racism & stereotypes

A contemporary issue prevalent in Australian society

The first installment in our Racism and Stereotypes Against the Indigenous series 

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The second installment in our Racism and Stereotypes Against the Indigenous series

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The third installment in our Racism and Stereotypes Against the Indigenous series

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racism in australia’s past

Ever heard of the term ‘Charity begins at home’? It certainly applies when discussing Australia and Racism.

Australia has an enduring commitment to human rights and equality internationally and is a party to major human rights and equality treaties. Australia was one of the eight countries that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and demonstrates constant support of their decisions. Australia have also signed other major treaties, including the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and actively engages in the international human rights and equality system, including the General Assembly's Third Committee and the Human Rights Council.

This is where the ‘Charity begins at home’ phrase comes in: We support equality internationally, yet, we do not even demonstrate equality to all people of our own nation. “How so?” you may ask. Well, there is a certain minority in Australia that has not been treated equally merely because the colour of their skin. I am talking about the Indigenous community and the constant racism and stereotypes plotted against them.

According to the site ‘Creative Spirits’, 97 percent of Aboriginals experience Racism often and 87 percent of Australians agree that there is racial prejudice in Australia. Why are we still in denial? Racism and stereotypes against Aboriginals is a big issue in Australia and is an issue that needs to solved now!
They say we learn our lessons from the past, so let us look into the history of Australia to find the consequences of Racism and Stereotypes against the Indigenous community in the Past:

Our story begins way back in the year 1770, when Captain James Cook declared Australia to be ‘Terra Nullius’ during his voyage around the coast of Australia. There was around 750 000 Aboriginal people inhabiting Australia at the time, yet Britain turned a blind eye on their existence and proceeded to establish a convict settlement as the Aboriginals did not possess a ‘centralized government’.

This idea (or stereotype) that a society with a centralized government had more claim on land, lead the Europeans to believe that their society was superior to the Aboriginals. Then, when Aboriginal people and European people began to have children later on after the Europeans had fully settled in Australia in the late 1800’s, the Europeans believed it was best that the ‘half-caste’ (half European and half Aboriginal)  children grew up in ‘white society’. They believed that the ‘half-caste’ children did not deserve to live in traditional Aboriginal culture and thought they would benefit more from growing up in ‘white society’. 

This began a dark chapter in Australian history known as ‘The Stolen Generation’, where the Europeans began to forcefully remove children from their Indigenous families.

The children were kidnapped then taken to missions and institutions, which were either organized by the government or the church. At these institutions, the children were sent to school and were taught about European history. After school, they were taught new skills that were required for living and working in European society. Girls were taught to cook, clean and sew, whilst the boys in the mission learnt woodwork and gardening. The missions supplied the children with food, clothes, religion and basic healthcare. They were encouraged to forget everything from their previous life.

However, the children’s contact with their families and friends were completely cut off once they were kidnapped, and they were often told that their parents were either dead or had abandoned them. There were also severe punishments placed upon the children if they were caught practicing Aboriginal culture or if they disobeyed the European rules. Punishments ranged from brutal beatings to being locked in a cell for three days with only bread and water to eat. Most children suffered physical, emotional and sexual abuse that scarred them for the rest of their lives. When they got to a certain age, they were released into European society. 

This continued until the late 1960’s and 1970’s when the scheme was abolished.
The impacts of the Stolen Generation on the children who were kidnapped are explained in the analysis below:

The removal of children affected almost every Indigenous family at the time and has had a deep impact on Indigenous Australians to this day. Effects on the members of the Stolen Generation include:
-         Loneliness
-         Low self-esteem (As mentioned in poem)
-         Loss of Identity
-         Trust Issues
-         Substance and Alcohol Abuse
-         Depression and Self-harm (Also mentioned in poem)
-         Difficulties Parenting or filling any Communal Roles
-         Difficulties managing relationships
-         Committing Criminal Offences
-         Vulnerability to Abuse and Violence

If you think about it all, the Stolen Generation was caused by racism and stereotypes. Based on the stereotype of Europeans being superior to Aboriginals, the Europeans thought they knew what was best for the Aboriginals and in turn, thought they knew what was best for the ‘half-caste’ children which eventually led to the Stolen Generation. This also a case of racism as the Europeans thought that they were more superior to the Aboriginals, which, according to the dictionary, is one of the definitions of racism. Just goes to show how much of an impact racism and stereotypes can have on a person, a society or a nation. 

However, it’s unfortunate to think that, even today in the present, that racism and stereotypes against Aboriginals still exist. When we reflect on the Stolen Generation, we all remark on how tragic and cruel the treatment that they were subjected to was, yet, Aboriginals are still plagued by racism on a daily basis. So now I ask you: have we really learnt our lesson?

Racism being used as a political weapon 

Racism exists at all levels of Australian society and this alone is an issue, but Australians are also in denial. Research says 97% of Aboriginal people experience racism on a frequent basis. Australia is globally known as a multicultural country but is this just an overlaying act to hide the racism going on beneath? Australian Prime ministers John Howard and Kevin Rudd have both stated that racism is not present in society with Howard declaring “I do not accept that there is underlying racism in this country” and Kevin with “I do not believe that racism is at work in Australia.” If this is true, why do 87% of Australians agree that there is racial prejudice in Australia? Those who do believe that racism is alive within Australia are working towards the better good for the future Australia.

Our government is responsible for taking care of the society’s safety, economy and most importantly its equality. Each party has its own way of taking care of these promises. But Australian citizens don’t realize that some politicians or government parties use racism as a tool to gain support from society to advance their positions. Australia’s fear of foreigners and their opinions of current topics are main focuses of media when writing their editorial and opinion pieces and this is a major source politicians use to get their information to adapt new policies and promises. Our opinions influence politicians, what we believe in changes their promises and intensions, so that they accommodate to be in favour of the general public. During Kevin Rudd’s time of governing Australia, his position on Refugees and Asylum seekers was to provide them homes where they would feel safe, however the majority of the Australian community felt this decision wasn’t right and there was a chance where one of these immigrants were terrorists and smugglers. Julia Gillard stepped in and to put the public’s safety first, had discontinued the arrival of refugees. But one can question whether Gillard did this because this is what she believed in or because she wanted to keep the general public happy. By now we know that it is the public’s opinions that influence politician’s promises and policies, but we don’t realise that we are giving politicians these racist ideas that cause more issues in our society.

Racism isn’t used as a weapon just within politics; it can be used by ordinary people of society to manipulate others opinions and understandings about past, present or even future issues and affairs. This could lead to massive gaps between society and the minority. Take for example the recent talk about Adam Goodes. Society has been divided during the debate over the treatment of one of Australia’s top sportsman. It was during an AFL match where Goodes was racially abused by a fan of the opposition team and booed whenever he touched the ball, and since then had been receiving vicious online attacks. Sport commentators like Rebecca Wilson, Gerard Whateley, Mark Robinson and Caroline Wilson have all supported Goodes, as well as all of Australia’s major papers such as The Herald Sun, Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian and The Age. Though a few former players like Sam Newman, Karl Langdon and Jason Akermanis have argued against this, saying that booing is typically Australian and that he should “toughen up and take it like an Aussie”. Stan Grant, a journalist who comes from an aboriginal background, stated:

“How dare people tell us to harden up? How much more do you have to take? Of course he doesn’t have to harden up. You know this is, this is, he’s a human being and the measure of any decent society is that when something hurts a person, you stop. Regardless of what the motive is, you may not like him as a footballer, you may not like the colour of his skin, that’s your prerogative, but if someone says, ‘that hurts me, you’re upsetting me, you’re humiliating me,’ a civilised people and a civilised society stop” 

It has been said that Goodes had brought this on himself, with journalists saying that this all started when he had “overreacted” when a girl in the crowd called him an ape and he had security take her out. But isn’t this quite unfair to Goodes, as wouldn’t anyone be offended when called an ape? This debate has divided the country, and now many believe Goodes is being overdramatic, and are now grouping all aboriginals and creating this stereotype based on Goodes.  There is now a massive gap between Indigenous Australians and the rest of the Australian society. 

Silent Racism in Australia’s present society

Australia’s future 

When it comes to racism, Australia has a culture of denial and by refusing to believe that such acts of discrimination exist in this country only continues to let it flourish. Denial creates an environment in which people are forced to be silenced therefore discouraging those affected by racism to take action.

Racial discrimination continues to put Aboriginals at a disadvantage and has created a huge divergence between the indigenous and non-indigenous. Firstly, racism affects their chances of being employed. For example, to be offered the same amount of occupational interviews as a typical Anglo applicant, an Aboriginal person must submit approximately 35% more applications. It has also detrimentally impacted their health. To start with, it is well known that the Indigenous have a significantly lower life expectancy when compared to other Australians and have disproportionately high rates of acquiring particular health problems. This is a result of the Aboriginals having:

-         Restricted access to health resources
-         Higher exposure to risk factors in relation with poor health (unhealthy food                        choices, dangerous goods and lethal substances)
-         Greater levels of stress, depression and anxiety which have negative effects                        on their mentality as well as other certain physiological systems.
-         Higher chances of partaking in harmful activities such as smoking, alcohol                        and drug use
-         Physical impairment through racially driven assault

The figures are astronomical and I ask what will happen if we don’t abolish racism. What will happen to these statistics if we continue to allow chauvinistic and stereotypical behaviors to thrive within our supposedly cultivated society? What will happen if we keep repudiating that racism exists? What will happen to Australia?
There is no answer to these questions and that is what is truly scary. We don’t know what the futuristic consequences of our actions. We don’t know how the future of Australia will be influenced if we simply leave racism untouched. We don’t know.

However, in spite of this dreary realization there is an answer (and many answers mind you) to this question.

“How do we get rid of racism?”

Now eradicating racism or at least minimizing its potential effects is not going to be easy. The resolution to race inequality requires active contribution and dedication by all citizens irrespective of cultural origins. It can be achieved by participating at a local, national and even global level. But first lets discuss the first major thing Australia can do and that is change the national anthem. Now instead of me simply describing why the anthem in my opinion is racist let me just insert an analysis here.

Is there even any need for an explanation? Our national anthem should unite all people however, there is not one mention of the Aboriginals or stolen land. The song in fact, was created at a time when discrimination against the natives was at its high and when it was believed that they would die out soon. As a result, the anthem causes them to relive dreadful memories, feel socially inferior, alienated and above-all not Australian.
Imagine being an Aboriginal and forced to sing this song which is meant to represent all of Australia’s citizen. Now let me insert an Indigenous take on the anthem which is perhaps even a suitable alternative.

Confronting right? Even though this is a much more “melancholy” take on the original anthem, it reflects upon all people equally and contains no discrimination. It also acknowledges Australia’s history both good and bad as well as contain a few motivational lines (such as ‘nurturing land through Dreaming Lore we walked with strength and pride. Our spirits won't be broken now, our light burns bright today’).

So I question you, the reader, as to what you are going to do. Will you assist in the suppression of racism and stereotypes of while you continue to live in a cloud of denial?




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