Returning verbal bullets of hate
By Kiran Gupta
Yesterday was the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Globally, the world recognised this day and our commitment as global citizens to addressing this problem. In Australia, we recognised this day as Harmony Day. Some argue that even in the simple naming of the day here, communication is already lost. A dialogue is already destroyed.
This was the opening remark of Former Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane. Indeed, an enduring theme of Soutphommasane and Deputy Editor of ABC Life Osman Faruqi’s discussion at the Wallace Theatre, On Hate and Race Politics, was communication. A prevailing them was that extremists are given “free time” in the Australian media yet there is a marked tendency to deflect the conversation about racism. It is correctly pointed out that representation in senior leadership has improved. It is correctly pointed out that Fraser Anning has been widely condemned both for his inaugural speech and for his remarks regarding the atrocities in Christchurch. It is correctly pointed out that we are a successful multi-cultural nation, indeed the former Race Discrimination Commissioner agrees there is no denying this. Irrespective of these facts the panellists still reported great issues of systemic and institutionalised racism in Australia and shutting down any conversation about racism or racial discrimination can lead to racism being normalised, which in turn, can influence extremists in such ways as have been seen over the last few weeks.
As expected, the discussion was fairly passionate. Soutphommasane noted that “racism diminishes us all as a society... is a direct attack on our democratic values and an attack on democracy itself.” This is an interesting point as he drew on the idea that discussion about racism had no place in contemporary Australian discourse and didn’t sit well. The implication of this was that people from minority backgrounds did not have a place in mainstream Australia. This is a worrying thought both in terms of hate crime and representation.
But why is this relevant. And what do the panellists think we can do to fix this? Conversation is the main thing that was raised. At times, there is a false equivalency in that racism and anti-racism do not have the same moral weight. Although they often are, race discussions should not be politicised and rather discussed in an open manner. The Prime Minister noted that we are “the greatest multicultural country in the world.” I am certainly not going to deny that. But as the panellist said, that does not give the excuse to shut down a conversation based on the fact that racism has been eradicated. The point was made that racism is just as much about impact as intention and I think this is an important thing to note. Racism is a phenomenon very difficult to imagine without experience of it. In saying that, the panellists noted that questions of race are questions for all of us in society.
None of us can ignore the reality that racism is a prevalent issue in society and especially in light of recent events in Christchurch, it would behove everyone to be informed. This would help in eliminating what Soutphommasane characterises as “stochastic terrorism”. This describes lone-wolf attacks that send signals to society that such hate is permissible. The message from the panellists was clear. The time is now to start the conversation about hate and race politics in contemporary Australian discourse. The only way to make progress is to acknowledge the problem in the first place. This is how to address hate and race politics.