Australia has a problem when it comes to talking about issues of race and racism, particularly when it is done by people of colour. It is clear when you compare the public treatment of Yassmin Abdel-Magied and the reaction to Red Symons interview of Beverley Wang to the relative silence about comments by Rowan Dean about Tim Soutphomassane and Prue MacSween about Yassmin Abdel-Magied.
Right-wing critics of “identity politics” such as Rowan Dean, Mark Latham and co seem to think that when people of colour speak out about racism and underrepresentation, it is a complaint that comes from a disdain of Australia. People of colour are essentially told to “love it or leave”. These critics could not be further from the truth.
For so many people of colour, Australia is their home and the only one they have known. It comes from a wish for the image of Australia to reflect how it really is, where people of colour are a part of it. Every time there is a pushback with not even coded racist language, it reinforces a sense that people of colour are not allowed a say and will never truly be accepted as Australians. What makes it worse is when you see comparable nations like Canada doing far better. Canada is not perfect but on basic representation in institutions like in Parliament or even measuring the representation of ‘visible minorities’, it is far ahead of Australia.
Those who think it is funny obviously have never experienced the exhaustion, the second guessing and the frustration of it all. To top it off, people of colour are expected to cop it and be servile, to accept it and be grateful they do not live in an underdeveloped country ravaged by the legacy of colonialism. I do not know whether it is a fear of people of colour or malice towards individuals or just a belief they have it good so they should not complain but this is our home as much as theirs.
Personally I do not want white guilt about this situation, I do not even want commentators fired, I just want it to be normalised that racist comments are called out and ridiculed and to move on. I want our institutions to truly reflect our nation’s breadth in race, sexuality, disability, class and gender. I want people to understand that there is not a pure binary of being a racist versus not being a racist so there is not pushback when casual racism is identified. And most of all, I would like people of colour to get the respect they are entitled to when they speak out about these issues and to not be treated as some irritant that has been “tolerated”.