You can’t ask that – questions about race, culture and stereotypes in Australia
The violent attacks targeting Muslims in Christchurch last Friday are a reminder of the need to continually fight against extreme racist views, according to University of Sydney experts. Academics from the University of Sydney discussed steps we need to take to combat racism and make Australia a more inclusive country.
- Professor Tim Soutphommasane – Strong leadership on race and multiculturalism needed
- Professor Lisa Jackson Pulver – Change the constitution
- Professor Duncan Ivison – Multiculturalism is a public ideal
- Associate Professor Dimitria Groutsis – Define, measure, monitor and report on cultural diversity
Professor Tim Soutphommasane, School of Social and Political Sciences, author of ‘On Hate’ and former Race Discrimination Commissioner:
Australian multiculturalism is a success story, for the most part. There is broad acceptance of diversity, and immigrants to this country integrate into society extremely well.
But the success story isn’t complete. There remains a need to combat hate speech and racist extremism. Recent events in Christchurch remind us that there’s a connection between hate speech and violence.
We need strong leadership on race and multiculturalism. Too often, politicians flirt with dog-whistling and xenophobia, because they believe there’s an electoral advantage to be gained.
It hasn’t helped that some politicians wish to see weaker race hate speech laws in Australia, rather than maintaining and strengthening them. Sections of our media can also do a poor job in reporting and commenting on race issues.
Having more diverse faces and voices in politics and media would make an enormous difference. This isn’t about celebrating diversity for diversity’s sake. It’s about ensuring our institutions better reflect who we are. And it’s about getting the best from our society.
Professor Lisa Jackson Pulver, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services):
As an Australian society we haven’t had a true conversation about what it is to be Australian, it’s still focused on the 26th of January as a colonisation or invasion story. We haven’t had that discussion about who we are as a nation, bravely, without the awful oppositional argument that it always becomes.
When the constitution was created in 1901, it was framed around white Australia and disregarded Aboriginal people, anyone of colour and women. It was a very narrow document. That is a constitution that is not fit for purpose anymore.
We are a nation that is strong enough and evolved enough to have a conversation about our constitution, about who we are in practice and where we belong in this part of the world. It’s time now for us to talk about how we can revise the constitution significantly or how do we create a new constitution that better reflects who we are today.
Professor Duncan Ivison, Professor of Political Philosophy with a research interest in multiculturalism:
It’s important that we understand multiculturalism as a public ideal – not just something we use to celebrate diversity, however valuable that is. We need to connect our commitment to multiculturalism to some of the foundational concepts underlying liberal democracy – to human rights, justice and equality, as well the struggle against racial discrimination.
Critics of multiculturalism often suggest that it’s somehow at odds with our liberal values. But that’s wrong. It’s a vital expression of them.
As a public ideal, multiculturalism includes a bundle of rights, but also a set of obligations. In these past few days, as the horror of Christchurch has sunk in, we have been reminded of the extent to which our most important public ideals are at the same time also very fragile – they are only as strong as our willingness to act on them over the long term.
Multiculturalism has, at its heart, a deep commitment to equality and respect for human dignity. That means we have a duty to call out racial vilification, hate speech and racist extremism whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head – not only when it’s convenient, or easy, or outside of the electoral cycle. But always.
Associate Professor Dimitria Groutsis from the Business School and a leading scholar in cultural diversity in the business context:
After almost five decades of multiculturalism we still don’t have clarity around what cultural diversity is. That is, we don’t know the landscape of our society and what our organisations look like.
To address this gap, an important starting point is to define, measure, monitor and report on cultural diversity. Indeed, counting culture presents a watershed moment for understanding our multicultural society and our multicultural labour market.
While census data provides us with a snapshot and a great benchmarking tool, it comes with limitations as you are largely defined by your ancestry. You are defined by the country in which you are born or the country in which your parents are born, and languages spoken. That’s very limiting because we know people are also defined by the way other people view them.
Cultural background is as much about how a census data point defines you as it is about the way someone else defines you, and as such how you identify. This more complex way of viewing cultural diversity includes your physical appearance, accent, dress, languages spoken, name and ethno-religious affiliation or, a combination of these factors.
Illustrating this complexity is the example of a fourth-generation Australian woman who noted that she is constantly asked where she is from, as she has an Asian cultural background. She identifies as culturally diverse even though the statistics don’t capture her as such. We have a wonderful opportunity to develop more nuanced understanding of what cultural diversity is within an Australian cultural context. It’s up to the individual as to how they identify and how they see themselves, as well as how others see them.
Until we take up the challenge to count culture in a meaningful and respectful way, we will remain in the dark about how and whether or not we are capitalising on cultural diversity; which groups are excluded from access to opportunities; and how we can address the lack of cultural diversity in the senior leadership suite of our government, non-government and corporate institutions.