As an engineer, author, presenter, activist and Queensland Young Australian of the Year, Yassmin Abdel-Magied hoped she could effect lasting change. That if she was, as she wrote in Teen Vogue this week, a “model minority”, she could help to shift perceptions and dismantle prejudices.
“I thought if I were good enough, my example would make people see that their assumptions about Muslims and people of colour were wrong. Once they got to know me, they would change their behaviour and fix their biases, I thought,” Abdel-Magied wrote in the op-ed.
“Unfortunately, the events of the past few months have taught me otherwise.”
The 26-year-old Sudanese-born Australian moved to London in August following a period of intense scrutiny, criticism and even outright hatred over a message she tweeted on ANZAC Day that read, “Lest. We. Forget. (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine…)”.
The uproar over this perceived display of disrespect rolled easily off the back of what she had copped for claiming Islam to be “the most feminist religion” during an appearance on Q&A in February.
In the piece for the youth-oriented American magazine, Abdel-Magied put the backlash in the context of Australia’s “deeply racist history”. She mentioned Indigenous citizenship, the Stolen Generation, the White Australia Policy, and how that has all echoed through to the undue treatment of AFL star Adam Goodes, and to the treatment of her.
“I made the front page of the national papers day in and day out. The prime minister got involved. Parliamentarians said I should self-deport and ‘move to an Arab dictatorship,’ and that I was a disgrace. I was sent death threats. Racist posters went up. I had to move houses, change my phone number, shut off my social media,” she wrote.
“I was being made an example of. And the reality is, none of the positive work that I did over the past 10 years mattered. All that mattered was that I was a young Muslim woman of colour who had stepped out of line.”
Jacqui Lambie speaks with Mia Freedman about her fiery Q&A debate with Yassmin. (Post continues below.)
In the months since, Abdel-Magied wrote, she has come to appreciate that it’s pointless trying to “prove” humanity to those unwilling to see it in the first place.
“Instead, I will focus my energy on myself, my faith, my communities, and those who continue to be marginalised. I will also work with allies who are interested in making things better for all of us,” she wrote.
“Now, I don’t work to prove my humanity to others; I work because the humanity of others gives me strength.”