An important national conversation about racism happened on 21 March 2017. It started with celebrity chef Adam Liaw on Twitter, who said: “It’s #HarmonyDay so I want to be a bit frank about race.” Australia celebrates multiculturalism on Harmony Day annually; it coincides with the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This year, Harmony Day was marred by a callous but calculated symbolic gesture: the Government chose this day to strip away protections from the Racial Discrimination Act (sections 18C and 18D). The Act now uses the less precise language of “harassment” but it has removed protections against racial “offence”, “insult” and “humiliation.” Essentially, it will be even harder for Indigenous and migrant-background Australians to be protected against racial abuse.
Section 18C of The Racial Discrimination Act has been under threat for years; most recently due to a case against xenophobic cartoonist Bill Leak and another case involving two university students who targeted Indigenous colleagues. The former was infamously dropped amidst great public pressure in defence of the beloved artist whose racist and sexist cartoons delight millions of Australians. You can see a sample of Leak’s work below, in which he mocks Indigenous fatherhood on the 2016 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day. The second case cost $20 million in court and was eventually dismissed. Cindy Prior, the Indigenous woman who exposed racist online messages by White male students, has suffered mental health problems and cannot find employment.
Opponents to the 18C law include right wing personality Andrew Bolt, who lost a racial discrimination suit led by Dr Anita Heiss.
Liaw shared various examples of racism he experienced throughout his life. He identified how racism is about everyday interactions that expose structural processes that enable racial discrimination.
“I’ve had my accent (do I have one?) mocked THOUSANDS of times. I’ve been told to go back to where I came from THOUSANDS of times…The racism I worry about is systemic. It’s under-representation media, boardrooms, or the slightest inkling that kids with Brown skin are less Australian than if they were White.”
Resharing Liaw’s thread, writer, Dr Benjamin Law, shared his own stories of racism, and encouraged other minority Australians to do the same using #FreedomOfSpeech – referencing the democratic cloak under which 18C is being undermined.
“At the age of 10, I was at the local pool as a group of white boys held my head underwater, laughing at me for being Asian… Last week a White Australian said about a speech I gave, “You speak better English than me and I’ve been here all my life.”
I shared only a few incidents I’ve suffered, including being the only Honours student taken aside by faculty and told not to apply for a PhD because I’d never get an academic job. (By the way: my Honours and PhD theses have since used as teaching tools year after year at my university.)
Read more on The Other Sociologist.
[Image: cartoon of an Indigenous policeman holding a young Black boy by the back of the neck in front of his father, who holds a beer. The police says: “You’ll have to sit down and talk to your son about personal responsibility.” The father says: “Yeah righto. What’s his name then?”]