Tag Archives: racial slurs

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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Racism and Company Policy

When we talk about Harmony in Australia, we often allude to multiculturalism and how we can live in Harmony with one another. Australia is, after all, one of the most multicultural countries on earth. We speak over 200 languages (including 50 Indigenous languages), and 23% of us are first generation: born overseas. Yet when it comes to workplace practices, often those who are most discriminated against are new migrant workers, and in particular, those who do not speak English as their first language.

Generally it’s company policies, rather than government laws or regulations, that dictate how overseas workers will be treated in work. Instead of being proactive in regards to migrant rights, Australia has left these matters on the back burner. Australia has not signed, for instance, the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Family. This convention stresses that even “undocumented” workers should have their rights respected, and that migrants should be treated equally, just as any other human being.

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Australia, like other receiving countries, avoids signing onto these treaties because they demand obligations in return to receiving migrant workers. These protections go against the current narrative of Australia needing control over its borders, or the ability to turn away, oppress or dehumanize those who are seen as unwelcome and threatening. Discourse in Australia tends to focus on 457 visas, refugees and migrant workers in Australia. These discussions tend to dehumanize migrants, make them seem like a threat, or delegitimize their humanity.

In the workplace, migrant workers who face racial discrimination have two options: action under company policy, or under the Racial Discrimination Act. Several companies do not have grievance procedures relating specifically to racism, but rather focus more broadly on workplace bullying and harassment.

Migrant workers who are left to take action under the Racial Discrimination Act, for say, verbal racial abuse in the workplace, generally find recourse under section 18C.

Section 18C Currently protects people against speech likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” them on the basis of their race. This makes it unlawful for someone to yell a racial slur at you on the bus, or unlawful for newspapers to publish blatantly racist, offensive materials. In the workplace, it also makes it unlawful for employers to verbally abuse employees, in public spaces.

Yet the government’s proposed abolition of section 18C would leave migrant workers without protection if and when they face racism in the workplace. The government is seriously considering making these changes despite the fact that 80% of Australians support the current laws against racial vilification.

It is more important now than ever before that companies adopt internal company procedures regarding racism in the workplace. Company policy, and in particular grievance procedures, can give employees a place to go for help when facing sustained verbal abuse, or racial discrimination. Remember that the general wellbeing of employees is linked to their productivity, which is directly linked to your bottom line. It is important, both as a moral and business imperative, that businesses help out employees suffering from racial discrimination in the workplace.

Businesses looking to do something to stop racism should contact All Together Now today. 

Together, we can discuss a partnership to prevent racism. We’ve already worked with several organizations to assist them in erasing racism in the workplace.

Visit: https://alltogethernow.org.au/contact/  

Or: Donate to Further Our Work