The Unusual Historical past of Concord Day and Australia’s Racism Dialogue

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The Australia Letter is a weekly e-newsletter from our Australia bureau. Enroll to get it by e mail. This week’s difficulty is written by Yan Zhuang, a reporter with the Australia bureau.

Two weeks in the past, 4 native councilors of Asian heritage throughout Sydney obtained letters calling for demise to “all Chinese language individuals.” On Wednesday evening, considered one of them proposed a movement for his council to participate in a marketing campaign known as “Racism Not Welcome.”

The movement was narrowly defeated. Some councilors mentioned it was pointless as a result of the issue didn’t exist in the area people. Others took difficulty with one phrase within the marketing campaign’s title: Racism.

“It’s a horrible phrase, and I don’t wish to see it in any trend or kind in our group,” mentioned one councilor who voted in opposition to the movement.

“I don’t agree with utilizing these specific phrases,” mentioned one other. “I feel we needs to be utilizing extra encouraging phrases. Extra inclusive phrases. Extra belonging phrases. Extra phrases of togetherness, relatively than phrases of separation or segregation.”

That urge — to deal with racism by speaking about its reverse — seems to be one ingrained in Australian tradition.

Yearly round this time, kids go to highschool in orange whereas corporations and universities maintain multicultural morning teas as a part of Australia’s Concord Week, an annual day-turned-week, which goals to have fun cultural variety.

Critics word that it happens on the identical day because the extra explicitly named Worldwide Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, sponsored by the United Nations, however Australia’s model displays its very specific strategy.

It has an attention-grabbing historical past. Concord Day was first proposed by the conservative Liberal opposition within the Nineties as an academic marketing campaign and a substitute for the Labor authorities’s bid to criminalize hate speech — to fight racism by proscribing anybody from publicly inciting hatred primarily based on race or ethnicity.

Labor primarily needed to struggle racism by outlawing racist speech; the Liberals aimed to fight racism by selling multicultural unity.

The Liberals obtained their method after they gained the 1996 election. As step one of an academic marketing campaign, it commissioned the primary nationwide survey on Australian attitudes about race, and the outcomes weren’t flattering. It concluded that “a considerable proportion of respondents, and therefore, the Australian inhabitants, maintain very unfavorable views towards segments of our society, views that should be addressed.”

It additionally warned that focusing the marketing campaign on racism could be ineffective as a result of many Australians had a tough time admitting that their nation may very well be racist. Those that help racist views see their attitudes as justified. As well as, the report mentioned, those that felt they hardly ever noticed or skilled racist incidents would “query the credibility of any message that paints an image of the Australian group as one rife with disharmony and racist acts.”

Andrew Jakubowicz, a emeritus professor of sociology on the College of Expertise Sydney and an knowledgeable on Australian race relations, mentioned in an interview that the survey confirmed that “even to speak about racism made individuals extremely uncomfortable, as a result of it challenged their self-delusions about their very own beliefs and practices.”

He believes it was for the same motive that the federal government declined to publicly launch the analysis findings till 2011 regardless of a number of inquiries, together with his personal public information requests.

As an alternative of speaking explicitly about racism, the report really helpful a delicate strategy centered round shared values. Begin with one thing constructive that most individuals may agree with and get on board with, the considering went, after which construct as much as speaking about extra contentious antiracism messages.

The argument that folks reply higher to constructive than unfavorable messaging is supported by psychologists on the subject of different campaigns, like local weather change.

Discovering a brand new worth that everybody may collect round may additionally elevate considerations some Australians held a few lack of nationwide id because the nation step by step moved from a primarily Anglo tradition to a extra various one as new migrants arrived, the report mentioned. That in itself may assist in lowering racism.

And the shared worth most probably to resonate with Australians? Concord.

However one of many issues with the concord strategy, mentioned Professor Jakubowicz, is that it discourages individuals from talking up as a result of that may be seen as unharmonious. It “put the onus on the minorities to not elevate a stink about their minority standing and marginalization,” he mentioned.

At a time of when there was a rise in racist assaults each in Australia, the place a current survey confirmed that one in 5 Chinese language-Australians had been threatened or attacked in the course of the pandemic, and in locations like the US, the place shootings in Atlanta killed eight individuals, six of them Asian ladies, critics say the concentrate on concord grow to be a disincentive to candor and addressing the issue.

What appeared on the native council goes again many years. There’s a a lot wider consciousness now that racism is a major drawback, Professor Jakubowicz mentioned, however the unwillingness to speak about race, mirrored within the historical past of Concord Day, continues.

“The bulk place, that Australians would really like to not be disturbed by reflecting on these information, could be very a lot there. And Concord Day says you don’t need to be disturbed,” he mentioned.

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