This is a question I routinely get from people I meet. When I say I’m from Melbourne (the city where I’ve lived most of my life), I get scoffed at and badgered: ‘No – where are you really from?’ People ask this question because I’m not White and I’m presumed to be not-Australian. Yes I was born in South America – but I have lived here for 24 years, since I was a child, and this is my home. I’ve devoted much of my adult life to researching and fighting this form of everyday racism. Almost everyday of my life, any time I meet new people. This has always made me feel as if my status as an Australian is continually being judged and categorised by people who feel they have more of a right to call themselves Australian because they are White and not obviously of migrant background. In a multicultural country in the year 2011 – this is astounding.
The above anonymous entry to Microaggressions.comis actually mine, from six years ago. I’ve lived in four cities since this submission. I still get this question routinely in all sorts of contexts, from professional meetings to social settings; whether I visit an art gallery, or if I’m a guest at a function.
Racial microaggressions are the brief and subtle daily insults that denigrate people of colour. This term was first conceptualised in 1977 by Chester Pierce and colleagues in a study of racism in television commercials.
“These are the subtle, stunning, often automatic, and non-verbal exchanges which are ‘put downs’ of Blacks by offenders. The offensive mechanisms used against Blacks often are innocuous. The cumulative weight of their never-ending burden is the major ingredient in Black-White interactions.”
Microaggression is a term that Dr Derald Wing Sue and colleagues reinvigorated in 2007, to describe racist dynamics between White therapists and their clients who are people of colour. They note that microaggressions occur because White people lack awareness of how race affects their biases, stereotypes, behaviour and attitudes, and also because they lack an understanding of the experiences of people of colour.
Microaggressions can be delivered as an insult or an appeal for validation about White person’s beliefs. These may be verbal signs (words or tone) or physical cues (snubs, or dismissive looks, gestures). Racial microaggressions can also build up not by targeting a specific individual but through atmosphere, such as a hostile workplace, where a minority woman is excluded from social events.
There have been an increased number of public attacks on underrepresented academics for their education and activism on social media. The term “activist academic” describes the longstanding tradition across nations where intellectuals engage in conscious protest in support of social justice and dissent against the status quo. Activism by academics asserts that the university has a social function beyond the provision of education and scholarly critique. Activist academics see that their role serves a social purpose to provide independent social criticism through volunteering, program interventions, public engagement outside academia, protests, and beyond. In some circles, the profile of activist academics has declined, particularly amongst White academics from majority groups. This led to the misperception that recent international protests by scientists were novel. This is misguided, as minority academics are often inextricably activist in their pedagogy, not-for-profit service work, and activities.
Sociology is centrally concerned with activism, especially in applied contexts. Our social justice focus is misconceived as bias or as an attack to those not used to having history, culture and politics viewed through a critical lens. Sociology is centrally concerned with social transformation. We do not merely observe the world; we aim to challenge existing power structures and to reduce inequity. Having said that, women academics in general are penalised for their work, and the outcomes are even worse for minority sociologists as they seek senior roles. The stakes for minority activist academics is therefore higher, as I will show below.
There is a troubling trend of famous scientists receiving increased attention to speak at academic events and on conservative media. In The Humanist, I recently wrote about the resurgence of political scientist Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve. The book has been universally critiqued as an example of modern-day scientific racism. Yet Murray is being embraced by right wing media personalities, as well as by research institutions. He was the focus of a student and faculty protest after being invited to give a talk.
Published in 1994, The Bell Curve was founded on a flawed premise that inferred a correlation between intelligence, socio-economic achievement, and genetics, without accounting for the effects of discrimination. The research was funded by the eugenics-promoting Pioneer Fund. Time has proven the book to be scientifically “reckless.” It enjoys a resurgence in 2017, the era of Trump, specifically because it is read as proof that White people are superior to racial minorities, especially Black and Latin people.
We can see a similar pattern in the renewed embrace of Dr James Watson. He is famous for being awarded a Nobel Prize for discovering the structure of DNA along with Francis Crick, but they did so by stealing the work of a White woman scientist, Rosalind Franklin. Watson has also promoted scientific racism and sexism throughout his career, arguing that Black people are less intelligent and that women have no value in science careers. He also spread racist pseudoscience, saying there is a link between sunlight and increased libido. His reasoning: “That’s why you have Latin lovers.” He has further argued that thin people are more ambitious, and he subsequently validates that discrimination towards fat people is understandable. All of this, of course, is without any scientific evidence.
What message does his continued elevated status send to underrepresented and marginalised groups in academia?
How do White women perpetuate gender and racial inequality in film? A new adaption of the 1966 novel and 1971 film, “The Beguiled,” is hitting the silver screen. The original story opens with a limping, dirtied White man, John (also nicknamed “Mr B”), played with relish by Clint Eastwood. The audience knows the violence and lies he’s capable of, as we see flashbacks that contradict his charm. He is an Unionist soldier injured in battle towards the end of the American Civil War. He staggers his way to a secluded boarding school for girls and young women, where he is nursed back to health by the older women, a mixed group of begrudging and bemused ladies who are stifled by their secret desires. The 2017 version has already built up high praise, with director Sofia Coppola being awarded Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival. This is the first time the prestigious award has been given to a woman. Coppola explains why she chose to erase the character of Hallie, a slave woman who features prominently in the original. I emphasise Whiteness in her language below. Whiteness is a concept describing how White people don’t acknowledge how their race is central to their worldviews and contributes to racial oppression:
“I really thought it was interesting because it was a group of women all living together, all different ages with different stages of maturity, and how they interact. It’s a group of women kind of isolated in the world… I’m definitely attracted to stories about female characters, and characters that I can relate to. I’m interested in stories of groups of women together… At the heart of the story, it’s really about the power dynamics between men and women that are universal, but that are sort of heightened in this kind of premise.”
Copolla makes two points in this interview:
She loves women’s stories (read: White women’s stories).
By saying she chooses stories that she relates to, and having omitted the only Black woman from her script, she is saying she only relates to White women.
When White people try to dismiss Indigenous and other people of colour’s (POC) discussion of colonialism and its present-day impact by focusing on “tone,” that’s racism. Consider this exchange. I shared an important article by Teila Watson , Birri Gubba Wiri and Kungalu/Gungalu Murri woman artist, who wrote about the impact of colonialism on Australia’s past, present and future. Originally published in The Guardian, Watson was unimpressed that the editors changed the title from White “Australia” Has a Black Future, to “Indigenous knowledge systems can help solve the problems of climate change.” So she chose to self-publish the longer version of her article with the original title on Medium.
A White woman writer decided to reshare my tweet, which includes a quote from the Medium piece. By doing so she informs me that she refuses to read the article due to the title, which she sees is “uncivil.” I shouldn’t have to explain this, but in the course of my interactions it was obvious that I did, in fact, have to point out that refusing to read the words of an Aboriginal woman is racist, and calling an article reflecting on Australia’s history of genocide “uncivil” is the epitome of White supremacy.
In February 2017, conservative Australian media began a sustained attack of a young feminist leader, Yassmin Abdel-Magied. That started a racist petition calling for her to be fired from ABC TV, Australia’s public broadcaster, simply for having participated in a TV panel show, Q&A, where she spoke articulately about her feminism as a Muslim-Australian woman (see the clip below). For weeks, the ABC refused to give into these racist demands.
At the same time, three One Nation candidates were running in the Western Australian election making openly racist, homophobic and sexist comments. These candidates had no political expertise, but somehow their bigotry is not offensive enough to warrant endless national debate. Yet the feminism of an educated and successful young feminist draws ire.
In late April, Abdel-Magied was subjected to further public condemnation over a brief social media post expressing her condemnation of war. One month later, a White male editor incited violence towards her employer, the ABC, and Abdel-Magied was caught in media turmoil once again. This is a case study on the deep-seated elements of Islamophobia (fear of Islam) in Australia, and its real life consequences on young women of religious and ethnic minority backgrounds.
This week, on 11 May 2017, a bill two-years-in-the-making to decriminalise abortion in the state of New South Wales, Australia, was defeated 14 to 25, meaning abortion remains a crime under the Criminal Act. Greens MP and Spokesperson for the Status of Women, Dr Mehreen Faruqi MLC, who led the campaign to decriminalise said: “This bill was not about promoting or not promoting abortion. It was about choice.”
Another separate bill to establish 150 metre safe zones to protect abortion clinics has been introduced by Labor MP Penny Sharpe. This bill works to eliminate harassment and intimidation by anti-choice lobbyists who film and degrade women who walk into clinics.
This law has been in place since the 1970s, but stems back to 1900. Counter to national myths of our egalitarianism, abortion laws unearth how gender inequality is maintained by White, conservative Christian patriarchal ideology that seeks to control women’s autonomy. Sociological studies show how medical professionals have long been at the vanguard of change, by shifting understandings of abortion from moral arguments, to a medical choice.
Christian lobby groups, who hold strong political power, push back against medical and community views, using emotional imagery to influence abortion laws. This has proven effective over time, and continues to hold back progress in New South Wales (and Queensland, another conservative stronghold). Despite this recent set-back, momentum towards progressive change continues. A better sociological understanding of religiously conservative ideology and tactics may hold the key towards the next legal breakthrough.
Whilst in London a couple of years a go, I came across a sign which reads, “Begin your dream today, emigrate to Australia!” (see below). A warm invitation indeed: unless of course you are an asylum seeker – in which case our Government will revoke this welcome and abscond its responsibility to the United Nations Convention Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.
Since 2001, the Australian government has passed several laws that allow the detention of asylum seekers in offshore centres located on the islands of Nauru and Manus. This was first established by excising islands from Australia’s territory; attempting to pay off people smugglers; and a series of other policy changes known as the “Pacific Solution.” In the first seven years of the scheme, over 1,600 people were held in detention. They arrived predominantly from Afghan, Iraqi and Sri Lankan backgrounds. While this program was initially wound back by 2008, it was reintroduced in 2010. Offshore detention reached its peak in 2014, with over 2,400 people held in detention centres, including 222 children. At the end of March 2016, almost 1,000 people remained in Manus and up to 1,200 people on Nauru.
In 2014, the Government offered migrants up to $10,000 to go back home to face certain persecution; a scheme that was resolutely condemned by human rights experts. The Government simultaneously cut legal aid to refugees, making it even harder for them to receive informed support.
The ensuing health damage suffered by asylum seekers is woefully inhumane. Australia’s humanitarian program has been criminally pared back, along with our collective morality. We must not accept this unfair system in the name of so-called “Australian values.”
Over the next couple of days, in the lead up to the March for Science, happening globally on 22 April 2017, I’ll be republishing a few of my articles and analyses of the March here on my blog.
On 13 April 2017, an article in Science Magazine featured the academic research planned about the March for Science, and interviews with one of the march co-chairs. The journalist reported that George Mason University was seeking email addresses of supporters for a planned study.
Scientists around the world who have been holding the march organisers accountable criticised the ethics of such a proposed study. This eventually led to the organisers requesting a correction from the journalist.
How did this major error happen?
Two days later, on 16 April, the March for Science was forced to issue a public apology after appropriating African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in a now-deleted tweet (below). This was heavily critiqued, especially by Black researchers, who pointed out the hypocrisy of using AAVE when Black scientists had been marginalised by the march, and received abuse for speaking out on inequalities within the march. Black scientists were also ignored when they encouraged the organisers to work with established social justice groups, including Black Lives Matter. Cultural appropriation of AAVE is doubly offensive in given these patterns of exclusion.
These are just two recent examples in a long line of problems. The organisers have established a damaging cycle of communication failures and weak apologies since the March for Science was first promoted.
Conscious Dating Co explores what it means to date consciously in a series of panels and workshops.
What influences attraction? Is racial bias affecting your dating life? How do you deal with being fetishised? And can we all expand our dating pool by mindfully inspecting our own racial biases?
Conscious Dating Co-founder Kaila Perusco will host a panel discussion with award-winning journalist, documentary filmmaker and host of SBS’s Date My Race, Santilla Chingaipe; writer and equal rights advocate Andy Quan; and applied sociologist Dr Zuleyka Zevallos.
Join us for a fascinating insight into modern dating!