No one ever likes to hear a story about a child being bullied. For some this involves being picked on for their appearance, while others are vilified over issues of race, religion or cultural background. For the children currently indefinitely detained in detention centres across the country, it means being called a terrorist. A term that they barely understand – nor should they have to.
I’ve heard stories of children being bullied to the point that they no longer want to go to school. They’re spat on as they walk across the playground and told they don’t belong here, they’re cheaters, queue jumpers and should go back where they came from. These taunts are dealt out by other children, but what’s crippling to realise is that they’re learned attitudes and a sad reflection of the increasingly negative rhetoric surrounding asylum seekers that seeks to exclude, harass and belittle.
What’s more these ideas are not based on facts, but an increasingly unstable wave of media sensationalism. I’ve read online articles about crime stories, where people have commented saying that boat people are destroying our country and their future generations will further dilute our nation. The person was suggesting that an asylum seeker was responsible for the crime – a thought based on no fact or information whatsoever. This feedback in itself shows the powerful aftermath of our government’s decision to refer to asylum seekers as ‘illegals’ a term so implanted in people’s minds that they’re willing to jump to conclusions without any thought of the consequences.
If asylum seekers are illegal, then they’re criminals. It’s easy to point the finger, to blame them, to pigeonhole them because no one expects you to empathise with a criminal.
For a country built on migration, that strives for inclusion, that boasts attitudes of acceptance, thats claims to celebrate multiculturalism, we’ve reached a disappointing reality. When new Australians who should be welcomed into our communities are instead publicly and blatantly discriminated against on a daily basis we can no longer make such claims.
The last federal election was fought and won using tactics of fear and division. Phrases like “Stop the boats” and “You will not be settled here” are examples of the increasingly harsh slogans and policies that ultimately led Tony Abbott to victory. As a result however, we are now seeing an increasing amount of racial discrimination and vilification.
Over the past year, 20 per cent of Australians have reported experiences of overt racism. This statistic shows this is not a matter of either flippancy or disembodied political philosophy, for these people racism is a reality they live daily. Advocacy organisation Welcome to Australia has volunteers who work with people all over the country – adults and children – who share the verbal and physical abuse that’s become an accepted part of their day-to-day life. For the most part, these people are experiencing amplified versions of what they’ve heard politicians and media commentators say. They’re reiterations of disseminated and subsequently learned attitudes, learned racism.
In an environment where people are experiencing the direct results of a toxic public conversation that validates racism and vilification, our new Attorney-General George Brandis believes his number one priority is changing the Racial Discrimination Act – which will allow hate speech and offensive racist language.