Images: (left to right) Matuse; Little Hunta; Munk of Renegades of Munk; Brotha Black.
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
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 Zakinthinos
If you’re in Sydney on Tuesday 8th March, come along to “Comedy vs Racism”. All Together Now has organised this event in partnership with the City of Sydney as part of the Living in Harmony festival. The event begins at 7PM.
Comedy meets commentary in Comedy vs Racism, when three of Sydney’s funniest writer/performers are joined by an academic activist, a lawyer, and a columnist who writes about race and feminism.
Join us for an hour of laughs followed by a Q & A, with Tasnim Hossain, Suren Jayemanne, Bjorn Stewart, Professor James Arvanitakis, Pallavi Sinha, Ruby Hamad, and host Jennifer Wong.
Between comedy performances, the comedians and panellists will share their thoughts on the role of comedy when it comes to racism in Australia.
Together, we’ll be asking: How powerful is a punchline when it comes to standing against racism? What can comedy do about everyday racism? What conversations do we need to have as Australian audiences, comedy makers, and the media? And can we laugh while we’re having them?
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: