There is much mainstream and social media coverage over the proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act. Like many, I am, prima facie, against changing the legislation. I do accept that I am open to being persuaded by what would need to be a damn good argument.
I don’t personally experience being non-white. I do vicariously experience racism through the realities of my family. Cashiers who won’t accept money from my husband’s hand, one son being called the N word at school, the client in a hair salon who looked at me with daggers for daring to bring a black child into “her” hair salon. The nasty comments submitted to this site (thankfully few and far between) or the student doctor who clearly did not want to actually touch my son. Maybe he thought the black rubbed off.
I was involved in a debate on Twitter with a man who was adamant freedom of thought (and therefore expression, given the debate related to freedom of speech) was much more important than “hurt feelings”. His parents had left an eastern bloc country to ensure freedom of thought, he stated.
Did he actually have any experience of racial vilification, I asked?
It appears not. I don’t believe @amosz22 is necessarily racist: I DO know he is speaking of things of which he has NO personal experience. Freedom of thought/speech is one thing and I agree it is a human right. Being denied the right as @amosz22 says his parents were is not at all the same as being denied recognition as a member of the human race. Or where they?
Hitler’s desire for an Aryan Race declared ethnic Poles as sub-human. This may well have impacted @amosz22’s forebears during that period, but this was a short period in the history of mankind. Non-white people have at various times been considered sub-human and there are some today who continue to believe so. @amosz22 may well have been being sarcastic (the “;p” perhaps) when he stated “Polish people have no experience of racial vilification” if he is from ethnic Pole stock. His forebears may be more understanding than he is, in that case, of our desire to ensure there remains adequate protections against racial vilification.
What I realised from our complete discussion was this person, who personally was not affected by any Aryan Race classifications, firmly believes freedom of thought is of greater importance to the human species than being recognised as humans. To live free of being told constantly that your hair is not normal, you have a lower IQ than “whites”, you are lazy and uneducated, unclean, not wanted in the neighbourhood or school. Day in, day out, from the time you are old enough to understand the language around you. Such examples can be found from any readings about racism, none of it is unique. It is constant, repetitive and debilitating. It is not just being “picked on” resulting in “hurt feelings” we should all get over. The wounds are deep and real and generational. Ask my African American friend who had to fight tooth and nail to prevent her children being “bused out” of her neighbourhood to an appropriate black school. Ask the Loving family of Virginia.
Ask Waleed Aly.
That’s what struck me most about the proposed legislation. It’s just so … well, white. In fact it’s probably the whitest piece of proposed legislation I’ve encountered during my lifetime. It trades on all the assumptions about race that you’re likely to hold if, in your experience, racism is just something that other people complain about.
Ask Fergal Davis.
When someone makes monkey noises directed at a football player, we all know what it means. When someone making similar offensive noises is a young girl and the subject of the abuse is Adam Goodes, the Australian of the Year, it may attract more attention. But either way, portraying people as monkeys has a history and a specific context – which is why modern day politicians can’t act as if the White Australia policy never happened and destroyed lives.
Of course Chris Berg assures us it is all OK, it is the best move ever for democracy.
Yes, the Abbott government should reform laws that constrain freedom of speech across the board. And certainly, it should not be proposing to censor social media as part of its anti-cyber bullying proposals. But that this government’s defence of free speech is less than comprehensive is no argument against reforming section 18C.
Of course, hell will freeze over before I trust Chris Berg’s protestations of his belief in “freedom”. I learnt very clearly it is only certain freedoms that he deems worthy, not all of such international instruments as the ICCPR and the UDHR. I wanted to marry my husband, people like Chris Berg, George Brandis et al want the right to call him the N word. All, I gather, in the interests of “any political, social, cultural, religious, artistic, academic or scientific matter”. Oh, I’m so impressed. Not.
People who have not lived it can never experience the full impact of racism. They can, like Tim Wise, listen, learn, believe and understand. Tim’s March 13 article is interesting. We have a few right wing Christians about.
Amend the Racial Discrimination Act all you like. While you do, ensure you have a solid, workable strategy to protect those humans without lily-white skin from the horror of racism.