Eddie McGuire is not a name that normally appears alongside Xi Jinping and Joe Biden, but each of these men tells us something about our times.
In their own way, they are part of the changing of the old order — a shift that involves liberalism, democracy, racism, assumptions of power and indeed the future of the West.
McGuire has discovered that racism now has costs: in his case, his job as president of Collingwood Football Club.
Eddie could not just talk his way out of the damning Do Better report leaked earlier this month, which found systemic racism at Collingwood.
Now, McGuire is caught in the crosshairs of a global reckoning on race.
The Black Lives Matter movement has amplified the voices of people previously too often voiceless.
Race is just one part of a realignment of global power. That’s where Xi Jinping and Joe Biden come in.
Xi has a long memory of the humiliation of the Chinese people. He reaches back to the Opium Wars with Britain of the mid 19th century as a reminder of what he sees as the beginning of a century of exploitation and domination by foreign powers.
National humiliation a constant theme
Western observers of China make a mistake by underestimating the pull of history. National humiliation has been a constant theme in China since the fall of the Qing Empire in the early 20th century.
The humiliation of the Opium Wars plunged China into a dark night of the soul. China was occupied by the British, the French and the Japanese. The fall of the Qing triggered rebellion, civil war and revolution.
Historian John Fairbank wrote that a “dominant majority civilisation” now found itself “in a minority position in the world”.
Chinese thinkers and leaders had to rebuild the very idea of what it was to be Chinese. Many wanted to embrace European liberalism but turned increasingly sour.
Liang Qiqao, known as the Godfather of Chinese nationalism, coined the phrase “the sick man of Asia” to describe China’s fallen state.
He advocated the unity of the “yellow race”, beginning a movement to create what he called a “new people”.
Historian Charlotte Furth says Liang “offered a definition of the Chinese people as a ‘nation’ — an organic collectivity based upon common ties of place, blood, custom and culture”.
In today’s terms, we could call it Make China Great Again. Liang influenced generations of Chinese leaders — from the first president of the new Republic of China, Sun Yat Sen, to the communist revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, through to Xi Jinping today.
Race and history are deeply embedded in the Chinese political consciousness. So it is in the United States. Race and racism belie the American myth of equality. It mocks the promise of democracy.
America is lacerated by race
Barack Obama, the country’s first black president, did not deliver America to a supposed “post-racial” society. Obama appealed to a unity beyond a “Black America” or a “White America”; it was a denial of the truth of America.
Black Lives Matter began on Obama’s watch. Donald Trump emerged as a viable political force, exploiting racism to take him all the way to the White House.
He excused — even encouraged — white supremacist groups. The Capitol building insurrection in January was part of a white supremacist backlash that fuels what has come to be known as Trumpism.
Joe Biden‘s appeal to decency, to bring Americans together, risks ignoring the history and reality of the country he leads.
As African-American scholar, W.E.B. Du Bois, wrote more than a hundred years ago: “The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the colour line”.
So it proved to be: segregation and lynching; apartheid in South Africa; Nazi racism and the Holocaust.
Australian racism, meanwhile, sits at the heart of ongoing Indigenous disadvantage. First Nations people are the most imprisoned and impoverished people in the country.
The “colour line” hovers over the 21st century.
Fear of China’s rise is more than tinged with a sense of “white panic”. The emergence of a non-Western superpower that is authoritarian and rejects liberal democracy threatens to upend a Western dominated global political order.
This is a critical juncture in world history
Philosopher Hamid Dabashi calls the West a “delusional fantasy, a false consciousness, at the full service of an imperial hegemony”.
In his book Europe and its Shadows, he calls the West the “towering metaphor” of our times; the West equals whiteness equals power. The West, Dabashi argues, has “cast the whole world, the entire universe, the entire course of human history … in its own image”.
Dabashi calls out the West’s history of violence, colonisation, racism — and its hypocrisy.
Writing about the West and “the rest”, he says “they watched us, robbed us, studied us, slaughtered us…”.
“Take the rest away from the West,” Dabashi writes, “and Europe does not know what it is.”
The world is at a deep inflection point. It is not enough for the West to simply claim a divine right to rule. From America to Europe to Australia, the shibboleths of democracy, liberalism and human rights increasingly ring hollow against the judgments of history.
Dabashi argues Europe was an illusion that “made itself forget what it was”; that now the “repressed memories” of “the rest” are revealing those “delusions of power”.
Xi Jinping — in his own country often brutal and dictatorial — embodies the repressed memories of Chinese humiliation by foreign powers.
Joe Biden wrestles with a legacy and reality of race that mocks his appeals to unity.
In Australia, Eddie McGuire is just a ham-fisted, blundering rabbit in the headlights of history.