: Discussing racism

Racism: the taboo topic oft misunderstood

The Sydney Morning Herald recently published an article about 7-Eleven workers of Indian descent continuing to being exploited, despite the outcry back when the exploitation was originally exposed in September 2015.

These immigrant workers were being paid as little as $16 to $0.43 per hour, and well below the minimum rate.

You have to congratulate the Australian Press for not discussing the broader issue at hand i.e. racism.

Why is racism such a taboo topic to us? Australia is still marred by its own history, the period of colonisation and assimilation, which upended the First Australians and many migrants.

Much has been said and talked about the past, including former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd saying “Sorry” to the Stolen Generations of Aboriginal people.  However, there is a sense of hubris here in the analogy here that once an apology to Aboriginal people, forever no more racism in Australia altogether.

The reality is very different!

Today the country now has over 40 different ethnic racial groups living inside our borders and roughly 1 in 5 Australians have experienced racism in their lives.

Enter Malcolm Turnbull, the Prime Minister who claims to be right-progressive.  For the incumbent PM I have one of my own policies: vouch for a multicultural (and intercultural) Australia.

Alongside the $1bn Innovation boom and the $1bn Clean Energy Innovation Fund, put aside some money to a government initiative: Cultural Diversity Future Fund.

The aforementioned Cultural Diversity Future Fund will be two-pronged: Firstly research into contemporary ethnic and racial issues for 22nd century Australia.  And secondly, commercialising these ideas through the creation of a multicultural, intercultural Australia, which defines people based on talent, or contribution to the economy, instead of ethnicity.

A culturally diverse 22nd century Australia.

Also read: All Together Now’s Anti racism projects

Journalism and Response-ability

Journalism and Responsibility

 

On Monday 22nd of February, Paul Sheehan, an Australian reporter from the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) released a double page spread about an Australian woman named Louise. She claimed to have been brutally assaulted and raped by a group of men from a specific ethnic minority group. In the article the sub-heading stated, “We’ll never know the scale of the rape epidemic in Sydney”.

 

Louise’s story was later shown to be fictitious.

 

The article was then retracted by the SMH, but the stigma associated with the ethnic minority group is likely to remain, just like the stigma has remained with refugees and asylum seekers from the “Children Overboard Scandal”. The damage created by the media is difficult to reverse.

 

This is because such stories conjure up horrifying images in the minds of readers and whilst reading the article, the readers believe the information that they are consuming is fact. The initial shock value of these stories has a real affect in the mind of the reader; it virtually imprints itself like an un-washable stain.

 

The ABC’s “Media Watch” recently investigated the SMH report and showed an Australian woman speaking at a Reclaim Australia rally at Martin Place on April 4th 2015. This was Louise telling the same story that Sheehan reported in the SMH in February 2016. To call the story “news” is debatable.

 

To add insult to injury in this saga, the SMH printed a small apology (of 99 words) in the bottom corner of page 2 on the following Wednesday. That’s right: the lie takes up two pages and the truth gets 99 words.

 

The most basic form of modern racism makes people from minority ethnic backgrounds invisible. A more sinister form of racism makes people visible through negative acts.

 

Even if the SMH story was true it would still be a form of racism to nominate the ethnicity of the men because it’s really not important. If the story happened to be true, then the rapists are still rapists regardless of their ethnic or cultural background.

 

To make any impact on achieving racial equality, journalists need to play their role: to tell real stories as they happened, and without prejudice. After all, racism stops with every single one of us.

 

Working With Diversity

Today All Together Now officially launches its new project, Working With Diversity.

Working With Diversity shines a light on racism in Australian workplaces and works with businesses to eliminate racism so that employees can work in an environment safe from racial harassment and discrimination.

This project started in early 2015 when several of our volunteers disclosed that they had been targets of racism in Australian workplaces. We were curious, and decided to investigate further by asking a wider range of people about their experiences.

Over one year, we found many people who were willing to share their story with us. They mentioned overt racial discrimination like abuse, resume filtering, hearing comments or jokes in the workplace based on stereotypes, verbal assumptions about English language skills, and stereotyping people into roles due to their ethnic background.

Also read: Sara’s Story of experiencing Racism 

Some people we spoke with also mentioned more covert behaviours that meant discrimination was unsatisfactorily dealt with, such as reluctance to discuss racism in the workplace, and lack of role models (i.e. lack of people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds — including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people — in middle and senior management positions).

Some also mentioned workplace initiatives to improve outcomes for people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, such as leadership programs, and some mentioned easy solutions that employers could implement, such as training for staff.

Unfortunately we are unable to feature all of the stories on our website. We found that some people who were brave enough to tell us their story later retracted it because they were concerned about the ramifications of speaking out. They were concerned that talking about workplace discrimination might brand them as a whistle-blower or complainer and consequently affect their future work prospects.

It is extremely concerning to us that people are too scared to speak publicly about racism in the workplace. It suggests that victims are being denied the right to freely express their experiences, while the perpetrators continue with their discriminatory behaviour. This silencing behaviour means Australians are unaware that racism is occurring in workplaces across Australia.

Additionally, it suggests that more research needs to be done to understand the extent to which discussions about race-based prejudice in the workplace are taking place. To address the problem we need to have a better understanding about what ordinary people are experiencing on a larger scale.

Also read: Everyday Racism App; an app that challenges everything you think you know about Racism

All Together Now believes that the first step to creating that understanding is to gather more stories about people’s experiences. This will create a clearer picture of what is really happening. You can help us do this. If you have witnessed or experienced racism at work please send us your stories. If you’re not clear what racism is in a work context, there’s a definition on All Together Now’s website.

The Secret River and the Power of the Arts

I’ve seen the power of the arts to move, to educate, drive change and foster social cohesion many times. I experienced it intensely first hand, when I produced Crossings: Songs from the East in 2013.

The concert showcased a cross-cultural collaboration of traditional and improvised music spanning the Greek, Kurdish, Arabic and Persian traditions. It was an exciting coming-together for the first time of local Sydney-based musicians; four out of the five were first generation Australians from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. They drew from both their musical heritage and their contemporary experience of multicultural Australia.

The audience, which we surveyed, said things like:

“Beautiful to see a coming together of cultures through the arts”…

“Brought back memories of home”…

“Wonderful! Especially watching the musicians improvising – working together… so much richness (and they say multiculturalism doesn’t work)! It is alive and brings so much richness to our lives and to Australia”…

The experience of that production impacted all involved, from the artists to the audience and everyone in between, in ways that only arts and cultural experiences can sometimes – on the level where words cease and only the senses and the human spirit exist. One comes away from an experience like that with a sense that something in them is a little different… a little changed.

As an audience member watching the Sydney Theatre Company’s latest production of The Secret River, I came away with exactly that feeling. I was shattered at the brutality of the story – the brutal truth in the story – but I was compelled to watch and listen.

I felt like I was bearing witness to a history not told often enough. In the author, Kate Grenville’s, words: “This book isn’t history, but it’s solidly based on history. Most of the events in the book “really happened” and much of the dialogue is what people really said or wrote.” Knowing this, I felt the weight of responsibility, like I was almost charged with the duty of carrying this history on, of re-telling it. So I made it my mission for days afterwards to tell everyone I met to go see the show.

It was hard to watch at times. The woman sitting to my left had her eyes closed for much of the massacre scene. It wasn’t explicit or visually disturbing – but it sat in that space – the space where words cease and only the senses exist. Clearly for the woman beside me, her senses were in overwhelm. I was grateful that the night I attended happened to be followed by the Q and A session with the actors and co-director afterwards – it was an opportunity for the audience to re-compose and debrief almost. More than that, it was a way to bring the savage racism of our history into the present.

The discussion that ensued was open and honest. The actors told of their own experiences of facing and witnessing racism today. Actor Ningali Lawford-Wolf told of how she was refused a ride by four taxi drivers on the street just outside the theatre. Richard Piper, who played the most savage of the white characters, talked of how the experience of being a part of this production changed him – made him reflect on times where he had been a bystander to racist incidences and had not acted. He spoke of the need for us all to speak up and take a stand in similar situations, and of his resolve to do differently next time. An audience member asked the questions: “What can we do? How can we do better when we leave this theatre?”. One of the younger cast members, Madeleine Madden, spoke about the power of the arts to move and affect change. Everyone on stage seemed to acknowledge a sort of shared social responsibility to tell the story with authenticity and sensitivity.

I came away with the feeling that the sentiment in that Q and A session was shared company-wide, and with 2 mins of online research I discovered the Sydney Theatre Company’s ‘Human Rights and Social Performance Statement’ As part of STC’s commitment to “operating as a responsible organisation” they state: “STC’s statement on Human Rights and Social Performance reflect our ability to uphold human rights within our organisation and our sphere of influence. We adhere to both international and local human rights legislation and reflect these in our human resources policies, practices and Code of Conduct.” Further down, in relation to audiences and the arts industry, it states: “We share our learning and promote human rights issues through giving voice to social issues by our choices in productions and our industry networks by contributing to conversations.”

This initiative – of writing the importance of social responsibility into the policies and strategic objectives of an organisation – is exactly what we need more of – especially in the arts and cultural industries, whose core ‘business’ is in the creation of meaning.

Go and see The Secret River if you can. Or read the book. Or watch the TV series. And share the story. Continue the conversation. It is our shared responsibility.

Review by Kiriaki Koubaroulis

 

Australia, still in denial?

Australia’s acknowledgement of racism has grown considerably, since Adam Goodes was Australian of the Year (2014). This could be largely due to the fact that his cause was anti-racism. The Racism. It Stops With Me. campaign was launched soon after. Over 250 organisations joined the anti-racism campaign, which promoted racial equality (including All Together Now). It seemed that Australia was finally ready to kick racism out of the country once and for all.  However, it seemed in 2015, Australia once again took a step back as it questioned incidents of racism as actually being racist or not. The questioning of an incident being racist or not was seen most prominently during the booing bullying of AFL player Adam Goodes. People in the media questioned the validity of the incessant and constant targeted bullying, of this particular player, as being racist or not. It was undoubtedly fueled by racism, as the ‘issue’ that had people begin the booing of Goodes occurred after he displayed (during the Indigenous Round of AFL) an Indigenous symbol to the crowd as a victory showcase after scoring a goal. Idiotic though it may seem, racism is often just so.

We’d like to take the time to add to the discussion on Goodes, that being ‘politically correct’ is giving respect. It is the correct way to act. Denying respect includes denying racism. Or, as Marlon James put it, “most of us are non-racists” and are content to be so: “I won’t, I don’t, I’ve never” are not statements that change those individuals, groups or institutions that are prejudice, bigoted and racist. This ‘non-racism’ occurs when you know something is racist but by doing nothing it does not stop it from occurring. The question the comes to: How do we make active people trying to end racism?

We make active people trying to end racism by giving them knowledge of how it acts, interacts and attacks society and individuals ability to succeed, be unified and progress.

Non-racism along with racism denial are two important factors in the continuing of racism in Australia and internationally. So, here is a reminder of what racism denial looks like:

 

Racism Denial 2016 (Conflict Copy) (1)

We can learn from Desabafo Social Brazil

I am 21, and what have I achieved?

That was the burning question I found myself asking when I met Monique Evelle, founder and leader of Desabafo Social. The headquarters reflects the organisation’s commitment to youth, from the quasi-graffiti on the walls, to the group of young Afro-Brazilian women and girls that give us our briefing. The organisation, founded in 2011 when Monique was in high school, works across thirteen states to socially empower young Brazilians, particularly those of African descent, through creating safe spaces to gather, collaborate on and develop projects in their own communities to counter racism and inequality. Even in Australia, fighting both the overt and the subtle influence of race seems a mammoth task, one that many in the community are not ready or willing to confront. Nonetheless, open and shameless racism regularly stimulates public discourse against the perpetrators, as with Adam Goodes and more insidiously, with racial abuse on public transport. There is a sense of shame attached, in the mind of the majority, to blatant racism.


In Brazil, the social divides are infinite, complex, dynamic and extreme: the slightest changes in skin tone dictate which workplaces will hire you or not hire you for the position you are qualified for. If you happen to be ‘black’ or ‘coloured’ and highly qualified, while a less qualified applicant is ‘white’ then guess who will get the call back? LGBTIQ Brazilians, the poor, those who live in favelas (unplanned communities), women and people of colour will invariably face significant social challenges that simply don’t exist for others. In police organisations, there exist significant prejudices even between those of different shades of colour. We see this as racial profiling, but to authorities, it is simply preventative. In August, a bus ferrying fifteen teenagers from the city’s outer communities (read: of low socio-economic status) was stopped in the streets of Rio by the notorious military police, with those on board summarily detained and searched. None were carrying weapons or drugs. Fourteen of the fifteen were black.

Now imagine you ran an anti-racism organisation, like All Together Now. Imagine each day, you ran the risk of being detained arbitrarily outside your office, and routinely passed by young, black men being searched in the street solely for the colour of their skin. Imagine that you yourself are regularly stopped on your doorstep, or violently assailed in the street with little reason, outside your workplace that exists solely to counter this behaviour. The need for such an organisation is self-evident in Salvador, within metres of its headquarters: en route, two young men with backpacks, dressed much like myself and seemingly hanging out together in the city centre of the old city, are stopped in the street. Their hands behind their heads, legs spread, three heavily armed policemen that are at pains to emphasize their weapons assail them. Nothing is found on their person. Guess their skin colour.

That is Desabafo Social’s reality. For a society so entrenched in its own problems – economic, political and social – it appears to be a demoralising battle for survival in Brazil, but unless people who want to change this system can band together, it is bound by the lessons of history to repeat. Ignorance will breed ignorance, poverty breeds poverty. Human rights form the overarching narrative of what Desabafo aims to do: to promote an alternative vision of human rights to young people, and enshrine equality and fairness in a society so long bereft of them. Monique wants to interrupt this cycle, and in small ways, Desabafo Social is winning, and collecting accolades along the way.

Much of this success is owed to the organisation’s use of technology. Monique has been recognised in Brazil as one of 25 most influential Afro-Brazilians on the internet. The internet empowers all users to collaborate, communicate and develop new ideas in a relatively safe space. Aprendizagem colaborativa, in English “collaborative knowledge,” is built collectively between peers and teachers and facilitated by the internet. Via this platform, the organisation frequently organises workshops, seminars and lectures on social entrepreneurship, effecting change, self-development and community organisation. Youth participation is paramount, and it is through investing time and energy into education that Desabafo aims to change endemic disadvantage.

Everything is about developing change in the long term, and investing in what we have now to reap change later. Social changes require patience; take Indigenous rights or same-sex marriage in this country. Children teach their children their values, after all. It’s a lesson many in Australia could learn.

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