RMIT Orientation Carnivale - Fighting Racism
By Oziem Acik (Welfare and Education Officer/City)
As a working class migrant womyn in higher education I question why sometimes I'm the only tanned, dark haired womyn in the classroom. As a worker I question why those higher up are always white, Anglo-saxon and mostly men. Watching TV I don't understand how I'm meant to relate to stories of American, British or Anglo-saxon Australian culture that I'll never be part of. Looking through magazines I don't comprehend how beauty can be equated with whiteness. Living in this country I feel ashamed that I have easy access to water, electricity and medicare when hundreds of indigenous communities go without. Being in this geographical location of the world I question why I'm privileged to have food on my table while millions of people in the third world starve to death.
Only by questioning the power and wealth in our society can I make sense of these divisions and hierarchies of oppression. The way I see it if we were to draw a social pyramid of wealth and power in our society the top would be white and the base black. Concurrently class and gender would further create division in the pyramid. The most obvious feature that would come across from the pyramid would be the fact that wealth and power in our society is concentrated in the hands of a minority, mostly white men who own the means of production. The rest of us fight for the scraps we can get from this system. Racism is one of the divisions we use to fight amongst each other. It is not surprising that racism escalates in tough economic climates and coincides with attacks on workers and the oppressed. It particularly works in conjunction with capitalism, by maintaining the status quo, defending and rationalising inequities, upholding the exploitation, oppression and marginalisation of others. It's easier for capitalists to make profits and exploit workers when we compete with one another, cheapen our labour, accept appalling conditions and have no collective organisations. Socially constructed racial divisions separate us and are ambiguous classifications, sometimes defined by a persons skin colour, country of origin, descent or even religious affiliation.
These divisions are treated as a natural order, biological and an immediate given. There isn't however anything natural about them, what constitutes a race and difference is endlessly changing according to specific groups needs. As one writer points out, 'The discourse of race developed through the racialisation of social and class differences, through the attribution of racial inferiority to lower orders of society - the 'dangerous classes'. Such attribution of inferiority came not from some imputed need to posit an image of self in opposition to an
Other, but as a way of making sense of social differences", (Malik K. 1996, 225).
Some argue that racism is the act of a few ignorant and prejudiced people. They suggest that if only people would accept each other's cultural diversity, problems of racism would somehow disappear off the face of the planet. They argue that people only need to be educated to overcome their racism. Such reasoning implicates racism to an individual level rather than critically assessing the ways in which racism is encouraged and upheld systematically within our society. Furthermore, it is no coincidence that racist beliefs are shared amongst larger groupings.
To emphasise the irrationality of racism people ignore the ways that it provides easy justifications for governments and people of privilege to rationalise preserving inequities. It is no coincidence that indigenous people, migrants and people from non-English speaking backgrounds are also the most socially and economically disadvantaged. These groups are disadvantaged not through some sort of inherent failure as some would have us believe but because of the disadvantage which is reproduced and cultivated in our society's racist systematic processes.
So what are these racist systematic processes that I keep referring to? In our society it is the fact that most countries are founded upon the genocide and land grab of indigenous people. It is entrenched in the way resources are unevenly shared out in countries and between them. It is the fact that one side of the world dies of poverty and hunger while the other throws out supplies of crops so as not to overinflate the market and cheapen the produce. The US dumps enough grain each year to feed the Third World for three years. Mass starvation is not a by-product of insufficient resources but is due to a system which puts private profit generation over human life. It is also the fact that Trans National Companies treat third-world workers as modern day slaves, and the way in which such injustices are promoted as 'progress'. It is the way in which wars and conflict are racialised to the extent that people ignore the real reasons like power, control, profits that war generates and oil.
In Australia it is the way in which Aborigines and Torres Strait Islander people have had their land invaded, livelihood stripped, clans destroyed by disease, starvation and deliberate extermination, children stolen, and labour exploited. Today they still suffer as the worst off section of Australian society with little access to healthcare, adequate housing, amenities (including water, sewerage, electricity) and education. They also have the highest rate of incarceration and unemployment. Recent government attacks have meant $400M cuts to ATSIC (meaning the disappearance of support networks for indigenous people and communities), changes to the Native Title Act (which has amounted to a modern day land grab) and cuts and changes to Abstudy (shutting out indigenous people from education).
It is also racist government policies that restrict living allowances to migrants, detain and imprison refugees, charge permanent and international students costly fees for education, blame immigration for unemployment, slash support to migrants in Australia and continue to scapegoat migrants in times of economic downturn. It is the way in which indigenous and migrant people are shut out of our education system and the fact that our schools continue to teach and glorify the British imperial version of Australia whilst other cultures and ways of thinking are ignored and if included are touched on the surface as interesting after thoughts. It's racist media that consistently holds on to Anglo-Australian icons, images and culture while stereotyping or completely ignoring the rest of the population.
So how do we bring about change? Rather than fight and compete amongst ourselves and aid in the oppression of others we need to look at the real causes of racism and to identify who really benefits from these divisions. We need to make a political commitment to fight racism whether it be at TAFE, Uni, at the workpiace or on the streets. Finally we need to unite and smash a system that seeks to divide, exploit and oppress us. Fighting racism means fighting the whole system.
As students at RMIT we need to recognise that racism is alive and well in this institution and that students from non-anglo-saxon backgrounds will face racist taunts, jeers and attacks from fellow students and from staff. It is important that we fight and challenge such attacks by taking responsibility to support and activate each other to speak out and remove racism from the University. If you are subject to racism or are aware of racist problem on campus contact the RMIT Student Union, 9660 2055 (City)y 9660 4769 (TAFE), 9925 7226 (Bundoora). You can also get involved in the Students Campaign Against Racism collective, contact me (Oziem Acik- Welfare and Education Officer) on 9925 3706.
We all have a right to be safe from racist abuse on campus and in society.
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