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African gangs myth shows fear is winning

  • 12 January 2018


I heard the debate around South Sudanese young people, crime and gangs on the news and didn't really tune in, thinking it was old news, and a fairly obvious political tactic. I didn't pay much attention, until my brother-in-law contacted me with some questions about the 'Sudanese gang problem'.

My brother-in-law isn't a racist. He is well-traveled, thoughtful and very open to diverse cultures. But a lot of what he was talking about now was essentially what the media had been espousing. Gone was his thoughtfulness and open-mindedness. In its place was fear. It was when I realised that fear was winning the hearts and minds of otherwise rational people, that I knew this was an issue that shouldn't be ignored

I have been working and living with and studying Sudanese youth for over eight years and in this time, I have never encountered anything like the gangs of youths that are being talked about. What I have seen is Sudanese young people be successful in academics and become lawyers and doctors; be hard workers and become tradies; be talented athletes and become professional basketballers, footy and soccer players. I have seen some young people have trouble with the law and need advocacy with the police and in the courts.

To try and distill an entire culture, with various sub-cultures and traditional values — not to mention the various personalities of each individual — into a media soundbite about hordes of marauding African gangs, insults not only the Sudanese community, but every Australian. It insults our sense of a fair go, our diversity, and, on our good days, our intelligence.

African youth crime and Sudanese youth acculturation in general is a tricky area to venture into due to the complexities around the issue. Unlike some of my good friends who advocate for Sudanese young people, I don't believe the issue should be merged with generalised young people and crime, or deny the reality that there is a correlation between Sudanese young people and their disproportionate participation in crime.

Not because I disagree with the assertion that these young people are indeed Australian youth and that it becomes distracting when we judge a person's actions by the colour of their skin, or that the overwhelming amount of crime that is committed is not by people of African heritage. The reason I disagree with this approach is because if we insist on equality in this way, we are