Things I’ve been reading: October 2016

Racism, Asylum Seekers, Australia

As one of the many Australians who want to see our country’s treatment of asylum seekers be more reflective of humane, human rights-affirming, healing action, it can be a source of constant despair to read about our nation’s treatment of people who are fleeing wars. It seems that the vocal majority are opposed to assisting asylum seekers.

I can’t even begin to imagine what complex sociopolitical reasons lie behind this. I did take a semester in sociology of race and migration back in my undergraduate days and even that brief introduction barely scratched the surface.

The average Aussie will insist that they are not racist, but what we (I include myself in this) often forget is that racism is not limited to overt acts of antagonism towards someone of a different skin colour or ethnic heritage.

Sometimes it’s in the less obvious, though still hurtful, stuff. One Filipino-heritage Australian born-and-raised friend once recounted a tale when he was driving and a group of white men in a van starting yelling at him about his eye shape. As you do. An Indigenous acquaintance, who I knew through our former church, and because one of his siblings was a classmate of one of my children, opened the newspaper one day to find a photo of himself used with a headline referring to how out-of-control Aboriginal Australians are in protesting against the forced removal of their lands. This is a devoutly Christian man, an artist by occupation, who by attending a peaceful protest rally inadvertently became the face of a media stereotype about angry Australian Aboriginal people. I have to wonder when the media will be held accountable for unfairly shaping society’s views of marginalised people groups and inciting fear.

There are aspects of our history, laws, culture and assumptions about different people groups that really need to come out into the open and be discussed without resorting to gross stereotyping, religious bigotry and basing one’s politics on facebook memes.

Racism is also not merely a relic of a distant past.

As an Australian of English-Scots-Irish-Welsh Celtic Catholic heritage (not that my experiences are anywhere near the level of antagonism and marginalisation felt by some of my friends of Australian Indigenous, Asian, African, Mediterranean, Slavic, and South American heritage) even my whiteness was deemed “too white” by people of predominantly Anglo-Saxon English heritage. I can’t count the many times I’ve been belittled for my paler-than-average skin coupled with dark hair and green eyes (the messages I heard as a kid made me desperately wish that I was tanned and blonde and blue-eyed, because it seemed to me that those girls got all the accolades). But the red-heads in my family have copped it far worse than I have. And yet, how quickly we try to pretend that our nation doesn’t have a history founded on the historical frontier wars against Indigenous Australians, or the mass shipping of Irish convicts for “crimes” of political dissidence, or nowadays, the singling out of people of Middle Eastern and Muslim heritage as being purported to be a threat to Australian culture and religion.

That said, thankfully there are some helpful and hopeful Aussie resources dealing with race, ethnicity and migration.

  • Asylum Seeker Resource Centre – I just read this moving open letter to some supporters of the organisation whose simple gift of stationery proved to be a lifeline for an Iranian man suffering psychological traumas.
  • ‘Trolling bigotry with church signs: meet the Gosford Anglican Church’ – an Anglican church in Sydney that has garnered a huge facebook following after their priest’s church signs became a rare voice for harmony in an increasingly unfriendly political environment.
  • Blackfulla Revolution – one of my personal favourite facebook pages, it is an articulate, passionate, intelligent page discussing Australian politics from Indigenous Australian perspectives. It also offers a massive wealth of knowledge for those of us who were educated in a system that glorified the historical genocides, mass murders, subjugation and dispossession of Australia’s first peoples.
  • 10 dark secrets Australia doesn’t want you to know‘ – to be fair, some of us Aussies not only want these things to be known, we want to see these things acknowledged and talked about and action taken to help repair the damage.