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Australia's relationship with race(ism) and diversity

By Eric Pinto, Bachelor of Business Administration with the degree of Bachelor of Commerce - Professional Accounting

The issue of racism remains prevalent in Australia’s society today, yet, over the decades there have been attempts of recognition and reconciliation.

Personally, my experience with racism began in my preliminary school years when I was young doing what kids do on a playground. Friends and students that knew my nationality would make jokes based on stereotypes and derogatory terms. I am half Portuguese and half Indian and it always felt surreal that half of me was meant to be funny or used in jokes. At the time, I was unaware of the concept of racism but, as I grew up around my family, friends and mentors I understood the effects of casual racism, how it could hurt others and what it could lead to.

So how did we get here?

Following Australia’s colonisation by the British Empire, the acts of genocide against the First Nations people ensued with at least 270 frontier massacres over 140 years (1). Discriminatory laws were introduced harming aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the form of restricted voting rights, less protection, stolen wages and the separation of families leading to the Stolen Generation.

Racism in Australia extended with the White Australia Policy, an umbrella term that involved numerous laws with the most prominent Immigration Restriction Act 1901 (cth) restricting immigration and the deportation of the ‘non-white’ migrants. This impacted the non-European population, especially the Asian population that decreased from 1.25% in 1901 to 0.21% by the late 1940s (2). This ideology of maintaining a ‘White Australia’ was commercialised as products made by ‘white Australians’, businesses implemented this message in their branding as seen in the Image below by the (3).

“White Australia” pineapples, grown after the expulsion of the South Sea Islander workers

(National Museum of Australia)

These policies were dismantled in the 1970s as Australia began to embrace multiculturalism. The Parramatta Cultural day was a unique experience in the matter as we learn of its history and the influence of the South Asian population shaping Parramatta to what it is today. Examples of this can be seen with Harris Park being known as ‘Little India’ complimenting the influence of Indian culture and cuisine. I also learnt that the NRL Rugby team ‘Parramatta Eels’ pays tribute to the Burramattagal people with its geographical significance from the word Burramatta/Baramada meaning ‘the place where the eels lie down’. From my experience, my primary school hosts a yearly festival named ‘Celebration of Cultures’ where students can experience cuisines from different cultures in Australia promoting a unified school spirit. These are one of many examples of Australia’s progress towards multiculturalism and acceptance, however, Australia still has a long way to go in terms of recognition and reconciliation as the crimes of the past have influence over the present.

The evolution of racism still persists today significantly in the form of casual racism or systemic racism. Mehreen Faruqi in her senate speech warns of the normalisation of racism through the use of dog-whistling and race-baiting as electoral tactics (4). Following this, Australian Asian communities were recently subjected to increased verbal racism during the COVID-19 pandemic (5). These racist acts are harmful to these communities and cause division as people feel like they don’t belong.

Nevertheless, the Australian relationship between racism and diversity have significantly changed over the past century. Previous generations have struggled and fought for equality and justice and now the torch has been passed upon this generation to continue that fight. No matter how small the contribution these issues were never meant to be solved individually. Until the torch is passed to future generations to tackle issues in their time through unity and acceptance we can build a better world.

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