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The nationalistic imagery of a sea of Australian flags could be problematic for some people.

   

Following on from my last blog post, I will explain why the nationalistic imagery may be problematic to the fight against racism towards Jews in Australia. This conversation needs to be had, and it needs to be heard from different perspectives and experiences. Mine comes from the experience of that of a migrant woman of colour. Take it or leave it, but here are my current thoughts on it.

 

When the Cronulla riots took place, I was in my second year of university. Those riots scared the living daylights out of many migrants. A large proportion of the migrants in NSW live in Western Sydney. I am from Western Sydney. I went to High School in a suburb of Blacktown. What we saw of those riots were images and video clips on the news, showing white Australians with heinously racist words painted on the shirtless bodies of young white Australian men holding the Australian flag, shouting racist words towards Lebanese people. Words such as “wogs out of Nulla,” “fuck off to where you came from” etc etc. These images for thousands of migrants to the country, whether they were Lebanese or Indian or of any other ethnicity, generated fear and anxiety for their safety in Australia. It didn’t matter that the riots involved the Lebanese migrants; if there was such hateful racism towards one group of migrants, it would be felt by all migrants. And those whose skin was darker than the olive-skinned Lebanese migrants felt great fear. Those riots brought up a whole new wave of racism towards any non white-appearing people. Suddenly my family would be driving in the car and we’d have random strangers in other cars winding their windows down, shouting “go back to where you came from.” I’d be walking down the street and if my eyes would even glance in the direction of a white skinned Aussie, I’d be yelled at “what the fuck do you think you’re looking at.”

 

Suddenly I was taken back to childhood, to my primary school years in Melbourne, and remembered all over again how the children would not sit next to me in class because I was brown. Except for about three young kids whose parents had taught them not to hate, other kids in my year two class whispered to others “don’t sit next to her because she’s brown and that means she’s a pig.”

 

Although I had experienced racism since the day I landed in this country as an almost five-year-old child, those riots brought on a whole new and more dangerous wave of racism towards migrants and people of colour, regardless of the level of darkness of skin colour.

 

 

At the last census, more than half of the Australian population were first or second generation migrants. This means that more than half of the Australian population were born outside Australia, or have parents who were born outside Australia. For many of us, any kind of race-related protest or rally covered in Australian flags, whether intended to be peaceful or not, brings up images and memories of the Cronulla riots. Seas of Australian flags with posters and banners using typical Aussie slang language, just does not sit well with those of us who remember those riots. Whilst the sea of Australian flags being used in the rallies against antisemitism is with good intentions, it is so important for those organizing these rallies to understand, to listen and understand what this imagery means to so many migrants.

 

I will always stand against antisemitism. Not because I am married to an Israeli Jew. But because antisemitism is the oldest form of racial hatred to exist. And I KNOW what racism is. I have felt it and experience it. I know when I am experiencing it. Like many who experience racism, I can feel it in my bones when its being directed toward me. A white person cannot and should not try to tell me what racism is. And then there is racism towards different shades of skin colour – and that’s even more complex and nuanced.  

 

So back to the rallies that are being organized “to unite people against antisemitism” regardless of skin colour or political background, etc. While the intentions of these rallies are pure, and whilst we do need to be united against antisemitism regardless of ethnic background, race, gender, etc, those organizing these rallies need to understand that the unintended nationalistic optics of these rallies can be problematic for so many. Particularly in a climate where tension between racial groups is at an all time high.  When the imagery of people draped in Australian flags reminds many people of the racism of the Cronulla riots, we cannot afford to have this imagery at the forefront of the public facing campaign against antisemitism. If we didn’t have such an issue with racism in Australia right now, that would be a different story.

 

When the problem of racism in Australia has only been worsening at an alarming speed, it is unsettling to see the imagery of a sea of Australian flags being used as a symbolism of “Australian values.”

 

That is uncomfortable.

 

When organizing any public events such as these, consideration of demographics is crucial. Again, I will refer to the most recent Australian census showing that more than half of Australians are first or second generation migrants, and this involves many Jews, too. Unfortunately, it appears many of the Non Jewish individuals holding campaigns in support of eliminating antisemitism are Caucasian Aussies who wouldn’t know the visceral experience of racism and would find it difficult to see my point of view. But the evidence is there. The peer-reviewed research exists to show that racism in Australia is a very real issue today. I recently gave evidence in parliament at the NSW Birth Trauma inquiry about the existence and rise of racism towards women of colour in maternity care. The evidence of this exists if one is willing to look at it, accept its existence, and be open to dialogue about the many nuances of racism in Australia.

 

Going back to the imagery of a sea of Australian flags at a race-relate rally, calling for the elimination of antisemitism – I know and have witnessed several Jewish and non Jewish individuals communicate to coordinators of some of the rallies about the dangers of nationalistic optics of these rallies, even referring to the Cronulla riots. Yet unfortunately these concerns and views were not taken on board.

 

If the only large public facing rallies against antisemitism continue in this way, less and less migrant people of colour will feel comfortable attending. If the views of Jewish and non-Jewish people who stand against antisemitism are not considered and taken on board, I fear that the fight against the rising tide of antisemitism in Australia will be doomed. 

 

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