This is the last blog post for 2014. Settle in.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, announced a cabinet reshuffle. Of particular interest to me was the shift of the now former Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, to the Social Services portfolio. Morrison, for those who do not know, is the politician responsible for implementing the government’s ‘Stop the Boats’ slogan. On the surface of it, the policy was aimed to stop the arrival of asylum seekers by boat, traveling over dangerous waters in risky conditions to seek aslyum in Australia, as was their humanitarian right. Beneath the surface, and not very far beneath the surface, it was about the portrayal of human beings who cannot defend themself in Australia as selfish, rich men and women who may or may not be terrorists, but who are definately not real refugees to insight racism, fear, and hatred. It is done without self reflection in a country that was colonised by white men and women who arrived on boats, and proceeded, in the name of King and Queen, to committ genoicide.
Over the last year, Morrison, in his role as Immigration Minister, has been the figurehead for the Australian Government in a string of new crimes against humanity. He has placed the Australian military in charge of asylum seekers who arrive by boat, hidden their actions behind a screen of secrecy, and refused to answer all questions about who has arrived and who has not, except to claim victory. On Manus Island and Naura, where aslyum seekers are taken to be ‘processed’, we have been told repeatedly by doctors and psychiatrists and Aid workers that the conditions are awful, inhumane, and will only lead to suffering and self harm. Reports of rising incidents of self harm, miscarriage, and death have supported this. As have reports of women having been forced to queue for sanitary items, men being left with a bottle of water for a whole day, and children have been molested and self harmed themselves. It goes on, but to show just how disgusting it has become, most recently a law was been passed that allows women who do not disclose rape experiences immediately to be denied aslyum. The conditions that asylum seekers have been subjected to have seen some agree to be sent back to the country they fled from. Many have – and will – die there.
It has been awful.
And it has been done, in public, and with public support, because the people who Scott Morrison and the Australian Government could treat so inhumanely, are not white.
I am white. My mother’s side of my family came from England, after World War II. My father’s side came from Germany, I think, before that war. Beyond that, I’m a pretty mongrel white. Absent fathers, lost mothers, people from here and there in the great expanse of Europe. You couldn’t find a pure bloodline in me if you tried, really.
Myself, I grew up poor, in a single parent household, living from week to week. I understand how sometimes white people get tired of hearing that they’re are born into privilege when they’re born into lower working class households that feel like everything is a struggle, day in, day out. After all, it is a struggle, no matter what race you are when you’re poor. But for that I was raised in a poor household, I am now an international novelist, a guy with so much education that I can put the word doctor in my title, and someone who claims to be an artist. No one, not once, has stopped to tell me I have achieved great things for my race, that I have gone against the trend of my demographic, or any of the other things that they may tell a person of colour who has achieved the things that I have achieved. I stepped out of a cycle of poverty with all the ease that government funded education, available role models, and society support allowed me to do so. Some people I know didn’t, of course. Some of them were white. Some of them died from drug overdoses before they were thirty. But no one ever said of them, either, that that happens all the time in that white community.
Race is important. Maybe you don’t like to hear it. Maybe you get tired of hearing it. But it is important. Its acknowledgment of it, its discussion of it, its fight for it – all of it is important. I have spent a large part of my adult life writing, researching, and discussing racial representation. My views on it are not the same as they were when I was twenty-eight, or when I was eighteen. The nauances of it have changed. They always change. But one overriding thing has never, ever changed, and that is my belief that the fight against racism is valuable, important, and necessary in our global community.
After all, the goal of our society is to create one of equality, is it not?
Last week, the Lindt Cafe in Sydney was the scene of violence and tragedy. A mentally ill man by the name of Man Haron Monis held seventeen people hostage and two, Tori Johnson, and Katrina Dawson, were killed at the end.
It made international news, but more importantly, the hashtag #illridewithyou made international news with it. It arose in response to one woman telling a Muslim woman to not take off her hijab, and that she would sit beside her in solidarity to this decision, and to stand against any who targeted her because of her race and religion. In the face of such a terrible incident, the tag took off, and men and women throughout Australia of all colour, religion, and sexuality, took to it and stood against the racism and hatred that tried to rise from the tragedy of the Lindt Cafe. It made me proud to be an Australian in a year where it has been difficult to be proud to be an Australian. Perhaps I had more pride than I might have normally had because of Tessa Kum’s part in it. Perhaps, but it is neither here nor there, right now. Because it was a way in which men and women took a stand against racism. Because it showed the world that Australia is not the racist country our Government would have us appear to be.
A fight is not won by one thing, or lost by one defeat. A fight against racism is certainly not. It is continual. It is endless. And I hope, next year, the fights will be more like the one that #illridewithyou fought, and less like the one that Scott Morrison and the Australian Government fought.
That brings us to the end of the year, everyone. Thanks for reading. Thanks for returning. Thanks, and more, really. I will see you all again in 2015.