Racist Moral Panic

I’ve seen a few “progressive” White people sharing a newstory about the newly established African-Australian community taskforce, without recognising that this is giving in to scaremongering. Yet White people feel comforted by the idea that “African community leaders” are doing “the right thing” to keep people safe (read: White people). The nation must critically examine how Whiteness drives these responses. There’s increased policing of South Sudanese-Australian groups not because there’s a specific problem – data show that the majority of youth crime is committed by White youth. The motivation to criminalise African-Australians coincides with the election year. 

Migrants are forced to publicly comply with racist agendas because of the increased stigma to their communities. There are many videos, accounts and police reports of people from various African backgrounds being attacked by White people for simply being Black, emboldened by politicians and the moral panic of “good” White people. So where’s the White crime taskforce?  Continue reading Racist Moral Panic

Racism in Research and Academia

Racism is not an interpersonal phenomenon. It is not simply about something one person said to another; it is more than a slur about skin colour. Racism operates through institutions and policies, that are reinforced in everyday words and actions. Racism is not comprehending that things you say and do – as well as the things you fail to say and do – contribute to the alienation of people of colour. Well-meaning White people contribute towards racism – through their silence. Whether intentional or not, racism has material consequences on the life chances of racial minorities. Below are some examples of racism at work in research contexts. I examine what it means to be an “ally,” and I discuss ways to proactively respond to racial discrimination in the workplace and online.

Continue reading Racism in Research and Academia

Indigenous Sociology for Social Impact

The history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice activism to destabilise and overcome colonial practices in Australia began with the British invasion in 1788 and has continued to the present-day. These acts of social and political organisation have strong sociological resonance that should centrally inform sociological inquiry in Australia. Yet Indigenous knowledges are peripheral to the discipline of sociology. This post is the first in a series exploring ways to decolonise sociology, through the leadership of Associate Professor Kathleen Butler, sociologist and Aboriginal woman belonging to the Bundjalung and Worimi peoples of coastal New South Wales.

To redress the problematic racial dynamics of sociological theory and practice, Associate Professor Butler convened the first Indigenous Sociology for Social Impact Workshop at the University of Newcastle, Ourimbah campus, on Darkinjung land. Held on 27-28 October 2016, Professor Butler invited Indigenous and non-Indigenous sociologists from different parts of Australia to consider gaps and opportunities in addressing the ongoing impact of colonialism in our theories, methods and practice.

Today’s post places the workshop in historic context and summarises the discussion. I also include reflections by Associate Professor Butler about the outcomes from the workshop. I end with a set of questions that emerged from the workshop that we should now face as a discipline in order to centre Indigenous knowledges and methods in sociology.

Continue reading Indigenous Sociology for Social Impact

“Where Are You From?” Racial Microaggressions

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.com is 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.

“Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of colour. Perpetrators of microaggressions are often unaware that they engage in such communications when they interact with racial/ethnic minorities”
Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities

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.

Continue reading “Where Are You From?” Racial Microaggressions

Interview: Many Women Of Colour Feel Unsafe Working In Science

Excuse me while I migrate various content to a central place on my blog! This post was first published on 11 July 2017.

I was interviewed by Buzzfeed, about a new study by Professor Kate Clancy and colleagues, showing women of colour scientists are more likely to experience race and gender harassment. Women of colour scientists are also excessively critiqued for being either too feminine or masculine enough, they have their physical abilities questioned, and they are more likely to miss professional opportunities like conferences, fieldwork, classes and meetings because their workplaces are unsafe. My comments from the interview:

“The study really reinforces a lot of what the literature already tells us — that women of colour are more likely to experience multiple forms of harassment and feel more acutely the impact of a hostile work environment in the sciences,” Zuleyka Zevallos, a sociologist at Swinburne University in Australia, told BuzzFeed News.

Although this isn’t the first study to show evidence of the “double bind” of racial- and gender-based harassment, some critics continue to deny that the effect is real.

“A lot of the pushback that we see in the individual scientific communities —astronomy or any other science — is that scientists want data,” Zevallos said. “And even though there’s a plethora of data, it’s like they need to see more data for themselves.”

In their study, Clancy and colleagues surveyed women and men from various racial backgrounds, focusing on academics working in the field of astronomy and planetary science. The study finds that 88% of their respondents heard negative language from peers at their current job, 52% from supervisors, and 88% from other people at work. Thirty-nine percent report experiencing verbal harassment at their current position and a further 9% experienced physical harassment. Around a third of the overall sample feel unsafe at their current role (27%), however, women of colour were the most likely group to feel unsafe in their place of work due to their race, gender, and religion (although the latter was not statistically significant).

Breaking this figure down by race, 40% women of colour and 27% of White women, feel unsafe in their current role due to gender. Further, 28% of women of colour feel unsafe due to race.

Clancy and colleagues note a meta-analysis of 343 studies has established that people are less likely to participate in counterproductive workplace research. This suggests that, despite their stark findings, people are likely to underreport negative experiences for fear of professional repercussions. So experiences may be far worse in reality.

The study concludes that astronomy creates an hostile environment with profound impact on junior scholars, White women, and the greatest problems for women of colour.

The study proposes four solutions to workplace inequity.

  1. A code of conduct/education for all trainees and employees at all levels;
  2. Diversity and cultural awareness training on challenges faced by women of colour and underrepresented minorities;
  3. Leaders need to model appropriate behaviour;
  4. Swift, just and consistent sanctioning for perpetrators of harassment in the workplace.

Moreover the study concludes that better support networks for women of colour are needed.

Both in the academic literature and in my professional equity and diversity work, experts see a reticence in equity programs to deal with racism alongside gender imbalance. As I’ve detailed elsewhere, the astronomy community, along with other disciplines, deals with sexual harassment and gender inequity in haphazard ways, but still ignores racism. The present study by Clancy and colleagues might be used to better shape policy and programs. Bias awareness training is the bare minimum needed; to make positive changes to attract, retain and promote women of colour, structural reform is necessary.

Too many scientific societies feel that tackling gender equity is “a good start” but still see diversity and inclusion of people of colour and other underrepresented minorities is the “next step.” Some leaders perceive that diversity work undermines gender equity programs. This study, and many others before it, show that intersectionality is pivotal in making lasting change. Intersectionality describes how gender inequality is impacted by racial inequality and other forms of disadvantage like sexuality, disability, class and beyond. We cannot address gender inequity separate from racial inequity as both issues impact one another, as well as increase other problems for minority groups.

Read about the study and comments by lead author Professor Clancy on Buzzfeed.

Photo credit: WOCinTech Chat, CC 2.0 via Flickr. Adapated by Z. Zevallos.

Protecting Activist Academics Against Public Harassment

Two women of colour sit at a desk reading a laptop

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.

One of our first aims must be to collectively reconfigure what ‘counts’ as academic work while simultaneously challenging whether ‘counting’ is necessarily the best way to ensure the efficient use of public resources in any part of the education sector
Activist academics: what ‘counts’ as academic work? – Dr Sandra Grey

Continue reading Protecting Activist Academics Against Public Harassment

End the Hero-Worship of Bigoted Scientists

Crowded lecture threatre with many people raising their hands to speak.

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?

Continue reading End the Hero-Worship of Bigoted Scientists

Gender, Race, Power and The Beguiled

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:

  1. She loves women’s stories (read: White women’s stories).
  2. 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.

This may seem “natural” to White people: why would a White woman relate to a Black woman character? This logic is how Whiteness works: by taking for granted the power dynamics of race. Continue reading Gender, Race, Power and The Beguiled

Tone Policing People of Colour

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.

Continue reading Tone Policing People of Colour

Islamophobia and the Public Persecution of Feminist Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Yassmin Abdel-Magied

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.

Continue reading Islamophobia and the Public Persecution of Feminist Yassmin Abdel-Magied