This sort of logical quibbling might sound like I’m just cherry-picking (and yeah I’m certainly doing a bit of that) but it also lays bare the true meaning of this phrase. Right down at its core ‘Love Australia of leave it’ is about neither race nor patriotism, it’s about power.
By failing to define what they mean by ‘Australia’ the person using this slogan basically uses it as a proxy for ‘the things I like about Australia’ or ‘the way I want Australia to be’. And by couching it in ‘love thy country’ language, they add the emotional weight of patriotism to the mix – all of which amounts to ‘unless you agree with what I want Australia to look like, leave’.
This is a power-play, nothing more. An effective way of controlling the debate without having to actually justify your vision for Australia. Imagine if any of the wearers of this shirt were to actually articulate what they think is good about Australia and where we should go as a nation – most of it would be outright lies or misinterpretations of our history, mixed in with gibberish about ‘mateship’ (hardly unique to Australia), the ‘ANZAC Spirit’ (that time we sent thousands of our citizens to die as part of a foreign power’s unjustifiable invasion of an innocent nation), or, my favourite, the ‘Christian values this nation was based on’ (we have no national religion and literally ALL of our governing values are based on Greek philosophy – Christian values aren’t too compatible with capitalism as it turns out).
They would, in short, be demolished within second by anyone with a smartphone and half a critical brain. No wonder then the option to hide behind vague patriotic language is so very appealing.
Because that’s what this slogan is: cowardice. A way of controlling a discussion through emotion, because they know they would never last 5 seconds using facts, evidence or reason.
I should mention that this isn’t necessarily true of everyone sporting one of these moronic singlets – just as with general patriotism, it’s both possible and likely that they were just going with the flow, genuinely wanted to celebrate their nation or just didn’t think hard enough about what they were wearing. So as ethically justified as you would be to smack the next person you see wearing this slogan upside the head, I’d suggest a far more potent weapon – questions.
‘What do you mean by ‘love Australia’? exactly?’, ‘If I disagree with you, does that mean I should leave too? And shouldn’t that mean you should leave as well?’, and best of all, ‘What do you think Australia should look like?’. Once again we come back to a slogan of my own ‘Accountability’. If people want to wear this idiotic phrase then fine – but they best be ready to be held accountable for the statement they are making.