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.
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.)
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.
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.