Discrimination and Racism in Australia

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By: Belinda Croft

Racist rants on Australian public transport seems to be escalating. Thanks to technology, these disturbing events are being recorded on camera phones and passed on to media and police, or uploaded to social media sites.

In November 2012, a man on a Melbourne bus was visually recorded abusing a French woman. In April 2013 a passenger filmed a Caucasian man abusing a group of Asian tourists on a bus. Also in April this year, a woman bombarded an African man for ten minutes with racist abuse on a Melbourne suburban train. These mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg. These verbal attacks don’t even appear to be aimed at one ethnicity. Just levelled at “non-white-Australians” types.

Recently I witnessed a lady move her bag closer to her after turning to see a man of African decent standing behind her. An act of distrust. Which could be perceived as subtle, unintentional or unconscious racism.

The Peter Norman story

In 1968 at the Mexico Olympic Games, Australian Peter Norman ran the 200m sprint, gaining a silver medal. First and third place getters were African-Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos. During the medal presentation, Norman stood wearing the Olympic Project for Human Rights badge while Smith and Carlos gave a Black Power salute. For this act, the Australian Olympic Committee allegedly blacklisted Peter Norman.

The 1968 international climate was one of political unrest and social change. Australia was progressing, though still struggling with the changes to policies and acceptance of Aboriginals and non-white Australians.

During the 1968 Mexico Olympics’ year, the Australian Government was still in the process of removing the White Australia Policy. Furthermore, they had only recently restored Aboriginals with the right to vote and the right to be counted on the Census if they identified with being more than ‘half’ Aboriginal, which in the past excluded them from being counted. It was met with some public disdain. However, the removal of Aboriginal children from their families was still occurring.

On an international scale, the African-American Civil Rights Movement was at its climax, Martin Luther King was assassinated, and student movements were breaking out all over the world — in France, Germany, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Argentina, Japan and the United States.

Despite Norman running qualifying times for the 100m five times and 200m 13 times during 1971 and 1972, the Australian Olympic track team did not send him, or any other male sprinters, to the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, the first modern Olympics since 1896 where no Australian sprinters participated. (wikipedia.org)

“If I am in trouble with the officials that’s unfortunate. I still think everyone is entitled to express his opinion,” Norman told reporters in Mexico in 1968, adding that he supported the American pair because he believed in human rights and was against the White Australia policy. (sa.org.au)

Peter Norman’s 200m time of 20.06 seconds still stands as the Australian record. He is also the only Australian to have made the final of this race in the Olympics.

Debate to apologise

In August 2012, Federal Parliament began to debate Labor MP Andrew Leigh’s motion to apologise to Peter Norman. Dr Leigh, the MP for the Canberra seat of Fraser, wanted Parliament to recognise Norman’s extraordinary athletic achievements and bravery and apologise to him for not sending him to Munich.

Australian Olympic Committee media director, Mike Tancred said that the debate in Federal Parliament was “irrelevant” given the progress made in civil rights since the 1968 Games.

“The politicians from both sides need to look and check on who is the American President, at present. He’s black. And I think the whole world has moved on since 1968. So on that score, really, their debate is irrelevant,” he said. (cnn.com)

The result

On the 11th October 2012, Parliament with bipartisan support honoured Peter Norman for his stance along side Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

The Parliament recognised his extraordinary athletic achievements and silver medal, which still stands as the Australian record. The Parliament also acknowledged the bravery of Peter Norman in donning an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge on the podium and apologised to Peter Norman for the treatment he received upon his return to Australia, and the failure to fully recognise his inspirational role. (www.andrewleigh.com)
MP Andrew Leigh also moved that the House of Representatives ”belatedly recognises the powerful role that Peter Norman played in furthering racial equality”. ”I wish more kids knew about it,” Dr Leigh said. (smh.com.au)

However, in 2006, some 6 years before this motion was passed, Peter Norman had passed away from a heart attack.

Australia’s National Anti-Racism Strategy

The National Anti-Racism Strategy was launched in Melbourne on 24 August 2012. The Strategy will be implemented between 2012 and 2015.

Helen Szoke, Race Discrimination Commissioner with the Australian Human Rights Commission states (on the ‘It Stops With Me’ website), “This Strategy is built on the work and contributions of many Australians. Our objective is to continue to build a strong, resilient and vibrant community in Australia, where we extend our taste for diversity beyond an appreciation of cuisines and celebrations to inclusiveness in the workplace, education, sporting activities, community events and many other aspects of our lives.”

“I hope that over the next three years this Strategy will have attracted multiple supporters from many areas of public life; and that we see plans for actions that not only support diversity but additionally address the racism that is so often a barrier for people in our community.” (itstopswithme.humanrights.gov.au)

Discrimination of any kind is dehumanising and something that no one should be subjected to. Racism, in varying forms and degrees, has been an affliction on humanity for thousands of years.

God loved the world so much that He sent Jesus to lay down His life for us (John Chapter 3 Verse 16). The “world” includes all ethnic groups. God does not display partiality or favouritism and neither should we. 1 John chapter 4 verse 19 says, “We love, because He first loved us.”

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“I loved words. I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the joy of writing them”. Anne Rice

One thought on “Discrimination and Racism in Australia

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