From Little Things...
1. Project Outline
The Ethnic Affairs Commission of NSW funded Immigrant Women's Speakout to develop and run a 4 month project to work in educational, interactive and non-threatening ways with young and older migrant and refugee women on dealing with Racism.
10 workshops were conducted and 1 informal discussion session, 3 of these sessions being dedicated to young women. Women from a diversity of cultural backgrounds took part, including those from Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Bosnia, Russia, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Chile, Macedonia, Croatia, Egypt, East Timor, Korea, Cambodia, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Australian born women (both NESB and Anglo/Celtic backgrounds). The project focused on Bankstown, Fairfield and Parramatta in metropolitan Sydney and the Illawarra.
Two areas of discussion were highlighted as issues of considerable concern : the Media and Employment. In both these arenas the impact of stereotyping was highlighted, and the project worked with media exercises to rework these images.
The project was conducted in collaboration with TAFE Outreaches of Granville, Wollongong and Shellharbour and also with several community organisations - in particular: Australian Arabic Welfare Council, Bankstown Multicultural Youth Services, Cabramatta Community Centre Circuit Breaker (youth training/further education) programme, Fairfield Community Resource Centre, and The Vietnamese Women's Association.
The workshops were designed and conducted by Nadya Stani, with the assistance of an Advisory Committee including Anne Bicer (Granville TAFE Outreach), Melinda Doolan (NSW Ethnic Affairs Council), Soheyla Gholamshahi (Parramatta City Council) and members of Speakout's Staff and Management.
Speakout would like to thank all those involved in ensuring the success of this project.
2. The Workshops
The workshops were developed in conjunction with the organisations or group facilitators with whom the project was running the workshops. The material included in the workshops was drawn from a wide variety of sources: media exercises, cultural action; theatre practice; and anti racism education practice. It was also responsive to some of the 'perceived needs' of the women in the group such as language difficulties and particular issues of concern. A number of education tools were used to trigger discussion and debate. These included videos, photos, hypotheticals, magazines and examples of television drama.
Two videos were primarily used to ignite debate and feelings. They also provided some humorous outlet for the groups.
Male Emulator was a segment developed for 'Torturevision', a young people's video production created by a group working with the Information and Cultural Exchange (ICE) in Parramatta. Torturevision was about how television controls us. Male emulator was about a young Indian man wanting to be like Ray Martin. He paints his face white and says repeatedly to the camera good evening, this is Ray Martin.' The segment ends with the young man wiping off the white paint and walking away from the camera as the 'A Current Affair' theme fades up.
Talking Fruit was a commercial produced for television by the Berri Fruit company in 1997. It won the Multicultural Marketing Awards for that year. The commercial features different fruit making racist and disparaging remarks about other fruit.
This is a series of over 100 black and white photos developed by the Catholic Education Office. The idea was developed in France and was designed to encourage young people who feel uneasy or shy about speaking to express themselves through the choice of images about how they feel. The images in these photos have been adapted to Australia and range from people dancing in city streets to Aboriginal communities in central Australia.
These were often questions and scenarios put to groups about various situations where racism occurs. Groups were split up and asked to work out some of the ways to address the situation.
Magazines and newspapers
These offered a broad brush view of how Australian diversity was or wasn't expressed in the media. The magazines and papers were used by the groups to create collages of media images of diversity or dominance.
This was a segment from Home and Away about the Stolen Generations. It was used as a script writing exercise with young women.
3. The Political Context
At the moment, Aboriginal reconciliation is picking up momentum and forcing governments to respond to community demands for meaningful engagement with Aboriginal people.
This is the result of ongoing work by a body dedicated to the education of the community about indigenous Australia. That education is evident in the way journalists report the issue, though it is at times, patchy. There is however, a long way to go with reconciliation; Aboriginal demands for a treaty; the continued support for reconciliation in the community and finally, its connection with NESB communities.
Multiculturalism, though visibly more present in Australian society (a bigger numerical presence of NESB communities, SBS, Ethnic Affairs Commission, Carnivale, Dept of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Multicultural Education Units in TAFES, restaurants and areas in Australia with a distinctly multicultural character), has yet to permeate meaningfully through Australia's cultural landscape. And it urgently needs to do so. News reporting on multiculturalism, refugees, immigrations and so-called 'ethnic-conflicts' is generally stereotypical and uninformed. This does and has shaped public opinion on many issues; the arrival of Middle Eastern refugees on the West Australian coast last year and earlier this year, is an example of the power of news reporting. Asylum seekers were portrayed as 'queue jumpers', 'human cargo', and ' illegal immigrants' among stories about 'invasions' and ' assaults on our shores. (23). This invariably undermined public support for the refugees.
Meeting and speaking to NESB groups over the period of this project, the "on-the-ground" results for the lives of individual migrant and refugee women and their families was apparent. This is clear in terms of their emotional experience and connection to community. It is also important to observe the way that internalised racism, and isolation from major debates about Australia's history and Aboriginal Australia, can lead to myths and beliefs amongst migrants and refugees about migrant and refugee groups other than their own, groups of people settling after them, and Australia's Aboriginal population.
4. Project Learning
A common theme arising from the workshops held as part of this Anti-Racism Project, has been a sense of alienation as a significant experience for immigrant communities. There are the stories from Vietnamese women about being made to wait in hospital waiting rooms for long periods of time; stories from women from the former Yugoslavia about not knowing where to get assistance when faced with racism; stories from young recently arrived professionals about being rejected again and again for work they are qualified to do and stories from Arab women about seeing the Police harass and victimise their children 'for no reason.'
There are also deeply entrenched attitudes about each other and about Aboriginal communities. It is a disturbing feature of racism in Australia, though this is always a characteristic wherever there's a dominant /minority group paradigm. The existence of racism among immigrant women can be linked in part, to recent attacks on multiculturalism, the rise of Pauline Hanson, attacks on immigrant communities in the and the creation of 'ethnic conflicts' in the media (eg the Lakemba shooting and the stabbing of Edward Le at Bankstown). It is also linked to the lack of engagement with the reconciliation process. Little work seems to have been conducted in this area, and it needs redress: not only to challenge racism and perceptions of indigenous people, but also to link up with women who do want to become involved and support Aboriginal reconciliation. Of the small sample of women who took part in the project, we estimate at least 75% of women were keen to learn about indigenous Australia. This was particularly so with young women who had already formed a sophisticated understanding of Aboriginal issues.
A little documented area of the dynamics of racism has been its impact on newly arrived immigrants and refugees. Anecdotal evidence from youth and community workers suggests that those who are recently arrived are unable to recognise racism as such. For example, they may interpret certain events as personal behavioural traits rather than acts of racism (i.e. being yelled at in the street or being patronised). This is an area that merits further research and community education.
A further finding of the project is the importance of continuing specific information campaigns about rights. Generally, women were unaware of anti discrimination laws and how they could use them. They were also surprised to learn about them and about other services which could assist them in this area.
Another feature which was evident from workshops including Anglo-Celtic women, was a high degree of anger and resentment from Anglo-Celtic women suffering other levels of disadvantage. This is another area which warrants further attention.