In Episode 3 of Race in Society (video below), Associate Professor Alana Lentin and I spoke with Dr Summary May Finlay and Dr Karen Schamberger about how mainstream media create sensationalist accounts of the pandemic, and spread a moral panic about racialised people. A moral panic is when a group or an event is seen as a threat to social values, usually in a time of great social change, such as the pandemic. A moral panic whips up fear of particular groups, especially racial minorities. At the same time, it protects the interests of people at the top of the racial hierarchy, which in Australia, is white people of European descent. Even though we filmed this discussion 10 months ago, the commentary illuminates the current COVID-19 crisis.
Three states in Australia are presently under a strict COVID-19 lockdown: New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. New South Wales is experiencing a major Delta variant outbreak, which is highly contagious. It has spread to the other states through working-class workers, who do not have the luxury of working from home. Similarly to what happened in the harsh Melbourne lockdown in 2020, residents in migrant communities have been placed into a tougher lockdown relative to others, even as they are required to continue working, and submit to COVID testing every three days (surveillance testing).
In early-July, 200 police were sent to South Western Sydney, where at least half the population was born overseas, to enforce the Public Health Order. Since then, reports on infringement notices feature in the daily press conferences. This did not happen at the beginning of this latest outbreak, when infection was exclusively spreading in Bondi, an affluent suburb where the majority of residents are white, Anglo-Australians.
On the morning of 24 July, the New South Wales Deputy Police Commissioner announced 246 people had received infringement notices in the past 24 hours, highlighting the case of a grieving family gathering to mourn, implying they were from a non-English speaking background. The Minister for Health spoke heavily about ‘multicultural’ communities not following the rules by visiting family members who don’t live in the same house. By the afternoon, 3,500 anti-lockdown protesters marched through central Sydney without masks, being violent, and yet only 90 people received infringement notices and 57 people were arrested. The race of the protesters—who were overwhelmingly white—has not been a focus of media reports.
Public discourse about the COVID-19 outbreaks continues to be racially coded in media and in press conferences. Blame is placed on multicultural communities for not listening to public health messages, even though the majority of cases originate in ‘essential’ workplaces that are not required to shut down. As some communities remain confused about public health messages, state responses have been heavily criticised for not promoting culturally-appropriate public communication campaigns, while targeting migrants with a heavy police presence.
Today, I detail the racialised dynamics of the current outbreak, and then delve into our Race in Society series, where experts place the pandemic into broader context.
Dr Summer May Finlay is a Yorta Yorta woman and Public Health Researcher at the Universities of Wollongong and Canberra. In the video below, she details how Aboriginal community controlled health organisations have effectively dealt with COVID-19 using social marketing campaigns.
We also spoke 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 under strict lockdown have relatively large Asian populations.Continue reading Media Representations of Race and the Pandemic