Intersectionality and the Virus

Entrance gates to a train station. Stickers say "stay home if you are sick"

In Episode 5 of our Race in Society series, Associate Professor Alana Lentin and I lead a panel exploring the impact of race, gender, and socioeconomics on COVID-19, through a lens of intersectionality. Writing in 1989, Professor Kimberle Crenshaw showed that industrial law in the USA treated racial and sexual discrimination as distinct experiences. She showed that Black women experience both racism and sexism simultaneously, and so the impact of each is compounded. Professor Patricia Hill Collins and other theorists have also shown that, without using this term specifically, people in the Global South have used intersectionality as an analytical tool, since at least the 1800s, to grapple with the complexity of discrimination. In Australia, we look to the works of Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson, such as her book, “Talkin’ Up to the White Woman,” which examines how white feminist research has established authority by mobilising whiteness and enacting power over Aboriginal women. Intersectionality is not an identity, but rather a way to understand power relations in society, as well as social inequality, by looking at the interconnections of social division, including race, gender, disability, sexuality, and class.

In the video below, we speak with Karl Briscoe, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Health Worker Association (NATSIHWA). His organisation has been proactive in producing resources throughout the pandemic, from advice to Black Lives Matter protesters, as well as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Professionals Resource Toolkit. He discusses how intersections of race and health impact the work by Aboriginal healthcare workers. We then speak with Professor Karen Farquharson, who has studied race in Australia, South Africa, and the United States. She explores how ideas of whiteness are used to dehumanise Black people, and how this has led to disparate health outcomes during the pandemic. Finally, Dr Nilmini Fernando is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Griffith University and a scholar of Black and post-colonial feminisms. She discusses a gap in the domestic and family violence sector, with respect to how violence is measured and categorised. Specifically, its inadequate attention to intersectionality. She notes that, by focusing on colonial definitions of violence, women of colour are inadequately protected when trying to rebuild their lives during social isolation.

Race in Society: Intersectionality and the Virus
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Lockdown, Healthcare and Racist Ableism

Medical centre with chairs and police tape blocking off front desk

In Episode 4 of our Race in Society series, Associate Professor Alana Lentin and I spoke with three health experts to unpack how racist ableism drives the management of lockdown and healthcare during the pandemic. Ableism is the discrimination of disabled people, based on the belief that able-bodied people (people without disability) are superior, and the taken-for-granted assumptions that able-bodied experiences are “natural,” “normal” and universal. Racist ableism describes how ableism intersects with racial discrimination (unfair treatment and lack of opportunities, due to ascribed racial markers such as skin colour or other perceived physical features, ancestry, national or ethnic origin, or immigrant status).

In “Lockdown, Healthcare and Racist Ableism,” we explore the ways in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with disabilities can be better supported in the health system, how to establish cultural safety during the pandemic, and what an anti-racist response to healthcare might look like.

First, we spoke with June Riemer, the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the First Peoples Disability Network. She discussed the Network’s advocacy on the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, and the impact of COVID-19 on Aboriginal people with disability. Second, Associate Professor Lilon Bandler is a Principal Research Fellow for Leaders in Indigenous Medical Education Network. She spoke about cultural safety and the imposition of heavier restrictions on racial minorities during lockdown. Finally, Dr. Chris Lemoh is an infectious disease expert and general physician at Monash University Health. He discussed his advice to the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, after the Department put nine social housing towers in Melbourne under heavily armed police lockdown. The majority of these residents were migrants and refugees. No other neighbourhood was policed in Melbourne in the same way.

These patterns are now being repeated in Sydney. Eight multicultural suburbs have been put into a “hard lockdown,” including visits by police and military personnel. To see how our guests’ work still resonates in the current context, watch our video, and read a summary below.

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Media Representations of Race and the Pandemic

Sign saying 'stop the spread' with Chinese writing. In a background is a playground

The companion analysis to this is now in a separate post, “Race, Class and the Delta Outbreak

In Episode 3 of Race in Society (video below), Associate Professor Alana Lentin and I lead a panel about how mainstream media create sensationalist accounts of the pandemic, and the proactive ways in which Aboriginal people and Asian people in particular lead their own responses. We spoke with Dr Summer May Finlay, a Yorta Yorta woman and Public Health Researcher at the Universities of Wollongong and Canberra. In our video below, she details how Aboriginal community controlled health organisations have effectively dealt with COVID-19 using social marketing campaigns. We also chatted with Dr Karen Schamberger, an independent curator and historian. She covers the history of Australian sinophobia (the fear of China, its people and or its culture), and how anti-Chinese racism plays out in media reports on racism and the COVID-19 pandemic. This issue remains pertinent, given that the suburbs currently under strict lockdown in Sydney have relatively large Asian populations.

Even though we filmed this discussion 10 months ago, the commentary illuminates the current COVID-19 crisis.

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Indigenous Sovereignty and Responses to COVID-19

People march during the Black Lives Matter protest in Sydney. One man holds up a sign. Another person holds up a large Aboriginal flag

In Episode 2 of Race in Society, Associate Professor Alana Lentin and I are joined by Jill Gallagher, Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO), who are leading COVID-19 pandemic responses in Victoria. She discusses how the pandemic amplifies existing health and social inequalities. Also on the panel is sociologist, Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson, who is Professor of Indigenous Research at RMIT University, and author of countless critical race books, including, The White Possessive‘. She demonstrates how her theorisation of Aboriginal sovereignty disrupts how the pandemic is currently understood. Finally, we also speak with sociologist Dr Debbie Bargallie, Senior research fellow at Griffith University, and author of the excellent new release, ‘Unmasking the Racial Contract: Indigenous voices on racism in the Australian Public Service.’ She talks about how Aboriginal people are excluded from social policy, which has compounded poor decision-making on public health during the pandemic.

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Race in Society

Protesters wear masks at Hyde Park in Sydney. One man's t-shirt reads: Black Lives Matter Here Too

Associate Professor Alana Lentin and I are both sociologists and we’ve launched a new webseries called “Race in Society.” The first season is dedicated to “Race and COVID-19.” In this first episode, we cover the inspiration for the series and why we are focusing on the pandemic.

In the video below, Alana explains how our idea for Race in Society came about. We were noticing an increased interest in critical race studies among academics, students, and the broader public. Much of this discussion replicates ideas of race from North America, which is not necessarily applicable to Australia.

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