Yesterday the Sydney Morning Herald reported the results of an Australian study Challenging Racism: The Anti-Racism Research Project, that found that one in ten Australians are overtly racist, and one in ten do not agree with intercultural marriage. In NSW, the state with the most diversity, 46% of people thought that some ethnic groups should not be in the country, and singled out muslims and people of middle eastern origins. However young people (18 – 34) are less lilkely to hold this view – only 31% compared with 65% for over 65s.
It’s no surprise, in the curent political climate, that muslims and arabic people should be the focus of prejudice – the US has been leading the charge on this one at least since 9/11, and in Australia anglo perceptions of Lebanese in particular are fairly jaundiced. The Cronulla riots in 2005 probably represent the nadir of arabic-anglo intercultural relations in Australia. Since then, both communities involved have out a lot of effort into reconciliation, which makes these study results a bit more disappointing.
It was – kind of – a relief to see that Africans weren’t top of the We Don’t Like You List, after Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews’ verbal bashing of Sudanese around this time last year. I say ‘kind of’ because it’s not a list anyone should even be on. But I’m glad his inflammatory politicking didn’t pay off and nudge them (and his government!) into first place.
Placing the report findings in context, lead researcher Professor Kevin Dunn said that racism has waned over the years in Australia and that our figures were “low by international standards”. Oh, phew! He also pointed out that the NSW figures are probably higher because, with its greater cultural diversity, there is more potential for people to have negative cross-cutural encounters. This also means, of course, that there is also plenty of potential for positive encounters, and some people – the 64% who don’t think some people should go back where they came from, or even perhaps the 90% who are not “overtly racist” – are doing their best to build positive connections.
One such group is Australian African Network, of which I’m a member. Supporting intercultural relationships is something we all are passionate about because – especially if we have children – they’re a lifelong commitment.
I also want to give a plug to digital media organisation Information and Cultural Exchange who have a range of important projects which enable the voice of marginalised groups to be heard, such as Trouble Comes to Me, a short film about police harassment of arabic youth, and Changing Lives, a project engaging Arabic speaking young people with digital arts and empowering them to tell their stories. It’s through sharing stories, I firmly believe, that intercultural understanding can be built.
There are also interfaith groups such as Affinity Intercultural Foundation and Interfaith Sydney, which promote dialogue, shared services and collaboration. Check them out. I’m not a religious person so I haven’t looked much into the interfaith organisations yet, but I think we are travelling parallel streams on this issue. It’s pretty clear to me that religious intolerance and ignorance about other people’s faith are key to improving relations between ‘people of middle eastern appearance’ and just about everyone else.
Well, that’s about as much as I can say on the basis of a newspaper article, especially at this time of the morning. The report will be discussed at the 4Rs international conference – Rights, Reconciliation, Respect and Responsibility which starts today in Sydney, and the full findings, plus recommendations for improving intercultural relations, will be released early 2009.