Tabi on racial matters – Happy Harmony Day

| March 21, 2022

Do you know much about the 21st of March and what it signifies? What about why is it commemorated around the world? Well, if you live in Australia, you will know this day as Harmony Day. Because it is how we, Australians mark the day and celebrate it with a burst of orange colour. Australia calls anti-racism work as cross-cultural competencies. Why is Australia tone-deaf when it comes to racism?

But around the world, 21st of March is known as The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The History of this day dates to 1960s and at a township of Sharpeville in South Africa. On this Day, protestors in Sharpeville gathered to voice their concerns about the Apartheid and the inequitable treatment of Black people in the country.

Police began their brutality and shot at innocent people in a peaceful protest who were demanding freedom from marginalisation, freedom to live in their own country without being subjected to second class citizenship and freedom from Apartheid itself. But the guns continued and 69 people were killed.

The International community condemned the incident and established a Commemorative Day on the 21st of March as a remembrance of what happened in Sharpeville, South Africa and to inspire people all over the world to commitment to fighting racism.

Why is Australia tone-deaf on racism?

In Australia, 21st March is simply celebrated as Harmony Day with no real acknowledgement or reference to the atrocities of racism associated to the day.

It is true we live in a Multicultural Society, as such community cohesion is important for the overall Harmony, we all aspire to. However, when the history of the 21st of March and other atrocities from Australia and around the world are largely left out of the conversation it appears that Australia does not want to talk about racism or deal with racism in any constructive way.

The recent research by the Scanlan Foundation on Social Cohesion confirmed that over 80% of Australians believe there is a lot of racism in this country. In March 2021, the Australian Human Rights Commission announced plans to develop a National Anti-racism Strategy to deal with racism in this country.

Our successful Multicultural story must also include dealing with racism by firstly acknowledging its pervasive nature in Australia.

Those who are from the racialised group know there is a lot of racism, so pretending it is not a problem here is missing the point and the opportunity to work together to stop racism from impacting in our lives. We have seen in many countries racism escalating into severe tensions.

In Australia racism is woefully present in many forms. From interpersonal street slurs and verbal assaults especially during the start of Covid-19 to more serious Institutional and Systemic Racism which routinely produces negative outcomes for First Nation Peoples, Black people, and other marginalised groups.

One example of institutional racism can be seen amongst our First Nation Peoples when, although they make up around 3% of the general population, they make up over 23% of the prison population.

Recent research by Debbie Bargallie drawn on experiences of Indigenous Australians in the Public Service. Dr Bargallie concluded that Indigenous employees “have paid, and continue to pay, a high price for racism”. Her findings confirmed they were marginalised and ignored and were twice as more likely to leave Public Service all together due to racism.

The impact of racism on those on the receiving end is real, pervasive, and damaging on Health, Well-being, and the inability to participate fully in society. Racism also costs billions of dollars on the Australian economy, researchers say it is around $37 billion per year.

Australia must deal with racism

Many questions remain unanswered about the continuation of scant information about racism including the avoidance to explain the true meaning behind 21st of March.

As we celebrate Harmony Day this year, I urge you to reflect on all that we now know about the destruction that has come associated with racism, in Australia and Globally, and what 21st of March really means.

Enough is Enough with racism in this Country. We must take leadership and not shy away from naming the elephant in the room, racism and its debilitating impacts on so many fellow Australians.

How can we possibly get rid of racism in our systems and society when we don’t allow it to be talked about?

Seeing how racism is destroying communities here in Australia, some local communities are taking the issue in their own hands to tackle racism. The Inner West Council, in collaboration with Inner West Multicultural Network, and Addison Rd Community Development Centre, in consultation with the community, the idea of  #RacismNOTWelcome was born. To make a public stand against racism in this region and subsequently the nation.

But we’ve seen areas where people are  opposing to having the signs as if the mere signage or the utterance of the word racism is more damaging than those of whom who continue to bear the brunt of racism Every day.

Putting up signs doesn’t automatically stop racism in society, but it does force us to have a conversation about racism, something that continues to affect so many of us, yet it is inadequately talked about, studied, or understood.

To acknowledge the importance of 21st March, as The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and not simply a Harmony Day is a good start to normalise having conversations about it, to come up with clever ideas through discussions in how to dismantle and defeat racism.

And together, racism can be eliminated so communities can experience true Harmony.