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Racism In Australia

Date submitted: 5th June 2017

Racism is the heart of the divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. It affects most facets of daily life and culture. Racism can be exemplified through three key areas: governmental laws, regulations and policies; the portrayal of Indigenous culture in the media, and; education. While these three areas are not the only parts of life affected by and affecting racism, they provide clear cut examples of the influence of racism in Australia, both past and present. The influence of racism intertwines through each area so while they are distinct, they meet the common end of furthering racism.

The influence of racism extends to laws and regulations passed by all levels of Australian government, past and present. Racism has been a continuing feature of government policy since colonisation insofar as these laws and policies can contradict with each other in pursuit of persecution over Indigenous people (Phillips, 2015). Such laws and policies include the Constitution [1901], the White Australia Policy [1947], and even the Racial Discrimination Act [1975]. The Racial Discrimination Act is contradicted by the Northern Territory Emergency Response [2008] which tightens controls over Indigenous health care even though multiple studies show health and well-being is increasing in the Northern Territory. Furthermore, government policies such as Close The Gap [2008] are endemic to this ideological heritage which seeks to depersonalise Indigenous peoples, families, and communities through statistic-based laws and policies (Pholi, Black & Richards, 2009). Through such laws and policies, which Close The Gap epitomises, Australian governments control the Indigenous way of life without the input of an Indigenous voice. This control is institutionalised racism. Without an Indigenous voice, institutionalised racism will continue into Australia's future. Moreover, no government has yet acknowledged and apologised for the traumas and repercussions of child sexual abuse through institutionalised racism (McGlade, 2012), although some governments have seen this abuse as a potential issue. While Indigenous child sexual abuse is currently focused on by the federal Children's Commissioner, the Commissioner makes no recommendations for Indigenous families and communities to care for Indigenous children. This inadequate conclusion is exemplified by Johns (2008, p.66) when he says, "[t]he recent struggle to save the Aborigine has really been a struggle to save the white man's conception of the Aborigine." Thus laws and policies draw on neither Indigenous viewpoints and voices nor statistically truthful data, but on engrained institutionalised racism which will continue the cycle of racist opinion contributing to racist laws contributing to racist opinion. The cycle does not welcome or listen to the Indigenous people which it supposedly helps. The non-Indigenous idealisation of Indigenous peoples has affected every Indigenous family from invasion to present day, through the taking of children from the families and communities where they belong (Read, 1996). The taking of these Indigenous children, also called the Stolen Generations, ostracises these children and their children from not only family and community, but also their Indigenous culture and way of life. The ostracising of Indigenous people was and is seen as the only way for Indigenous people to succeed in life, as the non-Indigenous viewpoint could see no other feasible way; this is the heart of institutionalised racism. Every aforementioned law was designed around the precept of institutionalised racism, and every law in the future with regard to Indigenous peoples will continue utilising this viewpoint unless Indigenous voices and Indigenous viewpoints are the basis. Until Indigenous people are heard, racism will continue gaining traction from laws and regulations passed by all levels of Australian government.

The racist portrayal of Indigenous peoples is furthered through all forms of media. Indigenous media and literature defines Indigenous identity (Heiss, 2012). Through sharing stories about culture and communities past and present, the Indigenous way of life should become well known throughout Australia. However, Banerjee and Osuri (2000, p.279-280) say that the lens through which these stories are viewed will change the meaning behind them. For example, the story of the First Fleet might foster pride in a non-Indigenous person while inducing detachment and inadequacy in an Indigenous person. Media tends towards the influence of a single lens and a single conclusion in a similar way to a university essay choosing topics, sources, and viewpoints to reach a conclusion. Although stories can have multiple viewpoints, only the victor's viewpoint is usually told by media and passed down through generations. Conversely, Indigenous media is failing because of a lack of government funding (Glow & Johansen, 2009). Waning under lack of funding, Indigenous art, theatre, and storytelling has Indigenous people turning away to pursue monetary support for other health and well-being matters instead. Non-Indigenous media will continue to not represent Indigenous media for as long as there is no support for Indigenous contributors. Moreover, Dodson (2012, p.9) says that personal experiences are defined by representation. Since Indigenous representation is mostly non-Indigenous or non-existent, a unique form of racism is promulgated wherein Indigenous peoples themselves begin believing the racist ideals of non-Indigenous peoples. An example of self racism was shown in the week four lecture: coloured American children were asked to identify certain positive and negative characteristics of one white doll and one coloured doll; all coloured children said that the doll coloured like them was the one with negative characteristics. Without adequate representation across all media, Indigenous peoples are on the receiving end of racism by omission of all positive traits and characteristics and degradation through unshared Indigenous viewpoints and voices. Furthermore, approaches to mainstream media have, "functioned mainly to maintain the status quo by portraying these [sociocultural minority] groups as a threat to the dominant order" (Banerjee & Osuri, 2000, p.267). Since the Indigenous population is approximately three percent of the overall Australian population (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013), Indigenous peoples can be considered a minority. Mainstream media will continue portraying and representing the majority, non-Indigenous standpoint and back up what the majority wants to hear. Racism in Australian media portrays Indigenous peoples with what the non-Indigenous majority wants to hear: selfish non-Indigenous racism believing non-Indigenous peoples know what is best for Indigenous peoples better than Indigenous peoples. This cycle is how all forms of media in Australia contribute to the racism against Indigenous peoples.

Racism against Indigenous peoples is present in educational spheres. Racism against Indigenous peoples has existed through ostracisation in schools in most of recent history (Craven, 1999). Ostracisation is exemplified through the implementation of Missions [1800s-1900s], the White Australia Policy [1947] and the Northern Territory Emergency Response [2008]. These policies emerged from popular opinion, and popular opinion emerged from these policies; this feedback loop caused decades of educational decline and relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples seen through both Indigenous and non-Indigenous viewpoints. Furthermore, a New South Wales Teachers' Federation paper (2010) released regarding Indigenous education recommended legislative action be the first step towards reconciliation. The recommendation said the legislation should be based upon analysis of closing educational caps, the inclusion of Indigenous parliamentary representatives, and providing school-readiness for Indigenous children. While these actions may seem well intentioned, the underlying sentiment suggests assimilating Indigenous peoples into a non-Indigenous culture. This desire prohibits Indigenous voices from contributing to the discussion, moreover starting and controlling the discussion as Indigenous peoples should. Contrarily, many educational reforms have utilised the one size fits all paradigm without consultation-based contextualisation for and with each community (Purdie, Milgate & Bell, 2011). One size fit all policies have been implemented through recent history; although with Indigenous consultation, recommendation, and basis, education of Indigenous and non-Indigenous children alike will improve. However, contextual reform is yet to be fully realised: racism still affects educational reform. The Federal government's Close The Gap [2008] initiative targets early childhood and schooling as two of seven focal points (Pholi, et al., 2009). Close The Gap does not relate to Indigenous communities as Purdie et al. suggests because it utilises a one size fits all statistical mould. Instead, Close The Gap epitomises all failed educational initiatives of the past 250 years. The initiative views the supposed Indigenous to non-Indigenous gap as the problem over the non-Indigenous ignorance. Non-Indigenous peoples still have a maligned view of Indigenous cultures and educational techniques without the desire for understanding Indigenous culture or history. Additionally, social and collective memory dictates present biases through detaching memory from history, which dictates the definition of truth (Banerjee & Osuri, 2000). History is written by the survivors, the majority, and the retainers of power. History is then taught to future generations from the retainers of power's viewpoint. Thus history, legislation, education, and each underlying rhetoric is influenced by the the racist viewpoint of non-Indigenous people. Biased history is taught to Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike. This is how racism is present in educational spheres.

Racism is multifaceted insofar as intertwining many areas of life under its veil. Governmental policy throughout recent history (Phillips, 2015) affects Indigenous ostracisation in education (Craven, 1999). This is evident through the feedback loop created by government legislation and taught popular opinion. Throughout recent history, no government policy tended towards true understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Consequently, governmental policy stole Indigenous children from their communities through misinformation (Read, 1996) and Indigenous culture and literature from all Indigenous people through lack of funding and support (Glow & Johansen, 2009). The non-Indigenous majority feels superior and in control over minorities, so anything not a part of non-Indigenous culture is erased or amalgamated under the banner of assimilation. Furthermore, personal experiences are defined by representation. Indigenous representation is largely non-Indigenous or non-existent (Dodson, 2012) and the biases of history taught to future generations dictate what supposed truth is (Banerjee & Osuri, 2000). If people are told something enough, people tend to believe it, even without reason. So too with history: if non- Indigenous ways of life are promulgated as the only way, then Indigenous cultures will disappear. While Indigenous literature can define Indigenous identity (Heiss, 2012), saving Indigenous culture to date was mainly influenced by non-Indigenous perception of Indigenous peoples (Johns, 2008). At its roots, racism is how context and history are taught and shared. Government reforms and public opinion were built upon the false notion that non-Indigenous people were better than Indigenous people since Indigenous people did not meet non-Indigenous standards or conform to non-Indigenous ways. Repetition of these falsehoods provoked people to believe, institutionalise, legislate, and teach them as truth. This false historical viewpoint can be viewed as the root of all racism as it melds together most facets of Australian life.

History influences racism in all its forms. Through government policy spanning 250 years which stole children from their families, cultures, and communities to legislating what an Indigenous person can and cannot do, racism is institutionalised and legislated to the core of Australian life. Through this institutionalised viewpoint of Indigenous cultures, the media viewpoint of anything Indigenous is constrained by non-Indigenous assumptions and preconceptions of what Indigenous cultures should be. Both governmental and popular viewpoints contribute to the education of future generations about Indigenous people, communities and cultures. The history of racism in Australia defines racism in all its forms today, and will continue to do so unless non-Indigenous precepts are rescinded.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, (2013). Estimates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, June 2011. Retrived from the Australian Bureau of Statistics website.
Banerjee, S.B. & Osuri, G., (2000). Silence of the media: whiting out aboriginality in making news and making history. Media, Culture & Society, 22(3), 263-284.
Craven, R., (1999). Teaching Aboriginal studies: a practical resource for primary and secondary teaching. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin.
Dodson, M., (2012). The wentworth lecture, the end in the beginning: re(de)fining aboriginality. Australian Aboriginal Studies, 1, 2-13.
Glow, H. & Johanson, K., (2009). 'Your genre is black': indigenous performing arts and policy. Strawberry Hills: Currency House Inc.
Heiss, A., (2012). Am I black enough for you? North Sydney: Random House.
Johns, G. (2008). The Northern Territory Intervention in Aboriginal affairs: wicked problem or wicked policy? Agenda: A Journal of Policy Analysis and Reform, 65-84.
McGlade, H., (2012). Our Greatest Challenge: Aboriginal Children and Human Rights. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.
NSW Teachers' Federation, (2010). Aboriginal education: 25 years approach: the way forward. Retrieved from the New South Wales Teachers' Federation website.
Phillips, G.L., (2015). Dancing with power: Aboriginal health, cultural safety and medical education. (Doctoral thesis, Monash University) Retrieved from the Monash University website.
Pholi, K., Black, D., & Richards, C., (2009). Is 'close the gap' a useful approach to improving the health and wellbeing of indigenous australians?. Australian Review of Public Affairs, 9(2), 1-13.
Purdie, N., Milgate, G., & Bell, H.R., (2011). Two way teaching and learning: Toward Culturally Reflective and Relevant Education. Camberwell: ACER Press.
Read, P., (1998). The return of the stolen generation. In R. Nile (Ed.), Who will look after the children? (pp.8-19). St Lucia: University of Queensland Press.

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