Harmony Day and Racism in Australia

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.

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?”
Cartoon by Bill Leak. Via ABC News

 

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Australia Day and Intersectionality

People at a stall on Survival Day event, with an Aboriginal flag in the background

I am writing to you from Sydney, land of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, who have looked after these lands for over 75,000 years (and much earlier by other accounts).

Today is a painful day for Indigenous Australians; the 26 January is a date commemorating the day British ships (”the First Fleet”) arrived on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lands. It is a day that marks the decimation of First Australians; the dispossession of their land; the removal of children to be raised in Missions and in White foster homes with no ties or knowledge of their culture (“the Stolen Generation”); amongst many other human rights crimes. This history impacts Indigenous life chances in the present-day.

Australia Day was only observed by all states and territories from 1935 and it was relatively recently that it was made a national holiday in 1994. Indigenous Australians have been protesting this date since 1938, on the first ever Day of Mourning, 150 years after colonialismSince then, Indigenous Australians have also held both Invasion Day and Survival Day events to continue resistance against colonialist, patriarchal views of what it means to be Australian.

Join me through three case studies about the problems arising from Australia Day celebrations. First, I analyse a national advertisement that has been lauded as well as critiqued for its depiction of colonial arrivals. Second, I discuss a funding campaign to reverse the removal of Australia Day billboards featuring two Muslim girls. Third, I reflect on sociology’s role in the change the date protests, given the colonial origins of our discipline.

These three case studies will allow us to think about the limits of mainstream feminism and the gaps in sociological practices. I end with advice about how we might contribute to the change the date protests.

Please note that in this post, I use the phrase Australia Day to contextualise recent national debates about the celebration held on the 26 January. This phrase is hurtful to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and I use it only in context of discussing its colonial origins.

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