Police Brutality of Young Aboriginal Girls

Police brutality in Glen Innes, New South Wales, against a group of young Indigenous girls. You can hear one of the girls say she’ll comply with police but she wants to call her parents as they’re under 16. The policeman says no. It seems his partner, a woman’s voice off camera, tells the girls to comply: ‘Don’t make it worse for yourselves.’ Policeman says: ‘It already is worse for yourselves.’

Policeman raises his voice saying he will arrest them and give them a ticket for swearing near a school. He barks at them to get in the police van but has not appeared to tell them why they’re under arrest other than swearing. He says he will throw the girls in the van ‘head first.’

Policeman yells when the girls don’t get on the ground. The girls start crying. He is seen kicking them to the ground. The girls cling to one another. He also threatens to arrest passerbys who also appear to be young women. This is disgusting police behavior.

Police are trained to diffuse public conflict and we’ve seen plenty of evidence they are highly capable of doing this when the public is White. Black people are overpoliced and subjected to brutal force routinely. This conduct is racist and dangerous.

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Police Brutality of Young Aboriginal Girls

Paternalism, Colonialism and Indigenous Education

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians (”Indigenous” or “First Australians”) have been the traditional custodians of the land of Australia for over 75,000 years and longer by other estimates. According to the 2011 Census, Indigenous Australians make up over three percent of Australia’s national population. The majority of Indigenous Australians have an Aboriginal ancestry (90%), six percent are from Torres Strait Islander ancestry, and the rest are a mix of both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage. 

Indigenous Australians descend from over 400 documented language and cultural groups. Due to colonialism, 145 languages survive, but only 20 languages are considered “strong” (that is, spoken by all generations). 

Pat Dudgeon and colleagues

note that, at the time of British invasion in 1788, First Australians’ affinity to the land was strong, as was the complex kinship system that binds all people together and reinforces their spiritual bonds to nature. The colonialists, however, did not recognise the Indigenous custodianship of the land, declaring Australia an uninhabited land (terra nullius) and launched a violent campaign that decimated the Indigenous population and imposed a campaign of cultural genocide.

Paternalistic violence

Dudgeon and colleagues chronicle that in 1883, New South Wales established the Aboriginal Protection Board. The Board later enacted the Aborigines Protection Act in 1909 which granted the state the power to confine Indigenous people in missions and reserves. Other states followed with similar Boards and legislation that imposed British culture and Christianity, stripping children of access to their land, culture and Indigenous languages. Indigenous people began to be classified under a legally imposed racial system. Using social Darwinism, the state ranked children according to whether they were to be considered “full blood,” “half-caste” and so on, using this system to remove children from their families. At its heart, this legal caste system reflected the social and scientific view that Indigenous Australians were somehow lesser in their humanity than the European invaders.

Indigenous resistance movements fought against colonialism throughout this period. Dudgeon and colleagues note several significant incidents of frontier warfare; the activism of William Cooper and the Australian Aborigines League and William Ferguson’s leadership of the Aborigines Progressive Association both in the 1920s; and a maritime strike in 1936. The latter contributed to the rise of the Island Councillors meeting and the revised Aboriginal Protection Act of 1939 which provided Islanders greater authority.

Human rights

While other Australians had the right to vote federally in 1902, Indigenous women did not get the right to vote until 1962, except enrolling to vote was still optional despite it being compulsory for other Australians. (Though some individual Indigenous people lobbied and voted in protest as far back as the 1890s.)  The 1967 Commonwealth Referendum finally granted Indigenous Australians full citizenship. The landmark native title case in 1992 led by Eddie Mabo affirmed the Meriam people ownership of their land.  

Despite these advances, the legal, cultural, social, psychological, and health damage suffered under colonialism continues to the present day.

The forced removal of Indigenous children meant that families were not only separated, but children were put into institutions that had sub-standard health and educational access. This history explains the connection between socio-economics, health and institutional racism. That is, discrimination through official social policy and the practices of other social organisations.

Health and Education

The Council of Australian Governments (CoAG) released a report in June 2013 which finds a set of mixed health and socio-economic outcomes amongst Indigenous Australians. Death amongst Indigenous children has been decreasing (to 5.7 deaths per 100 000 annually), but Indigenous adults still die at twice the rate of other Australians.

Indigenous completion rates of high school (to Year 12 or equivalent) has risen from 47% in 2006 to 54% in 2011, however in the Northern Territory high school completion is lower by almost 7 percentage points. Most of the Territory is categorised as a very remote region. There are also mixed results for literacy. Reading levels have improved amongst Indigenous children in Years 3 to 7, but numeracy has decreased since 2008. The opposite trend is found amongst older Indigenous students in Year 9. While post-school qualifications have been improving for the rest of Australia, amongst Indigenous people, there has been little improvement.

Only 55 percent of Indigenous children in the Northern Territory are still in school by Year 10. This is the lowest rate of educational retention in Australia in the one area that has the highest proportion of Indigenous people (30% of the local population).

One of the Government proposals to improve literacy and school retention is sending Indigenous children to boarding schools. If this is a local facility that does not take children too far from their local communities, this may possible be workable if approved by families, however, at its heart, this idea of removal of children has troubling undertones mired by Australia’s colonial history.

Bruce Wilson, chair of review into Indigenous education system for the Northern Territory Government, says that educational facilities and administration of the curriculum is substandard in the Territory. Teachers are not adequately trained and children are not motivated to stay at school. The solution, to send children away to boarding schools, is seen as a means to improve student attrition. The premise, however, gives up on improving teacher training and infrastructure. Wilson says that the goal is to entice children to remain at school and to stay connected to their communities:

Young people need continuing contact with their culture, with their language, with their families and communities.

To learn more about other Indigenous-driven initiatives to enhance education, head to my blog, The Other Sociologist. 

[Photo: People gather at an Indigenous stall at a Survival Day event, with the Aboriginal flag in prominent display.]

Study confirms intimate partner violence leading health risk factor for women

An Aboriginal woman in a white lab coat, staring out the window of an office

Kim Webster, University of Melbourne and Zuleyka Zevallos, Swinburne University of Technology

Barely a week passes without a media report of the suffering or tragic death of a woman at the hands of a partner. Typically, these accounts focus on the individuals involved. While important, in isolation, such a focus can belie the fact intimate partner violence is a wider social problem, obscuring both the factors contributing to it and opportunities to prevent it.

A study being launched today by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety confirms the serious impacts of intimate partner violence. The analysis, undertaken by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, provides estimates of the impact of intimate partner violence on women’s health.

Data from the Personal Safety Survey, Australia’s most reliable violence prevalence survey, was used as a key input.

Since the age of 15, one in four women in Australia have experienced at least one incident of violence by a partner. This includes violence perpetrated by a live-in partner as well as boyfriends, girlfriends or dates. This is based on a definition of violence, used by the Personal Safety Survey, which includes physical and sexual assault, as well as face-to-face threats the victim believed were likely and able to be carried out.

When emotional abuse by a live-in partner is included, (defined as controlling behaviours aimed at causing fear or emotional harm), it is estimated one in three women have experienced violence or abuse by an intimate partner. Continue reading Study confirms intimate partner violence leading health risk factor for women

‘In My Shoes’ is a short documentary on five young transgender Australians.

“There’s no right way to be transgender, just as there’s no wrong way to be yourself.”

This is an initiative by the Gender Centre’s (http://www.gendercentre.org.au/) Transgender Anti-Violence Project (http://tavp.org.au/).

Dehumanisation, Superhumanisation and Racism

Dehumanisation, Superhumanisation and Racism
Dehumanisation, Superhumanisation and Racism

Dehumanisation and “super-humanisation” are two sides of the same coin serving a racist agenda. Dehumanisation is the process by which conscious and unconscious bias leads people to see a racial minority as less human – less worthy of respect, dignity, love, peace and protection. Psychology research finds that White police officers and young White students are more likely to see Black children as young as 10 years of age as being less worthy of protection and inviting violence in comparison to White children. Super-humanisation is on the other end of the dehumanisation continuum. It is when majority groups harbour latent ideas that minorities have special qualities or powers that make them less deserving of bodily consideration and pain relief. Research finds that White people have a tendency to see Black people as being stronger and therefore more able to withstand pain. These two twin processes, that place Black people outside of humanity, are steeped in colonial practices and they contribute to excessive policing and violence aimed at Black bodies. There are implications of dehumanisation and super-humanisation on the ongoing events in Ferguson. This social science research speaks to the issues raised by the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Continue reading Dehumanisation, Superhumanisation and Racism

We need to talk about Anne Frank


As of this writing, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars has sold over one million copies, and holds a place on several bestseller lists. The film adaptation of the book has made over two hundred million dollars in the domestic and foreign market. The book and the movie tell the story of two terminally ill American teenagers, and both contain a scene where the protagonists, Hazel and Augustus, share a kiss in the Anne Frank House. John Green made the following statement regarding the scene:

“Anne Frank was a pretty good example of a young person who ended up having the kind of heroic arc that Augustus wants—she was remembered and she left this mark that he thinks is valuable—but when he has to confront her death, he has to confront the reality that really she was robbed of the opportunity to live or die for something. She just died of illness like most people. And so I wanted him to go with a sort of expectation of her heroism and be sort of dashed.”

Here, Green makes it clear that he reads Anne Frank’s death as being from an illness like “most people,” like his protagonist. In doing so, he erases the circumstances under which she contracted typhus. “Most people” are not Ashkenazic Jewish teenage girls who contracted typhus in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. This fundamental erasure of the context of her death allowed him, those involved in the cinematic adaptation, and yes, a large portion of his readership, to accept the use of Anne Frank and her death as a prop in this American YA love story. Indeed, when further called on the issue, Green stated:

“I’ve been getting this question a lot. I can’t speak for the movie, obviously, as I didn’t make it, but as for the book: The Fault in Our Stars was the first non-documentary feature film to be granted access to the Anne Frank House precisely because the House’s board of directors and curators liked that scene in the novel a great deal. (A spokesperson recently said, ‘In the book it is a moving and sensitively handled scene.’) Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a Holocaust survivor, had this to say: ‘The kissing scene in ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ in the annex of the Anne Frank House is not offensive or against who Anne Frank was. What Anne communicated in her diary was hope. She celebrated life and she celebrated hope.’ Obviously, the Anne Frank House and the ADL do not have a monopoly on Anne’s life or her legacy, but their opinions are important to me.”

I take issue with this response. Here, Green is divesting himself of responsibility for the scene, and communicating to his critics that he is not to blame, because the Anne Frank House board of directors, curators, and a Holocaust survivor approved of it. In other words, he is drawing these peoples’ assumed authority to silence criticism, and to avoid taking responsibility for the filmed version of a scene he created.

The Anne Frank House, for all the wonderful work it does, is a museum. Like all museums, it must work to attract and reach out to potential patrons. In other words, museums have to advertise because they require patrons and revenues to exist. Therefore, I read the official approval of the Anne Frank House simply as a targeted attempt to reach out to and attract a pool of untapped, younger patrons. They chose to support the filming of a sympathetic romantic scene about terminally ill teenagers in their institution to reach out to young people. While that is a sound business decision, I would argue that it’s hardly an ethical one for the Anne Frank House, an institution devoted, as per their website, to:

“the preservation of the place where Anne Frank went into hiding during the Second World War, and to bringing the life story of Anne Frank to the attention of as many people as possible worldwide with the aim of raising awareness of the dangers of anti-Semitism, racism and discrimination and the importance of freedom, equal rights and democracy,”

to support the filming of this scene. For, in Green’s own words, that scene had nothing to do with the context of Anne Frank’s death, and therefore, it did nothing to bring Anne Frank’s story to life. And it hardly raises awareness of contemporary European anti-Semitism.

As for the ADL, I very much agree with Mr. Foxman’s assessment of Anne Frank. However, what she celebrated in her life and her writings have little to do with what she has come to mean in within public memory of the Holocaust of European Jewry. Her narrative has been used by nations and educational systems to the extent that for many, she is the Holocaust; she is the face of the Holocaust. But what we inherit from her isn’t the experience of the Holocaust. That experience, and her death at Bergen Belsen take place outside the pages of her diary. Readers are never forced to experience the Holocaust through her eyes; they are able to embrace the tragedy of the Holocaust through her story while remaining removed from its experiential realities. Thus, Anne Frank becomes the Holocaust without forcing anyone to experience it. Her name can be invoked to summon tragedy, without forcing anyone to feel it.

While Anne Frank may be the face of the Holocaust of European Jewry, the memory of the experiential reality of the Holocaust is male. The way we conceptualize and remember the concentration camp experience is constructed by male narratives. More Jewish men survived the Holocaust than Jewish women. Due to attitudes towards education in the interwar period, more male Jewish survivors had the education and literary capital needed to craft enduring narratives of their experiences than did female Jewish survivors. There are three foundational male Holocaust survival narratives: Night by Elie Wiesel, Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi, and Maus by Art Spiegelman about his father’s Holocaust experience. Never have I seen those three men and their narratives used as a joke, or a meme, or a cheap narrative device, or as self-promotion by an American pop star.

These men are revered, and their narratives taken extremely seriously. And none of them, none of them have been used in a prop in a story about terminally ill gentile American teenagers. They survived, in perhaps the type of heroic arc a John Green protagonist would yearn for. Yet Augustus doesn’t look to them. He doesn’t share a kiss with his girlfriend at Auschwitz. He shared a kiss with her in the Anne Frank House.

Anne Frank is not a prop. She is not a symbol, she is not a teenager who happened to die of an illness, and she is not one of the canonical Jewish male survivors. She is one of many millions of Jewish women and girls who were industrially murdered like livestock, incinerated, and left in an unmarked grave. That is the story of the Holocaust of European Jewry, and that is the story of the persecution and murder of all Europeans (the disabled, Romani, Irish Travelers, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Communists) who failed to fit into Nazi racial and ideological constructs.

And we would all do well to remember that.

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Taylor Swift Having Fun With White Privilege: Racism and Sexism in Pop Culture

While people rush to defend Taylor Swift’s racist appropriation of Black female bodies in her latest video, Shake it Off, because it’s presented as “fun,” it’s worth remembering that “satire” is no excuse for whitewashing of racism. First, satire requires cultural context to be clever; it matters who is delivering the joke to whom, when, and for what purpose. Second, racism is not simply about interpersonal insults. Racism describes a system of domination where White people benefit directly and indirectly from the status quo.

Taylor Swift has positioned herself publicly as a feminist, though her enactment of these ideals was already not without problems. This video shows she has little understanding of the history of feminism and the cultural struggles faced by women of colour. Not coincidentally, White feminism is still largely resistant to racial issues. As sociologist Jessie Daniels notes, it matters that White women are at the centre of both pop culture and the feminist movement:

White feminism, without attention to racial justice, makes an easy partnership with White supremacy.

From Miley Cyrus to Iggy Azalea who profit from brandishing certain aspects of Black culture, to Lily Allen who similarly used Black women in a video to critique White women pop stars, Swift has added her name to an ever-growing list of rich White women in pop music who use the exploitation of women of colour to make “feminist” statements. This stands in contrast, but along a similar continuum, of White pop stars such as Gwen Stefani, Katy Perry, Avril Lavigne who commodify the culture and sexuality of “Asian” women. Asian femininity is sexy in a “cute,” clean and submissive way; while Black and Brown women’s sexuality is dangerous, dirty and untamed. Either way, White women’s cultural appropriation of minority cultures conforms to familiar tropes where White champions dominate the uncivilised Other.

The fact that White celebrities do not set out to be “intentionally racist” is beside the point. Racism does not require your intent, as racial bias often goes unexamined. In fact, the way Whiteness works is to place White people at the centre of culture so that they are protected from the everyday consequences of race relations. (And no, there is no such thing as reverse racism.) Not recognising how racism works, such as failing to understand how and why cultural appropriation and stereotypes are damaging, is an outcome of White privilege.

Taylor Swift Racism and Sexism
That racialised fear of black female hyper-sexuality also transfers onto the sexualised white female body and the criminalized black male body. – Prof. Janell Hobson.

Continue reading Taylor Swift Having Fun With White Privilege: Racism and Sexism in Pop Culture



The repeal of Section 18C arises particularly out of the 2011 prosecution of Andrew Bolt, a columnist for News Limited, publisher of The Australian, for violating the so-called hate-speech laws.

Section 18C states that it is unlawful for a person to “offend offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people… because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin.”

A Federal Court judge found he had breached the Racial Discrimination Act because a pair of articles he wrote were not written in good faith and contained factual errors.

And, the judge said, the articles would have offended a reasonable member of the Aboriginal community. [x]

Getting into trouble for racism? Simple, just remove the laws making it illegal. Problem solving: Abbott style.

if you can find any agreement at all with the abbott government position on this matter then you don’t understand racism at all

For further context on how and why racial vilification laws are important in Australia, read my discussion of Indigenous author Anita Heiss, who led a vilification suit against right wing journalist Andrew Bolt. Bolt, a privileged White man, argued some Indigenous leaders were not “Black enough” to be considered Black. What he was actually arguing was that he did not like seeing educated Indigenous leaders gaining attention. Bolt wanted his definition of race to prevail, which conflates skin colour with absolute and continued disadvantage. In Bolt’s vision of social hierarchy, Indigenous people should always be stereotyped and defined by White colonialist ideals.

Heiss’ case also highlights the ongoing plight of Indigenous Australians, who were removed from their communities. Many Indigenous women were forcefully married off to White men and the Government introduced a racial ranking system to qualify Indigenous people from “Quarter Blood” to “Full Blood.” Bolt’s racist assertions reproduce historical patterns of paternalism, where Indigenous people are the property of White people to do with, and classify, as they please (I wrote about this history elsewhere on my on my blog).

Under the new proposed racial vilification laws, people like Bolt can continue their hate speech with impunity, while minority groups are conversely labelled anti-democratic for pointing out discrimination. For example, Attorney-General George Brandis (pictured top) argued that calling Andrew Bolt racist is an act of racial violence. It isn’t as reverse racism is not a legitimate concept. Yet this type of defence of “bigots” under the guise of “free speech” is soon to be enshrined in law. This change spells a new era of state-led institutional racist violence.

This is a really beautiful video that’s circled around my brain for a couple of months since I first watched it. John Green reflects on what it was like being a “nerd” who wasn’t especially good at school. He was bored and he was unhappy. He says he often had violent fantasises in response to the victimisation he experienced. He notes that with perspective, he can see that the people who were cruel to him then probably had their own problems,  though this is no excuse for their behaviour.