Australia Day and Intersectionality

In mid-January 2017, a billboard featuring photographs of Australians from various backgrounds had drawn racist ire specifically because one of the photos was of two girls in hijab, proudly holding the Australian flag, taken at a previous Australia Day event.

The billboard featuring the Muslim girls had been removed due to the racist objections. Advertising executive Dee Madigan, together with lawyer and political commentator Mariam Veiszadeh and their partners organised a crowd-funding campaign to put the billboards back up.

The organisers initially set out to raise $50,000. At the time of writing, they had raised almost $170,000.

Racism

The background to this billboard campaign is important because it goes to the need for intersectionality in Australian feminism. Images of young Muslim girls should not meet racist opposition. Such racism should be publicly denounced and acted on.  The fact that a campaign was raised so swiftly in response, and to such enthusiastic support, is heartening.

Then again, the campaign has been hurtful to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. While some Aboriginal feminists have supported the funding campaign in solidarity with the young girls, other Aboriginal feminists have noted that any act that commemorates the beginning of colonialism is a wound to Indigenous Australians on an already painful day.

To put this in context: the campaign doubled its initial goal within hours; it has now reached over three times its desired amount. As Indigenous activists have pointed out, another crowd-funding campaign to help the remote Aboriginal community of Bawoorrooga in the Kimberley had barely raised $5,000 in the first two weeks. The community of Bawoorrooga has burned down. Public empathy for an entire Indigenous community has peaked at half of what the billboard campaign made for two girls in 24 hours. (The Bawoorrooga campaign has now raised over $7,000… still $163,000 less than the billboards.)

Inclusion

Australia has a problem with racism; but the impact of racial discrimination is not felt uniformly. While people of colour from non-English speaking backgrounds experience intense racism, Indigenous Australians experience the greatest institutional racism. In this sense, they are seen as “more Other” than non-Indigenous people of colour. Indigenous Australians are also less likely than other groups to say they benefit from multiculturalism, even though they support diversity.

This billboard campaign reinforces Muslim inclusion through Australia Day in spite of the change the date protests. This has the undesired effect of excluding Indigenous feminists from mainstream feminist efforts. Moreover, promoting Australia Day is a slight on the First Australians who are Muslim.

Feminism

The activists behind the billboard fundraiser are working tirelessly and proactively to end racism and sexism; however, by focusing on racism affecting Muslim women, Indigenous voices about Australia Day are drowned out.  The billboard campaign has tried to address these concerns by removing the mention of “Australia Day” from the new billboards and pledging to donate excess funds to two Indigenous not-for-profits. Yet the new campaign is still timed for Australia Day and therefore it reinforces the colonial meanings of this day.

The fact that the issues affecting Indigenous and Muslim feminists are relegated to different corners of the national imagination show a gap in our collective feminist consciousness.

Learn more on my blog: The Other Sociologist.

The legendary singer-songwriter-guitarist Kev Carmody was amazing at the Yabun Festival. He told fun stories, he was self depreciating but very witty, and he was inspiring. 

The Yabun Festival is a celebration for Survival Day. The 26 of January is a national holiday that marks the day British ships arrived in Australia and began the genocide of Indigenous Australians. Survival Day is a day led by Indigenous Australians who affirm the resilience, creativity and excellence of First Australians. This year, the Invasion Day Protests, which aim to change the date and meaning of Australia Day, ended by protesters joining Yabun at the end of the march to enjoy music, stalls, cultural performances, speeches and more.


[Photo: large crowd, majority Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. A few have pitched tents – sensible, it’s a long and hot day!]  

Learn more about Survival Day: The Other Sociologist.

Djiringanj Dancers, a group of women cultural performers, singing about the “West Wind” at the Corroboree grounds, during the Yabun Festival.

The Yabun Festival is a celebration for Survival Day. The 26 of January is a national holiday that marks the day British ships arrived in Australia and began the genocide of Indigenous Australians. Survival Day is a day led by Indigenous Australians who affirm the resilience, creativity and excellence of First Australians. This year, the Invasion Day Protests, which aim to change the date and meaning of Australia Day, ended by protesters joining Yabun at the end of the march to enjoy music, stalls, cultural performances, speeches and more.


[Video: Aboriginal women and girls in traditional dress and body paint perform a cultural dance, singing whilst dancing around a circle, waving their arms up and down with local plants, symbolising sacred connection to country. ]

Learn more about the Invasion Day Protest: The Other Sociologist.

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.

Continue reading Australia Day and Intersectionality

Share the Spirit: Survival Day 2015

The 26th of January is Australia Day and a national holiday. Various events happen all over Melbourne, but some of these recognise that this day raises important issues about Indigenous culture in Australia. Survival Day events represent the resilience and contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who collectively make up the world’s oldest, continuous culture. 

I attended the Share the Spirit festival, hosted by Songlines Music. This event has been running at the Treasury Garden since 2002. Together with similar events in Sydney, Perth, Adelaide and elsewhere, they are amongst the biggest Indigenous cultural events in Australia. 

The most recent Australian Census of 2011 finds that 548,400 people identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin, representing 2.5% of our national population. This was an increase of 21% since the previous Census in 2006. New South Wales has the highest number of Indigenous Australians (32%), while the Northern Terriory has the highest rate of Indigenous people as a proportion of the population of any state (27%). Victoria has the smallest proportion (1%). 

In 2013, Michael Mansell, lawyer and activist from the Palawa, Trawlwoolway and Pinterrairer people, noted that “Australia is the only country that relies on the arrival of Europeans on its shores as being so significant it should herald the official national day." 

In mid-January 2015, Former Australian of the year Dr Tom Calma, Aboriginal elder of the Kungarakan tribal group and a member of the Iwaidja tribal group, argued that Australia Day, also known as Survival Day amongst Indigenous Australians (to recognise the resilience of Indigenous Australians despite colonialism), is an opportunity to learn about Indigenous history, something that is not formally acknowledged as part of our national celebrations.

Pictured here is raper PHILLY, WembaWemba man based in Melbourne, and winner of last year’s Unearthed, who was amazing onstage at the Share the Spirit festival. He had many skilled MCs join him as guests.