Why we shouldn’t excuse “casual” racism: In the video below, an American entertainment reporter has confused Samuel L. Jackson with Laurence Fishburne. Rather than letting him off politely, Jackson riffs on him: “We don’t all look alike! We may be Black and famous, but we don’t all look alike!” The reporter tries to laugh it off but Jackson says, “Hell no!” After speaking about his role on Robocop, the reporter mentions the other cast members. Jackson says: “Make sure you don’t confuse them with those *other* White actors.” 

People explain moments like these away as a “slip of the tongue” on the one hand, or as “unintentional” or “casual racism” on the other hand. There’s no such thing. Racist exchanges, including getting one individual mixed up with another due to their racial appearance, belie the entrenchment of racial hierarchies. This isn’t about Jackson having similar facial traits reminiscent of Fishburne. They look nothing alike. 

White people are not mistaken for other White people simply on the basis of the colour of their skin.

Social decorum often demands that people of colour restrain their responses to racism. I’ve written about this before with respect to Muslim-Australians, who report feeling that they must control their anger when faced with racism so they don’t contribute to the stereotype of the “out of control Muslim.” Even Martin Luther King is supposedly not allowed to look angry about racial oppression. The reporter quips he needs a “spanking” to try to erase the significance of his mistake. Jackson does not simply use humour to mask how offended he feels; he makes it clear that this mix-up is not okay.   

Beneath this reporter’s faux pas lies something deeper. It’s the “you all look alike to me” attitude that perpetuates discrimination and violence against minorities. Jackson is not having any of it. As it should be.

In June 2013, I wrote about Norrie, a transgender woman from New South Wales (pictured above), who had successfully petitioned The New South Wales Court of Appeal to be given the right not to list her gender as either male or female. 
Predictably, this New South Wales decision had been appealed and it went to the High Court. This morning, they ruled that New South Wales law can indeed recognise non-specific genders other than male or female. 
See the legal document below.
High Court ruling: NSW Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages v Norrie
 
Photo and news: SBS News. High-res

In June 2013, I wrote about Norrie, a transgender woman from New South Wales (pictured above), who had successfully petitioned The New South Wales Court of Appeal to be given the right not to list her gender as either male or female. 

Predictably, this New South Wales decision had been appealed and it went to the High Court. This morning, they ruled that New South Wales law can indeed recognise non-specific genders other than male or female. 

See the legal document below.

High Court ruling: NSW Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages v Norrie

 

Photo and news: SBS News.

Since the 1990s Australian law has recognised sexual persecution as grounds for refugee asylum. Still, applicants are forced to go through a protracted process of proving their “gayness.” This excellent video features University of Sydney researcher and activist Senthorun Raj telling the story of Ravi, a Bangladeshi asylum seeker, who was forced not just to establish his sexuality, but to defend his commitment to his queerness. Ravi’s problem was that he was not “visibly” gay in the way the law expected. Yet refuge law on persecution is not simply about looks or physical persecution. Raj writes:

LGBTIQ persecution does not always involve physical violence. Persecution can manifest in persisting psychological abuse, coerced concealment, the inability to subsist, or systemic discrimination that is legitimated/ tolerated by the state. 

In the video, Ravi notes that while his first sexual encounter with a man was consensual it was not pleasurable. This is part of sexuality: we can be attracted to people and not necessarily always enjoy sex equally with everyone. Ravi had also had sex with a woman in the past. This undermined his case as a gay man in the eyes of the Refugee Tribunal. They did not believe that Ravi had “made up his mind” about being gay because of this prior experience.

As Raj points out, sexuality is fluid. Some people can be gay and yet still have had sexual experiences with the opposite gender, or they can gay and not have slept with many people, and you can be gay and not necessarily have enjoyed all your sexual encounters. This works the same for heterosexual people, and yet this somehow doesn’t invalidate their heterosexuality.

This is such an important video to explore the sociology of refugee law and the intersections between migration and queer theory. The story is illustrated wonderfully by Australian artist on Tumblr, Sam Wallman (penerasespaper).

Sudanese Australians use music to reflect on their war experiences. This group performed for the Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS) in Western Sydney. One performer says:

When you’re happy, you sing it out; when you’re sad, you sing it out… You talk to people, you make an announcement – anything at all, you make a song.

Another singer says:

It looks like fun, but it’s not fun… I’m not a young woman, I’m an old woman. I can’t come if it’s [just] fun. We want the people that doesn’t know what happened a long time in the past, and that is why we are here.

STARTTS Chief Executive says:

Dance brings people together, but also brings people together in a way that turns thoughts and feelings into action, and that’s tremendously therapeutic.

Source: SBS News.


Ancestors have to go back and be placed in the land, their mother, the earth, and that’s all Aboriginal people want.

- Head of the Kamilaroi Land Trust and veteran repatriation campaigner Bob Weatherall.
The remains of 26 Kamilaroi ancestors have been returned to their descendants in Brisbane. It’s estimated that thousands of remains of Indigenous Australians are held by institutions in Australia and around the world. Indigenous activists work tirelessly to recover their bodies.
Source: SBS News. High-res

Ancestors have to go back and be placed in the land, their mother, the earth, and that’s all Aboriginal people want.

- Head of the Kamilaroi Land Trust and veteran repatriation campaigner Bob Weatherall.

The remains of 26 Kamilaroi ancestors have been returned to their descendants in Brisbane. It’s estimated that thousands of remains of Indigenous Australians are held by institutions in Australia and around the world. Indigenous activists work tirelessly to recover their bodies.

Source: SBS News.

Sociology of Class & Australian Politics

I’ve been reflecting on some of Australia’s political uproars from last year. This one comes to mind because it makes explicit Australia’s enduring class struggle for power. The Palmer United Party became embroiled in a derogatory exchange about Australian voters who are supposedly “bogans.” An email was leaked where Dr Alex Douglas (former MD), a Queensland MP in the Palmer United Party, calls Australian voters “bogans” who live “empty lives” and survive on a “diet of grease.” He also says of bogans: this is a “world we see daily and quietly hope will disappear.” These words exemplify class derision. Bogan is a colloquial term used on working class and rural Australians who are seen to be uncouth or poorly educated.

After the media backlash to the email, Douglas and Palmer, both wealthy Queenslanders, have attempted to paint themselves as “bogans” - as average Australians. Palmer says of Douglas: ”He’s a bogan for voting for Campbell Newman.” Douglas says:

There’s a little bit [of bogan] in all of us… If we all realised there was a little bit of bogan in us and we weren’t so derogatory about them, we’d probably all just have a better life… [Referencing his love for the film The Castle] You like those people because they have a humanity, they’re real, they’re not fake.

Clive Palmer, a mining magnate and “self-proclaimed billionaire” also says he’s “spent most of [his] life as a bogan.” He says he loves eating chips, and that he used to eat McDonalds. Plus he wears ugg boots and goes four-wheel driving. That’s the most striking evidence of bogan credentials you’ll ever see right there.

Palmer also evokes his party’s alliance with the Motoring Enthusiasts Party (MEP) as further proof of his bogan kudos. He even jokes about the MEP’s infamous video where he throws kangarro poo. He says: “what’s so insulting about that? It’s a lot of fun.” What a larrikin! Palmer just like Real People who Fling Faeces for Fun!

Palmer was elected as the member for Fairfax after a drawn out voting count. He has run into ongoing criticism for his lack of knowledge of Australian policies and his seeming disinterest in political processes. He sent a staff member instead of showing up to his first Parliament House induction briefing.

Australia is uncomfortable with class discussions. Everyone thinks they belong to the middle class, but there is still a cultural soft sport for the “Aussie battler;” a working-class ideal of the hard-working, struggling farmer or struggling family who just wants a “fair go.” Palmer has evoked these ideas by appealing to the “bogan” persona. 

Australian sociologists are also uncomfortable with diverging from neo-Marxist analyses of the economy. We collectively prefer to largely critique economic rationalism, but we give little empirical attention to the ways in which markets are a “cultural creation.”

Palmer’s party runs on a platform of redistribution of wealth that appealed to working class Australians in rural regions. In fact, his party opposes carbon tax that would impact on the mining industry in which he is personally invested. 

Source of quotes: The Age.

Day of Mourning - Australia Hall, Sydney, 1938. Protest of 150 years of colonialism. 

On 26 January [1938], as Australia celebrates the 150th anniversary of the landing of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove, Indigenous Australians attend a Day of Mourning and Protest in Sydney. The mourners wait for the sesquicentenary procession to pass, then march in silent protest from the Sydney Town Hall to an Australian Aborigines Conference at the Australian Hall. The Australian Aborigines’ League and Aborigines Progressive Association of New South Wales use the meeting to speak out about the denial of civil rights for Indigenous Australians. The protest is the culmination of years of campaigning by Aboriginal leaders including William Ferguson, William Cooper and John Patten. Patten and Ferguson circulate a pamphlet, Aborigines Claim Citizen Rights.

Top photo via Indigenous Rights. Document and quote via Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House.

Share the Spirit Festival, Celebrating Survival Day #Melbourne, #Australia #Indigenous (at Treasury Gardens)

Inspiration porn is an image of a person with a disability, often a kid, doing something completely ordinary - like playing, or talking, or running, or drawing a picture, or hitting a tennis ball - carrying a caption like “your excuse is invalid” or “before you quit, try”… 

Let me be clear about the intent of this inspiration porn; it’s there so that non-disabled people can put their worries into perspective. So they can go, “Oh well if that kid who doesn’t have any legs can smile while he’s having an awesome time, I should never, EVER feel bad about my life”. It’s there so that non-disabled people can look at us and think “well, it could be worse… I could be that person”.

In this way, these modified images exceptionalise and objectify those of us they claim to represent. It’s no coincidence that these genuinely adorable disabled kids in these images are never named: it doesn’t matter what their names are, they’re just there as objects of inspiration.

But using these images as feel-good tools, as “inspiration”, is based on an assumption that the people in them have terrible lives, and that it takes some extra kind of pluck or courage to live them.

For many of us, that is just not true…

Inspiration porn shames people with disabilities. It says that if we fail to be happy, to smile and to live lives that make those around us feel good, it’s because we’re not trying hard enough. Our attitude is just not positive enough. It’s our fault. Not to mention what it means for people whose disabilities are not visible, like people with chronic or mental illness, who often battle the assumption that it’s all about attitude. And we’re not allowed to be angry and upset, because then we’d be “bad” disabled people. We wouldn’t be doing our very best to “overcome” our disabilities.

I suppose it doesn’t matter what inspiration porn says to us as people with disabilities. It’s not actually about us. Disability is complex. You can’t sum it up in a cute picture with a heart-warming quote.

So next time you’re tempted to share that picture of an adorable kid with a disability to make your Facebook friends feel good, just take a second to consider why you’re really clicking that button.

- Stella Young, editor of Ramp Up, provides an excellent critique of able-bodied social media discourses of disability. Her analysis also represents a thoughtful discussion of social privilege. Read the whole article on the ABC.

Gen Y, Literary Elitism & “Serious Culture”

Melbourne private school teacher and literary curmudgeon Christopher Bantick argues that Gen Y don’t understand “serious” Australian culture. Writing for The Age, Bantick believes that Gen Y’s engagement with popular culture over the classics will lead our nation to decline:

The vanity that is lauded as virtue pervades the culture to a corrosive extent. Young people have lost the capacity to actually know when something is art, and worthy. Instead, they hang on every word of their latest celeb mouthing inanities….

So who’s at fault? Schools need to do more about bringing a little elitism back into the awareness of culture. High culture: fine art, opera, serious drama and music that requires patience and understanding needs to be embedded into the curriculum.

In Australia, elitism is a dirty word. But maybe our jingoistic egalitarianism has gone too far with the sense of cultural equity. Who knows what a sonnet is, a partita, a motet, or who was Goethe or Christopher Marlowe? As for ballet, forget it. There are many other examples.

Bantick celebrates the fact that he teaches “classically demanding literature” at a private school, adding that his course is “elite, consciously so.”

Classical texts are worthy subjects of education for sure. Yet Bantick seems to be wilfully ignorant of the sociology of Australia’s education system. The arts that he celebrates are important, but no less so than newer and alternative modes of literature and art. Bantick gives an off-hand comment that most ballet, opera and theatre performances are less expensive than a Rolling Stones concert. This is totally ignorant of the fact that not all Australians can afford Rolling Stones concerts, let alone young kids from poor or working class backgrounds.

Australian sociologist Raewyn Connell and colleagues have shown the various ways in which the education system is already set up to favour the elite interests of the ruling class. Without a trace of irony, Bantick is claiming to support a better education system to maintain Australian culture, without specifying what this means: largely White, upper class, Anglo-Australian culture. Part of the way in which wealth is maintained is through elite cultural activities that are out of reach for the average, working-class Australian child.

Should the classical arts be made more available to Australian youth? Yes! Should this be at the expense and ridicule of other artistic and literary expressions? No!

Bantick’s elitist rant completely disregards that vapid celebrity culture is not a youth monolith. Adults also participate in this form of entertainment. Yet celebrity culture is not the only type of popular culture that youth participate in and create. Young Indigenous Australians and migrant-Australians from non-English speaking backgrounds do not see themselves in mainstream Australian culture. They find ingenious ways to remix culture, using technology and hybrid expressions of Australian and their minority identities. There are comics, blogs, vlogs, street art, zines and various other elements to youth culture that speak to marginalised youth who currently have no access to nor representation within mainstream culture.

Fellow teacher and writer Craig Hildebrand-Burke argues against Bantick. In a passionate defence of Gen Y’s engagement with literary texts, Hildebrand-Burke sees culture as a fluid and meaningful process.

This rigid, snobbish attitude toward education is damaging our future generations through the stagnancy of curriculum authorities, unable to distinguish the differences and merits between highbrow and lowbrow, new and old. Teachers like Christopher Bantick are indicators that too much of education is populated by those afraid and dismissive of the young and resistant to change. As a new school year begins, we cannot afford to let education in Australia slide back into archaic elitism, nor allow our children be castigated as moronic and uncultured by those charged with the duty to foster and educate the young.

Hildebrand-Burke’s article is thoughtful and inspired. Read it in full on SBS News.


Yes, the Pope influences millions of Catholics. And yes, he should be praised for making a change, if and when he actually makes that change.
This is not that time. He did not change the doctrine, he has not changed his stance on supporting the Church’s teachings, and he is excommunicating a pro-gay Australian priest for supporting women in becoming ordained. And now, since The Advocate award, it has been reported that he is ‘shocked’ by the thought of civil unions and gay adoption - news that isn’t shocking to me at all.
The Advocate and a lot of progressives have lauded Pope Francis for not following his predecessors by directly attacking queer people in speeches, and for two vague statements that sound suspiciously like a PR exercise to win over some more left-wing types (and it totally worked! Good plan Ocean’s eHeaven).
But this is setting the bar far too low. We deserve better. The leader of an organisation that has been responsible for generations of systemic homophobia and transphobia shouldn’t be showered with accolades simply for making a semi-humane comment about queer people. (My emphasis)

Australian writer-comedian Rebecca Shaw (who identifies as lesbian) argues we need to look at the actual changes of the Catholic Church rather than simply applauding empty platitudes by the Pope. So far, the Church remains negligent on upholding the human rights of LGBTQI people. The article is worth reading in full on SBS News. 
Photo: Perhaps Magazine via Flickr. High-res

Yes, the Pope influences millions of Catholics. And yes, he should be praised for making a change, if and when he actually makes that change.

This is not that time. He did not change the doctrine, he has not changed his stance on supporting the Church’s teachings, and he is excommunicating a pro-gay Australian priest for supporting women in becoming ordained. And now, since The Advocate award, it has been reported that he is ‘shocked’ by the thought of civil unions and gay adoption - news that isn’t shocking to me at all.

The Advocate and a lot of progressives have lauded Pope Francis for not following his predecessors by directly attacking queer people in speeches, and for two vague statements that sound suspiciously like a PR exercise to win over some more left-wing types (and it totally worked! Good plan Ocean’s eHeaven).

But this is setting the bar far too low. We deserve better. The leader of an organisation that has been responsible for generations of systemic homophobia and transphobia shouldn’t be showered with accolades simply for making a semi-humane comment about queer people. (My emphasis)

Australian writer-comedian Rebecca Shaw (who identifies as lesbian) argues we need to look at the actual changes of the Catholic Church rather than simply applauding empty platitudes by the Pope. So far, the Church remains negligent on upholding the human rights of LGBTQI people. The article is worth reading in full on SBS News. 

Photo: Perhaps Magazine via Flickr.