Australian Migration Debate- Changing the African Narrative

In August, Queenslanders have a month of celebrating our cultural diversity. This is the State’s largest celebration of multiculturalism which acknowledges that regardless of our different journeys to these shores, in Queensland we are welcomed.

This is the time where everything “exotic” is celebrated. Many people have the opportunity to try something new, whether it is the food, music and dancing, or perhaps watch a multicultural fashion show. This is celebration of us in all our diversity.

However, as an African Australian, I cannot help but feel a sense of uneasiness as I continue to watch the unfolding story in the media and the political spotlight that continues to dehumanise a section of our community.

The headlines and discerning voices are amplified and continue to vibrate throughout my consciousness – “…. they don’t belong, they don’t integrate, send them back to where they come from, they are responsible for crime, they are gangs, people are afraid to go out at night because of them….” A continuous narrative aimed at marginalising African Australians mainly in Victoria, but spreading rapidly across the whole nation. 

This current narrative about African Australians is insidious, it damages the whole of our celebrated multiculturalism. This narrative threatens to exclude African Australians from the basic human equality, their belonging to this greatest southern land of Australia in question, their voices muffled and silenced.

This continuous spotlight on our communities devalues our stand in the wider Australian community and the most disheartening thing is that it is spearheaded by political propaganda and mistruths.

The collective bashing of our communities’ identity leads to our model multicultural Australia being accustomed to performing and entrenching racism, discrimination and oppression of African Australians. This rhetoric is simply wrong and must be condemned.

More importantly the consequences of words being spat around so carelessly impact deeply on our young people. It further marginalises them, it throws questions about who they are, their worth, their contribution, their belonging.

It is surely our duty as Queenslanders, and Australians to stand together and condemn the apparent deployment of dehumanising language which only leads to societal hierarchy, social isolation, mental health issues and can certainly lead to targeted hostility and violence directed towards African Australians.

We cannot sit back and allow racism to manifest, we must demand better from our nations leadership, we must expect responsible media reporting including a media code of practice that abates explicit focus on ethnicity and race when reporting crime.

It seems like we have learned nothing from the past; that the singling out of a community relating to actual or perceived criminality; has everlasting impact on their well-being and integration. The continual marginalisation of each new wave of ethnic minorities - whether they Italian, Greek, Vietnamese, Lebanese & other Muslim countries, Chinese and now of course African nations – is historically driven by a small but increasingly vocal and agitating minority. When the vast majority of Australians have positive experiences with each new wave – so much so that inevitably the food and culture of each ‘New Australian’ becomes part of our national psyche, our national identity – why therefore do the media pander to the disruptive narrative of a few closed minded groups that assume they speak on behalf of us all, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Surely there comes a time when there is a realisation that we simply cannot continue to travel this road again and again. Racism should and cannot be an acceptable part of our identity as a nation. We cannot let the vocal minority of racist right wing section of our community threaten our racial and social harmony.

This August, during multicultural month, let me remind Queenslanders that we need to redouble our efforts and commitment to end racism in all sections of our community and it starts with you and me! Our diversity is our strength and we must work hard to keep it that way!

Author: Sharon Orapeleng is a community advocate, a mental health professional and Principal Consultant at Psyched Solutions.