NACCHO Press Release : Aboriginal Health #18C and #Racism : Proposed changes to #18C will throw Reconciliation out the window

It is so disappointing that after all the talk in Canberra in February and the goodwill that was generated, the Government is sending such a poor message to Aboriginal people about acceptance in our own country,

“Racism and discrimination have well documented negative impacts on mental health. If we fail to deal with the alarming rates of poor Mental Health in Aboriginal people, it will have ongoing detrimental impacts in preventing and managing chronic disease

 Young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people take their own lives at a rate five times that of other Australians and infant mortality rates are going backwards “

NACCHO Chair Matthew Cooke said just a month after the Prime Minister committed to a new partnership with Aboriginal people through the Redfern Statement, he has put forward measures that would have potentially devastating impacts on the health and well-being of Aboriginal people.

Download a copy of the NACCHO Press Release or read in full below

NACCHO Press Release response to 18c amendments

Download NACCHO full submission to #RDA #18c enquiry here

submission-to-inquiry-into-freedom-of-speech-and-rda-draft

The Kenbi land claim was a hard-fought land rights battle, but it represents so much more than a battle over land. It was a story that epitomised the survival and the resilience of the first Australians, the survival and resilience of the Larakia people“.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

Great photo opportunity above for the PM during the 2016 election campaign , but what would be the #healthyfutures for these children with increased racial hate speech ?  

 ” In question time today, I asked Senator Brandis about the watering down of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

What insulting, offensive or humiliating comments does the Prime Minister think people should be able to say to me?

It’s sad that on Harmony Day, a day that celebrates Australia’s cultural diversity, inclusiveness and builds a sense of belonging for everyone, the Government wants to give permission for more racial hate speech

  Being the target of racist, hurtful comments is deeply distressing and causes deep harm “

Senator Malarndirri McCarthy addressing the Senate see video and text below

Along with powerful videos of MPs Linda Burney and Tony Burke addressing Parliament over 18C

“The challenging thing with regard to proposals to change the act is that they are being put forward by those who have never felt vulnerable. These are the people who have never been on the receiving end of racist comments or attacks.

“Our first Australians hold a special place in the Australian community. Our government should be taking action to empower, rather than to disempower them. To be serious about ‘Closing the Gap’, the evidence is clear around racism and all Australian governments should be doing everything in their power to address these issues .”

Members of the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) were shocked by the Government’s announcement being made on World Harmony Day the intention to change Section18c of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, according to PHAA CEO Michael Moore.

”  The government’s reforms should, as the Inquiry recommended, address that problem specifically, and not be distracted with an abstract ideological debate, divorced from the social realities.

Section 18C is not needed to protect members of minority groups who are popular in the wider community. It is needed to protect members of unpopular minorities, and also vulnerable minorities, especially our First Peoples, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders.

We support the idea of improving the process for handling section 18C complaints, so that trivial or spurious complaints are terminated quickly.”

Rod Little and Dr Jackie Huggins, Co-chairs, National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples

As leaders of 10 organisations representing a wide range of culturally diverse communities in Australia, we are profoundly disappointed at today’s announcement by the Federal government of its intention to amend section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

The Government’s planned changes to the Racial Discrimination Act and the Human Rights Commission will weaken the protection of Aboriginal Australians from racial abuse in this country at a time when suicide rates in Indigenous communities are among the worst in the world, the peak body for Aboriginal medical services said today.

NACCHO Chair Matthew Cooke said just a month after the Prime Minister committed to a new partnership with Aboriginal people through the Redfern Statement, he has put forward measures that would have potentially devastating impacts on the health and well-being of Aboriginal people.

Mr. Cooke said all Senators must carefully consider the issues and rise above petty point scoring politics to defeat these amendments – which are based on an hysterical media campaign about the merits of the legislation due to a single court case and a recently published cartoon.

“Any changes to section 18C will alienate the very Aboriginal people the government says it is trying to support, and create even deeper divisions in our community,” he said.

“I urge all Senators to respect the voice of the first Australian peoples in this debate, listen to Aboriginal people about what needs to be done to close the gap, and vote down changes to laws that are likely to make it even wider.”

Mr Cooke said it was outrageous that watering down racial hate laws is a priority for the Government when the latest Closing the Gap report showed just one of seven targets are on track, and the Don Dale Royal Commission is shining a light on the treatment of Aboriginal children in detention.

Young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people take their own lives at a rate five times that of other Australians and infant mortality rates are going backwards.

“It is so disappointing that after all the talk in Canberra in February and the goodwill that was generated, the Government is sending such a poor message to Aboriginal people about acceptance in our own country,” Mr Cooke said.

“Racism and discrimination have well documented negative impacts on mental health. If we fail to deal with the alarming rates of poor Mental Health in Aboriginal people, it will have ongoing detrimental impacts in preventing and managing chronic disease.

“The Government’s priorities should be on positive measures like the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan, which recognises the impacts of racism and discrimination inherent in the health system, and supporting the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health sector to fix the national crisis in Aboriginal health.”

PHAA urges all MPs and Senators to leave 18c alone

“Members of the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) were shocked by the Government’s announcement being made on World Harmony Day the intention to change Section18c of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975,” according to PHAA CEO Michael Moore.

Earlier this week Mr Moore attended a meeting on Aboriginal and Torres Islander Health where the issue of impact of racial discrimination on health was discussed at length. “The challenging thing with regard to proposals to change the act is that they are being put forward by those who have never felt vulnerable. These are the people who have never been on the receiving end of racist comments or attacks”.

“Our first Australians hold a special place in the Australian community. Our government should be taking action to empower, rather than to disempower them. To be serious about ‘Closing the Gap’, the evidence is clear around racism and all Australian governments should be doing everything in their power to address these issues”.

“A similar impact on health will be experienced by anyone who is discriminated against on the grounds of their racial or ethnic background,” said Mr Moore.

“It really is those who are vulnerable, and those who have been subjected to hateful jibes and vilification, who should be the ones making suggestions for change rather than those who are in the dominant group,” added Mr Moore.

“The PHAA calls on all MPs and Senators to leave the Act as it is”.

“People who already feel exposed to inappropriate comments do not need to be made even more vulnerable,” Mr Moore added.

The Report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights “Freedom of Speech in Australia” set the tone. Over ten thousand submissions were made and the Committee did not recommend changes. Of the twenty two recommendations, there was no consensus about a change to Section 18c.

Mr Moore concluded that “MPs and Senators should be taking guidance from the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights that examined the issue rather than kowtowing to a small hump of ultraconservatives who have played political games in order to get the numbers for a proposal that will undermine the health of the most vulnerable groups in Australia”.

Harmony Day 21 March 2017

As leaders of organisations representing a wide range of culturally diverse communities in Australia, we are profoundly disappointed at today’s announcement by the Federal government of its intention to amend section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

If implemented, these proposals will weaken, perhaps emasculate, existing legal protections against racist hate speech. They will give a free pass to ugly and damaging forms of racial vilification which do not satisfy the stringent legal criteria of harassment and intimidation. The publication of virtually any derogatory generalisation about an entire community group would, of itself, be permissible.

To offend, insult or humiliate a person or group because of their race or ethnic background necessarily sends a message that such people, by virtue of who they are, and regardless of how they behave or what they believe, are not members of society in good standing.

This cannot but vitiate the sense of belonging of members of the group and their sense of assurance and security as citizens, and constitutes an assault upon their human dignity. This has nothing to do with a contest of ideas or free speech – which is in any event protected under section 18D – and falls far short of the mutual respect about which we have heard.

Under the government’s proposals vulnerable community groups will now have no peaceful, legal means of redress against these kinds of attacks against their dignity. This would send a signal from government of a more lenient attitude to racism and would damage social cohesion. It is especially ironic that the government has put forward these proposals on Harmony Day.

The proposal to insert a generic “reasonable person” standard into the legislation has superficial appeal, but is unfair and unworkable. The proverbial person in the pub or on the “Bondi tram” does not have the background knowledge and insight into the particularities of a minority group that would be needed to make a fair and informed assessment of what is reasonably likely to “harass or intimidate” members of that group.

Under the existing law, the assessment is made by a reasonable member of the targeted community, that is, by a member of that community who is neither overly sensitive nor overly thick-skinned. This is both more logical and more just.

A generic reasonable person test would also create the possibility that members of a group that happens to be unpopular at any time for any reason would be unfairly treated. Section 18C is not needed to protect members of minority groups who are popular in the wider community. It is needed to protect members of unpopular minorities, and also vulnerable minorities, especially our First Peoples, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders.

We support the idea of improving the process for handling section 18C complaints, so that trivial or spurious complaints are terminated quickly.

We note that the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights was unable to reach a consensus, or even a majority opinion, in favour of any of the government’s proposals to amend the substantive law. Its recommendations were all limited to suggested reforms to the complaints-handling process.

This is the sensible way forward. The problems identified by the QUT case and the Bill Leak complaint all related to deficiencies of process. The government’s reforms should, as the Inquiry recommended, address that problem specifically, and not be distracted with an abstract ideological debate, divorced from the social realities.

Rod Little and Dr Jackie Huggins, Co-chairs, National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples

John Kennedy, President, United Indian Association

George Vellis, Co-ordinator, and George Vardas, Secretary, Australian Hellenic Council NSW

Peter Wertheim AM, Executive Director, Executive Council of Australian Jewry

Patrick Voon, Immediate Past President, Chinese Australian Forum

Tony Pang, Deputy Chair/Secretary, Chinese Australian Services Society

Randa Kattan, CEO, Arab Council Australia

Vache Executive Director, Armenian National Committee of Australia

 

Senator McCarthy:  My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Brandis. The Prime Minister has on at least 16 occasions ruled out his government amending section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Today, on Harmony Day, we learned that the Turnbull government is proposing the removal of the words ‘insult’, ‘offend’ and ‘humiliate’ from section 18C. What insulting, offensive or humiliating comments does the Prime Minister think people should be able to say to me?

Senator Brandis: Might I begin by correcting the premise of your question: the Prime Minister has never, not on 16 occasions and not once, said that the government would never reform section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. He did say, as was the case at the time, that it was not a priority for the government.

Nevertheless, I think we all know that events have happened in this country in the recent past, in particular, the treatment of the QUT students, which was disgraceful, and the treatment of the late Bill Leak, which was disgraceful. The report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, to which Labor senators and members of the House of Representatives continue, proposed beneficial law reform. What the Prime Minister and I announced a short while ago was a strengthening of the antivilification provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act.

What you did not mention in your question, which I think is a very important consideration, is the insertion, into section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, of a prohibition against racial harassment. Did you know that in 1991, when the then—

Senator Brandis: If your leader, Senator Wong, would just control herself, I might be able to address your question. You may or may not know that in 1991 the then Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission—

Senator Cameron: On relevance. The question was: ‘What insulting, offensive or humiliating comments does the Prime Minister think that people should be able to say to the senator?’ That was the question, and he has not gone near it. He should actually take off that Harmony Day badge. It is absolutely crazy that he has that on.

The PRESIDENT: On the point of order, the Attorney-General has been giving a detailed response to a detailed question. He is aware of the question.

Senator BRANDIS: In 1991, when the current part IIA of the Racial Discrimination Act was recommended, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission actually recommended to the parliament that one of the grounds of racial vilification should be harassment. That was one of the grounds recommended by the predecessor body of the Human Rights Commission. For some unaccountable reason that was not done by the then Labor government.

The PRESIDENT: Senator McCarthy, a supplementary question.

Senator McCarthy:  Minister Wyatt has twice indicated he would cross the floor to vote against changes to section 18C. What consequences will there be for members of the coalition who vote against the Turnbull government’s attempt to water down protections against racism?

Senator Brandis: I am absolutely certain that every member of the coalition will be voting for these changes to strengthen section 18C, every last one of them.

The PRESIDENT:  Senator McCarthy, a final supplementary question.

Senator McCarthy:  When asked why the government had no plans to amend section 18C, the Prime Minister said, ‘We did not take an 18C amendment proposal to the election.’ Why is Prime Minister Turnbull willing to cave in to the Right of his party room on section 18C, while he continues to refuse a free vote on marriage equality, despite the defeat of his proposed plebiscite?

Senator Brandis: Although I am a little loath to dwell on internal politics, may I say that strengthening protections against racial vilification and vindicating freedom of speech are causes that are embraced by all elements of the Liberal Party and the coalition. You may say that section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and the complaint-handling procedures of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act are perfect and incapable of reform. You may say that, but if you do you would be alone because there is no serious person in this country who has followed human rights debate who says that section 18C in its current form, which actually omits to prohibit racial harassment, or the complaint-handling procedures of the Human Rights Commission cannot be improved. Certainly, that is what Professor Gillian Triggs has said, and I agree with her. (Time expired)

 

QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: TAKE NOTE OF ANSWERS

Racial Discrimination Act 1975

Senator McCarthy:  The answer was incredibly disappointing, in particular on this day, Harmony Day. As we reflect on Harmony Day, I want to go to some of the answers to me and my questions by Senator Brandis. I want to begin with Senator Brandis’s response in terms of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. I asked, first up, about the fact that Mr Turnbull has said on at least 16 occasions that he had ruled out his government amending section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Senator Brandis said that he had not said that—certainly not that many times. I just want to point out some very important media coverage of the moments when Mr Turnbull denied that it was a distraction for his government. In news.com, on 31 August 2016: ‘The government has no plans to make changes to section 18C’. He said it again on 30 August in The Australian:

It’s filled the op-ed pages of newspapers for years and years but the government has no plans to make any changes to section 18C. We have other more pressing, much more pressing priorities to address.

Then again on 14 November 2016, on ABC 7.30, Mr Turnbull said:

18(C) is talked about constantly on the ABC. It’s talked about constantly in what’s often called the ‘elite media’. I’ve focused overwhelmingly on the economy.

It appears that Prime Minister Turnbull has changed tack. Today is one of the most significant days in Australia and across the world. The purpose behind Harmony Day is to reflect on the diversity of culture across this country, something that unfortunately has been really stained by the Prime Minister’s move to change the Racial Discrimination Act on this day in particular. It is incredibly sad. It really is a watering down of protections against racial vilifications. The irony of it being done on this day! The Attorney-General says he does not believe the Australian people are racist.

Senator Brandis: No, I do not.

Senator McCarthy:  As a white man growing up in Petersham, attending private schools, I am sure you have never been denied access or service in a shop. You have never had taxis drive past, pretending not to see you. You have never received hateful letters and emails because of your race or the colour of your skin. I really wish I could believe there are not any racists in Australia. But certainly my personal experience, and my family’s experience, informs me of the reality that I live in this country. It is deeply unfortunate.

I asked you in my question: what else do you need to say to me and to many other people of different races in this country that you cannot say now? What is it that you are so determined to say that you cannot say to people now?

My predecessor, Senator Nova Peris, had a disgraceful time in this Senate, standing here, being called all sorts of things—in fact, even on her Twitter account today—in terms of what racism she received from the general public. Just to clarify, in case you were thinking I meant it occurred in the Senate; I meant this is where she raised the issue about the racism that was displayed against her by the general public across Australia. It is really important to put this on the record. She stood courageously here to point out from her own personal experiences that racism is very much alive and strong in this country. We as parliamentarians in both the Senate and the House of Representatives must show leadership about the importance of harmony, diversity and cultural respect. That is something that is not happening now today in the Turnbull government.

Being the target of racist, hurtful comments is deeply distressing and causes deep harm. expired)

 

NACCHO #FU2Racism Aboriginal Health and Face Up To #Racism Week media coverage

Ÿfu2racism

 Is Australia racist? Face up to racism with a season of stories and programs challenging preconceptions around race and prejudice on SBSTV Starts 26 February

“ Surveys suggested racism was already a near-universal experience for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, with 97% having experienced it in the past year and more than 70% reporting eight or more incidents in that period. Almost one-third said they had experienced racism in the health setting.

By settings standards of conduct, the law had an important role in containing the spread of racism and race hate, and described the watering down of sections 18c & d of the RDA as a “major risk” for the effective implementation of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-2023.

The Plan envisages a health system free of racism, offering effective, high quality, appropriate and affordable health services to Indigenous Australians “

Matthew Cooke Chair of NACCHO

From post 21 December 2016 Aboriginal Health and #Racism : NACCHO submission to #SavetheRDA #18C Inquiry into #Freedomofspeech

Download our full submission here

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Over 5 years we have NACCHO has published over 70 artiicles

Aboriginal health and Racism

racsim-survey-opens

Take the depth #Racism in Australia Survey

 ” Whenever there is a racist incident in Australia we hear people talk about the need for more education. And, to be fair, a lot of racism that exists does stem from a lack of education but that is only true for those who soak up the racist rhetoric that is ever present in Australian media and politics, not those who create and exploit that racism in the first place,

Luke Pearson NITV and Founder of IndigenousX ( see article 2 below )

Article 1:  Croakey Under the skin’ – Australian health groups condemn proposed changes to hate speech law

 ” With the Northern Territory’s anti-discrimination commissioner Sally Sievers warning this week that casual racism could literally make people sick, we’ve taken a look at some of the health group submissions to the government’s inquiry into amending section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Aboriginal health groups have rejected the proposed changes, warning that physical harm from race discrimination began at an early age – “quite literally can get under the skin and make our children and young people sick” – with racism a key determinant of access to and experiences of health.

We’ve digested some of the major submissions, which make for compelling reading in full, and present a summary below.

Editor: Amy Coopes  Author Under the skin’ – Australian health groups condemn proposed changes to hate speech law

Original Published in Croakey 23 February

National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO)

Pointing to the Aboriginal definition of health as the “social, emotional and cultural wellbeing of the whole community in which each individual is able to achieve their full potential”, NACCHO argues that any watering down of hate speech legislation will work in direct opposition to existing government programs and strategies to improve Indigenous health.

It describes combating racial discrimination as a key strategy in closing the gap on health outcomes, and details key evidence on the link between racism and health including:

Link between racism and reduced access to education, employment, housing and medical care, especially the deterrent effect of institutionalised racism in the health care system

Association between racism, psychological distress and risk behaviours such as substance abuse and self-harm, as well as physical injury from race-motivated assaults

Stress and cortisol dysregulation resulting from experiences of racism leading to mental health problems and physical impacts to the immune, endocrine & cardiovascular systems, beginning in childhood

Discriminatory health policies and practices including lack of language & culturally competent care, excessive wait times and unequal access to emergency and other services

Young people who experience high levels of racial discrimination were also found to have increased sleep difficulties, cellular ageing, inflammation and psychological wear and tear… Racial discrimination quite literally can get under the skin and make our children and young people sick.

NACCHO said surveys suggested racism was already a near-universal experience for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, with 97% having experienced it in the past year and more than 70% reporting eight or more incidents in that period. Almost one-third said they had experienced racism in the health setting.

By settings standards of conduct, NACCHO said the law had an important role in containing the spread of racism and race hate, and described the watering down of sections 18c & d of the RDA as a “major risk” for the effective implementation of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-2023.

The Plan envisages a health system free of racism, offering effective, high quality, appropriate and affordable health services to Indigenous Australians:

“Together with strategies to address social inequalities and determinants of health, this provides the necessary platform to recognise health equality by 2031.”

Lowitja Institute

The Lowitja Institute echoes NACCHO’s concerns, saying the 2013-2023 health plan “went a significant way in identifying racism as a social determinant for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health” and amendments to 18c would undermine “hard fought policy gains”.

It said institutionalised racism, lack of cultural safety and distrust in the health sector was already affecting access and outcomes for Indigenous people, with high rates of discharge against medical advice contributing to chronic ill health including diabetes, kidney disease and cancer.

Asking at what cost so-called free speech:

Allowing people to ‘offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or another group of people’ based on race can potentially cause harm and thus widen the health gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians.

Changes to the Act could cause potential erosion of hard-fought health policy gains for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

As a nation together we should strive for dignity, respect, equity and a deeper understanding of one another.

National Health Leadership Forum

NHLF describes racism as a key social and cultural determinant of health and said legislative protections were an essential component in addressing it.

It said freedom from racism and right to the highest attainable standard of health were fundamental human rights, and racism not only undermined health (noting a 17-year gap in life expectancy) but the realisation of these rights for Indigenous Australians.

NHLF also quoted from the government’s 2013-2023 health plan, and described the proposed RDA amendments as counterintuitive to its bipartisan support:

Racism is a key social determinant of health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and can deter people from achieving their full capabilities by debilitating confidence and self worth which in turn leads to poorer health outcomes.

cohealth

cohealth, Australia’s largest non-for-profit community health service, says health is impacted by many factors including social inclusion and participation, with stigma and racism contributing to health inequalities.

It cited Australian and global research identifying:

  • The link between self-reported discrimination and depression & anxiety, both of which are major contributors to disease burden
  • Emerging evidence linking race-based discrimination with poor physical health including diabetes,obesity and hypertension
  • Association between discrimination, stress and chronic conditions (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer), as well as smoking, substance use, harms from abuse and violence, poor self-assessed health status and high psychological distress among Indigenous Australians

Importantly, cohealth noted that research had also shown that state intervention such as legislative change and the signalling that discriminatory behaviour was acceptable itself contributed to poor health:

The very holding of this inquiry, and the questioning of whether race hate protections should be reduced, sends a message to ethnic and rcial groups that in the eyes of the government they are less important, less included, less valued and less protected than other members of Australian society. This has the potential to contribute to significantly reduced health and wellbeing.

Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance

The peak professional group for Australia’s media questions the government’s “free speech” motivations for the RDA inquiry, arguing that it occurred against a backdrop of much graver threats (many directly due to government legislation), including:

Persecution and prosecution of whistleblowers in the public and private sectors and threat of up to 10 years jail under the ASIO Act

Anti-corruption bodies’ “star chamber” powers bypassing journalist shield laws

Use of warrants to secretly access journalists’ information and discover confidential sources

Use of defamation, contempt of court and suppression orders to intimidate or muzzle legitimate public interest reporting

The veil of “operational security” by government ministers & departments to refuse disclosure of information or to answer questions and narrowing of application of FOI laws

MEAA Media members are left to ponder the apparent limitations of the Parliament’s free speech agenda.

It said the rise of digital technology had seen hate speech increase in Australia since the 1995 introduction of the RDA, and described such speech as “antithetical to ethical journalism”.

We believe media outlets should take appropriate measures to speedily and thoroughly deal with complaints from the public, and to do so publicly. Too often the public turns to a third party without first raising a complaint with the specific media outlet that has published or broadcast the item in question. Media outlets must be willing to be held accountable for their failings by the consumers who put their trust, and their time and money into supporting the media outlet.

Whenever there is a racist incident in Australia we hear people talk about the need for more education. And, to be fair, a lot of racism that exists does stem from a lack of education but that is only true for those who soak up the racist rhetoric that is ever present in Australian media and politics, not those who create and exploit that racism in the first place, Luke Pearson says.

Article 2 COMMENT: Racism is not simply an education issue

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By

Luke Pearson

We talk about racism in the 21st Century as an anomaly, a throwback to the outdated ideas of yesteryear that for some unknown reason still manage to linger in the hearts and minds of too many, otherwise lovely, white Australians.

We talk about how racism impacts on our health, how it limits education and employment opportunities, and we talk a lot about how it feels to be on the receiving end of it. We still try to get people to develop empathy and we still ask, “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” as though Shakespeare wasn’t making that exact point about racism back sometime around the 1590s. Personally, I am sick of being asked to rip the band-aid off every time to show that I bleed blood as red as anyone else.

What we don’t talk about, however, is that racism drives profits and power. Not just the One Nation type of political power either, but all of it. Major political parties tread lightly on these issues and although some may provide lovely sound bites about multiculturalism or ‘progress’, they still too often support racist policies, from the NT Intervention through to watering down the Native Title Act or the Racial Discrimination Act.

The reality is that racism has always been a useful and effective tool for power, profit, and control.

I read somewhere, many years ago, that ‘Europeans didn’t become slave traders because they were racist. They became racists because they were slave traders’. The argument being that in order to sustain such a brutally horrific, but highly profitable, practice as slavery while also being able to maintain a self-image of being ‘good Christians’ it was necessary to dehumanize and demonise those who were being enslaved. This led to ‘scientific’ arguments of black people being less evolved and not really human, and Biblical arguments of black people being the ‘sons of Ham’ and as such cursed by God, in need of punishment for perceived sins, and thereby justifying their exploitation, murder, and enslavement.

The history of racism is too often explored through the lens of it being a lack of education, empathy, or understanding. Instead, it should be looked at as a highly effective and complex tool for the acquisition of land, exploitation of resources, sourcing free or cheap labour, and as a convenient scapegoat to avoid blame for those in power.

There is not a lot of racism that exists today that doesn’t in some way still serve one or more of the above stated  needs, and no amount of feel-good anti-racism education for those who use racism to gain power and/or make profit is going to change this.

When we look at racism in this light we no longer feel compelled to say ‘I can’t believe this is still happening in 2017!’, because we understand that racism is not just a throwback to outdated scientific beliefs of social Darwinism, and we also understand that human and civil rights are not on a slow but steady incline towards greater understanding and inevitable equality.

Racism has not reduced or disappeared over the years on this; it has simply become more elusive; more sophisticated. Overt racism may have slowed down for a few decades after the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, and it must be acknowledged that significant wins have since enshrined in law; particularly concerning segregation and other exclusionary practices and policies.

However, the strategically made argument that these policies represented not just a decrease in racism but that it actually went too far and created ‘reverse racism’ ensured that the shift in racism was limited to the shift from overt to covert, and not in its actual dismantling. This process has actively blurred the social understanding of what constitutes racism to the point that there are those who argue that any acknowledgement of race constitutes racism, particularly when it involves using the word ‘white’ in any context whatsoever.

The only purpose the colour-blind racism theory serves is making conversations about racism impossible. Racism gets reduced to merely being prejudice, and the role of societal power and privilege is completely ignored. Any argument, no matter how shallow, is used to claim that racism doesn’t exist; is not a factor in a given incident; or only exists because people keep mentioning it. If that does not suffice then finding any Aboriginal person who will agree that racism doesn’t exist is used to argue against all those who think it does (this strategy works for climate change against 97% of the scientific community, so it isn’t too surprising to see how effective it can be on issues of racism).

The shift from overt to covert racism meant that the statistics that once demonstrated without question the impacts of racism are once again being used to justify it. Incarceration rates, child removal rates, unemployment rates and other statistics that highlight the impacts and consequences of discrimination and inequality are now more commonly used to justify an unspoken but clearly hinted at belief in innate criminality, a lack of paternal and maternal instincts, and moral and cultural deficits.

 Beyond Blue survey

Findings from Beyond Blue’s 2014 survey: Discrimination against Indigenous Australians

The catch cry of ‘We need to keep Australia white’ was replaced with ‘We need to protect our way of life’. The slavery of Aboriginal people in Australia has been replaced with ‘work for the dole’ and prison labour. The displacement of Aboriginal people on reserves and missions for land grabs has been replaced with closing remote communities because of ‘lifestyle choices’, the forcing of remote Aboriginal communities onto long term leases, and the constant watering down of native title rights. These changes are only in branding not in substance, and certainly not in impact and effect. The end result is always the same; dispossession, disempowerment, regulation, and control.

Overt racism still exists of course, and has become increasingly popular in politics over the past few years. Asians are apparently ‘swamping’ again, this time along with Muslims as well. Asylum seekers have all become illegal immigrants. Any mention of difference or diversity or inequality is now labelled ‘divisive’. And it is now acceptable again to argue that all non-white Australians need to assimilate.

Despite this, the national dialogue about racism in Australia still ignores this and is too often limited to ‘casual racism’, and education aimed at building empathy is all too often the only solution that we are interested in putting forward at a national level. The goal of anti-racism is aimed at making white people feel good and alleviating themselves of any sense of responsibility or culpability rather than looking at how we dismantle the systems that perpetuate racism as the status quo. Even that seemingly lofty goal would still be insufficient. We cannot simply dismantle existing systems, we must replace them with new ones that empower Indigenous people within them and do what Malcolm Turnbull has become very fond of saying but refuses to actually do – systems that do things with us and not to us, and that are driven by Indigenous people ourselves. And just for the record, no… having an Indigenous friend or partner isn’t ‘reconciliation in action’.

Acknowledging white privilege is not the same thing as giving it up, or fighting against it.

And whenever we encounter racism we are expected to calmly and rationally explain why it is racist, and provide solutions that do not require anything more than a superficial change or acknowledgement to fix it.

 racism meme

As long as this remains, we can rest assured that the systems in place that maintain racism and inequality will remain unchallenged, and our grandchildren will one day say to each other, “Wow, I can’t believe racism is still a thing in 2077!”

Acknowledging white privilege is not the same thing as giving it up, or fighting against it.

Racism is not simply borne of ignorance, and no amount of walking across bridges or photos of a white hand shaking a black hand will make it less appealing to those who exploit it for profit and power.

There is definitely a role in education for reducing the symptoms of racism, but I don’t think it will be enough to ever address its root causes.

I don’t know how (or if) we can eradicate racism, but I hope recognising racism as more than just misguided attitudes, hurt feelings, and the purported mental health status of political correctness might be a good start.