For the majority of people, racism is difficult to understand. Our world is one of diverse cultures, – polycultural narratives – but when we come to bordered nations, culturally diverse regions are devastated to the threadbare by a rapacious inherent bent for assimilation.
Firstly, polyculturalism is a concept distinct from the “melting pot” of multiculturalism, where there is perceivably an immutable dominant culture. Historians Vijay Prashad and Robin Kelly argued polyculturalism as cultures equal to each other and where over time they influence one another, and cultures come together in borrowing from one another, improving in unfolding ways with no culture dominant.
Diverse cultures, in general, have been suffocated and diminished by the ideologue peddled by the dominant.
Former Collingwood AFL Club President, Allen McAlister, once said of footballers descended from the First Peoples, they “only need to be behave like White players” if they want to be respected. Too often we discuss acculturation and assimilation as if they deliver equality, opportunity, and high calibre quality of life.
Acculturation and assimilation in their most authentic meaning should be understood as an unfolding. However, where the unfolding is denied by impost, as if to collapse in one hit time and place, this is psychological warfare and emotional bullying.
Australia’s bent on a White Australia Policy during the establishment of the Federation was heart on sleeve racism. It remains a racist Australia. But we live in an polycultural society where xenophobia and misoxeny prevail. Xenophobia is fear of the foreigner, and misoxeny is hating of the stranger. Critical identity theories prosecute the case against homogeneity as denying psychological social liberations. Social justice and human rights must be understood and experienced as arbitrative. Civil rights are a psycho-educative experience culminating cognitive widening and never demand a punitive road map. Wherever in our world, in the unfolding human rights landscape, with its increasing social justice vocabulary, we should always understand ourselves as sisters and brothers despite diverse cultural backgrounds that may presumptively appear to distinguish us.
In the last couple of years, I politely targeted several mainstream media programs where the perennial choice of panellists failed to reflect the demography of our nation, Anglo-centric panellists comprised panels. More than a quarter of Australia’s population has been born overseas, and one in twenty-five Australians are descended of the First Peoples, who once comprised the only peoples of this continent for tens of thousands of years.
Australia’s migrant born will increase to 40 percent by 2030 and very likely to 60 percent by 2050 as the Australian continent will not be able to continue to justify a relatively small population.
If we disaggregate our population statistics to children aged 17 years and less, we find that 7 percent of Australia’s children are descendants of the First Peoples. By 2030, Australia will record at least one in fifteen of its total population as descendants of the First Peoples.
In addition, presently, more than half the Australian population is accounted for by first- and second-generation Australians.
The media programs I targeted diversified their panels and now better reflect the demography of our nation, but they select migrant born and second-generation Australians who have perceivably assimilated, who are acculturated, who ‘fit in.”
The programs are reductive, often hosted by White moderators and many of the panellists lack expertise. For the record, it is actually racism to pack a panel purely on the colour of skin and portray diversity, as opposed to expert critical thinkers from diverse cultural backgrounds who have culminated articulate psycho-educative understandings of racism, its meanings and its haunts.
Censorship by omission is pernicious, rampant. What McAlister stated, “behave as White people” remains the go.
A researcher with one of the media programs which perceivably changed its ways with “inclusion” confided to me that I had been offered up as a panellist and even promoted that I host an expert panel. The researcher had pushed with the producers my prolific writing on racism and critical race theories. The producers and one of the hosts baulked because I was “the chap” who they perceived had been shaming the program. I was also told the host said that I am likely to take them out of their comfort zone, overstep boundaries. I was dejected hearing this.
I did not speak any English on my first day of school. I lived an awful lot of racism, particularly during the 1960s and early 1970s. I often found it difficult to forgive the racism that my parents experienced. I was damaged by the relentlessness of the racism despite the song and dance era of 1970s multicultural Australia.
I won’t change just to fit in. Or maybe it is just too late for me. We all have the right to be who we want to be at all times, and the sum of our relationship with one another should define us.
It is a myth that in “multicultural” Australia maintaining heritage culture is easy – it is not.
There is a cell of research arguing migrants who acculturate and assimilate are “happier” and more “successful.” The research proposes those who fail to adequately acculturate and assimilate – behave like Whites – endure less personal and professional wellbeing, live depleted lives.
The generation of racists that I grew up with do not wear their racism on their sleeves, but now makeup our governments. They are the McAlister types. The majority assiduously hide their racism. They do not publicly espouse their biases and prejudices. Yes, there are some who have no problem being racists; they are at least honest.
The pressure to acculturate and assimilate is rewarded with job security, higher salaries, accolades, agency. Those who resist are isolated and made invisible.
We must not tolerate words such as “biculturalism” because it means the mainstream culture dominates, inherently, heritage culture is lesser than. We should not have to live as if we switch between cultures, and rather live simultaneously polycultural and unfold relationships, courtesies and civilities.
Many descendants of the First Peoples, especially in high cultural content regions, have often said to me the aim of acculturation and assimilation is to abandon heritage cultural essence.
Critical race theories are a framework of intersections on the examination of societies and cultures intertwined by discriminatory laws and power imbalances. No nation that peddles a dominant culture is free from the ugliest forms of racism.
We can discuss critical race theories and frameworks, liberalism’s rights-based remedies, civil rights scholarship, anti-discrimination efforts, the intersections of this and that, and other ideas but in the end, racism is racism despite its veils and layers.
In order to defeat racism, the onus needs to be two-fold; calling it out and shining a light on the ways forward. The ways forward are intertwined with the calling out of racism, both are each other’s firmament. Racism is not called out as often as it should, and often the calling out is inadequately or disastrously articulated. Hence, there remain many Australians who do not understand the extensiveness of racism or are not able to understand racism at all.
Censorship leads to internalising racism and the grief. Any serious commitment to challenging and understanding racism must be an intellectual one, not a reductionist one where in the end we perpetuate the racist’s reality and craft pitchfork standoffs. We must pave the road towards sisterhood and brotherhood, and in most families there are sisters and brothers different to each other and we love them. It has to be the same deal with the whole of the human family.
- Gerry Georgatos, the son of CALD migrants, is a suicide prevention and poverty researcher with an experiential focus. He has a Master in Human Rights Education and a Master in Social Justice Advocacy & Civil Rights Arbitration. He is the national coordinator of the NSPTRP.