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Racism is real. What are you doing about it?

  • 29 May 2018


'For a country that has no racism, racism seems to make the news a lot.' So says Jacqueline Maley in a recent opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Maley's article adeptly sketches the recurring tropes of racist rhetoric and elision of racism through recent political events: Queensland LNP senator Ian Macdonald's (pictured) view that racism doesn't really exist (or is only very isolated) in Australia; the Institute of Public Affairs' (IPA) call for the Race Discrimination Commissioner role to not be renewed (indeed, they called for the abolition of the entire Human Rights Commission); and NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley's 'white flight' comments.

As Maley points out, 'It shouldn't have to be said, but the best witnesses to racism are probably not going to be Anglo-Saxon "lifer" senators who live in largely white communities.' A part of me went 'hurrah!' that this appeared in a mainstream media outlet. Then I thought on this further.

While agreeing with Maley that they should not be our barometers for racism in Australia, it is precisely these 'lifers', who exist in bubbles of highly privileged and filtered experience, who get air-time in the media, are afforded gravitas, and seen to be representative of Australian sentiment. They have little idea of the 'everyday multiculturalism' that most urban and regional Australians live with.

Amanda Wise, a sociologist at Macquarie University, describes 'everyday multiculturalism' as exploring 'how cultural diversity is experienced and negotiated on the ground in everyday situations such as neighbourhoods, schools, and workplaces'. 

The research being done in this area is valuable because it comes closest to what's really happening in our towns, suburbs and cities where communities of diverse cultural and racial backgrounds live side by side. While high-level political and policy shaping of national attitudes is important to track, it is as important to know what's happening and being experienced in our literal backyards.

In response to Macdonald's comments and the IPA's call for his role's abolition, Tim Soutphommasane has been sharing parts of the Scanlon Foundation's 2017 report on social cohesion via Twitter. The Mayor of Subiaco in Western Australia, Penny Taylor, responded to one of these with: 'If you haven't experienced or witnessed racism, catch public transport more often.'


"If I was afforded the same status of truth-telling as someone like Ian Macdonald, my take on whether there was racism and why it exists would be rather different."


Taylor's comment resonated with me strongly. I've lived in Melbourne for