During the 90’s and leading into the early 2000’s, there was a society wide expectation that racism was largely over.
Although many forms of explicit racism had vanished from the primary social view, racism still occurred and occurs in the realms where its most damaging effects manifested; economic and cultural.
The banishing of explicit iconographic racism should be seen as a “bone throw” by the governmental and economic forces that benefit most from is propagation, a way to appease progressive thinkers without actually undoing the structural and ideological forces that benefit directly from and so, advance racism politics and economics. The practice of “red lining” in America was repackaged and hidden, now re-appearing as “digital redlining”, a less obtuse but equally insidious and damaging practice where digital service operators will refuse to offer coverage to lower-income communities (this time, usually delineated down race and culture lines). The 1956 Interstate Highway Act was used, purposefully, to justify the relocation of black and brown communities into unsatisfactory housing estates, producing the rise of the maligned “inner city slum”. A purposeful act of community and city planning malevolence designed to protect the ruling economic class and advance a racist assumption about community and the sources of crime.
Likewise, in Australia, the monolithic presence of the mining industry is being used to justify the forced relocation and destruction of First Nation cultural sites, waiving the traditional and legally valid rights of First Nation Australians, in servitude to multinational corporations; Neoliberalism at its finest. Australia remains one of the most dismissive of Indigenous rights whilst simultaneously managing to remain largely oblivious.
For too long, we have celebrated a day of immense trauma and pain for a culture that was subject to a racist and violent erasure, justified by some of the most prejudiced ideology in colonial history (that’s saying something). British efforts at the genocidal erasure of the Indigenous People was one of the most complete and unrestrained in history, only unacknowledged due to the low visibility of the surviving population. January the 26th is a disgusting and horrific day to celebrate and should be a moment of historical remorse.
Recently, the shocking, racist attack and murder of the young Indigenous man, Cassius Turvey managed to bring the cultural and legislative racism of Australia to the surface briefly.
Despite this moment of brief visibility, it is hard to remain positive about Australia’s chances of having a true cultural reckoning as Indigenous Australian’s make up 3.2% of the current Australian population, granting them low relative visibility and representation. This issue is compounded by the fact that in many cases, Indigenous Australians are acting as both the front line competitor and victim to powerful mining conglomerates, multinational corporations and the fundamentally racist legal structural systems left over by a relatively recent colonial era, both at a constitutional and judiciary level.
Another force working against Indigenous Australian’s fight for parity and justice is the ascendency of the Murdoch media empire in Australia (Murdoch’s media empire owns or controls 2/3rds of metropolitan print, a fact an Australian senate committee described as “not fit for purpose”).
Using this monopoly level power, Murdoch has been able to stifle and obfuscate the narrative around the Voice to Parliament (backed up by the hard right, National Party), a constitutionally enshrined voice. This is particularly problematic as this would require a constitutional referendum, essentially a popular vote. Murdoch’s strangle hold on the narrative landscape of Australian print media could prove pivotal (although the recent Victorian election may indicate Australians are moving beyond the purposefully built narrative pedaled in Murdoch owned papers).
It is important, at an individual level, to remember that the fight for Indigenous Australians, whether it be in the social, cultural, justice or economic realms, is at the end of the day, about people and the fate of communities. We should push back against the late 90’s belief that racism is over, simply because we can’t see it or acknowledge the unjust over representation of Indigenous Australians in the justice system (and the inherently racist structures that support and propagate these figures).
The fight is part of a greater acknowledgement that colonialism is still alive today but is being pushed by mega-corporations, almost always being run from places that are far away from the communities that they will ultimately lay to ruin. Reparations aren’t a hand out, its what we owe to a culture that has been all but been the ultimate victim of cultural and actual genocide and erasure. Racism isn’t just what you see, it is often something you feel and more importantly, something that happens in board rooms, in courts and obscured by the never-ending pursuit of profit.
ANTAR is a not-for-profit organisation that works towards a future where First Nations people in Australia experience equality in life outcomes and the realisation of the Uluru Statement of the Heart. Their mission is to actively supports the right of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to self-determination. They amplifie the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations. If you are able to make a contribution, click here to donate.
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TED- Systemic Racism: Australia’s great white silence | Jonathan Sri