To our shame, racial and ethnic discrimination occur on a daily basis here in Australia. Such racism and intolerance take many forms, writes Clare Condon SGS.
BY Clare Condon SGS*
March 21 should be a day for personal, national and international reflection. The focus of this day is dedicated to fundamental aspirations of the human heart and our relationships across the human family.
There are three particular community events to be noted on this day. There is the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; here in Australia, we call it Harmony Day. And since 2008, the Australian Government on this day has also sought to highlight “Closing the Gap”, a strategy for reducing Indigenous disadvantage.
To our shame, racial and ethnic discrimination occur on a daily basis here in Australia. Such racism and intolerance take many forms, from verbal abuse to physical violence to systemic social and educational disadvantage. It is particularly shameful, when racial and ethnic discrimination is embraced at the political level, when party political debate seeks to appeal to the lowest instinct in the Australian corporate psyche.
In recent days, we as a nation have experienced such abuse. There has been the ongoing campaign of pitting ‘Aussies’ against immigrant workers. There has been the demonising of asylum seekers for merely political capital after a criminal charge was laid against one asylum seeker in the community.
All this is based on the rhetoric of fear and hate that is engendered in the community. It is done so on the belief that racism already exists within each of us and that the community will respond to these accusations from this basis of fear of the other who is different.
If political leaders stoop to such low levels of racially-based discrimination, where do we Australian citizens turn for role models upholding the values of a ‘fair go’, inclusion and human dignity?
It seems that radio broadcasters and shock jocks are no better! The Sydney Morning Herald of last Saturday March 16 reported again about the Alan Jones episode of verbal abuse of Lebanese Muslims. The vile and destructive language he used is aimed at inciting hatred within the community and at creating sensationalism – all in the name of increasing ratings for his morning broadcasts.
Then there is the debate about free speech. The argument goes that free speech allows one to say anything about anyone, without reference to its truth. Free speech based on this premise is fallacious and indeed destructive of the social fabric of a community.
So, on March 21, National Harmony Day, may we Australians honour and respect the many cultures that make up our diverse community – from the traditional owners of this land to those who have come from many countries. Did you know that 45 per cent of Australians are either born overseas or have a parent who was?
But in particular, let us fight against that systemic racial discrimination which has forced Indigenous Australians to a life of social inequality and disadvantage. “Closing the Gap” should be the aspiration of all Australians no matter where one’s origins lie or what political party one aspires to.
An important way of overcoming the shame of discrimination in our country’s history is for all citizens to endeavour to close the gap, by reducing disadvantage in regard to life expectancy, child mortality, education and social services within Indigenous communities.
Our political leaders give out mixed messages. On the one hand, they promise to build a just and equitable society. On the other hand, they enter into the vile and destructive reality of racial discrimination when it seems to meet their personal political ambitions. On the contrary, we should look for role models who will uphold the values of a ‘fair go’, inclusion and human dignity for all.
* Clare Condon SGS is the Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict.