Australia is a country that prides itself of being diverse, a concept that has seen the introduction of the term 'multiculturalism' in 1973 (Australian Immigration fact sheet 6). This subsequently brought about the end of the 'White Australian' policy, a policy that stated: "migrants should shed their cultures and languages and rapidly become indistinguishable from the host population" (ibid) and by so doing, creating a policy that encourages Australians to embrace the migrant population's cultures within the society.
Statistics tell us that the migration population is growing steadily with 238,300 people added in March of 2013, “though it's still well below the record high of 316,000 in 2008” said Bjorn Jarvis (2013) at the release of 2011 census.
Section 1 deals focuses on the term multiculturalism and its role in the evolving Australian society. Following that is a brief background on the origins of multiculturalism.
Our society deals with plethora of issues such as welfare, health, education and more, it is therefore important to explain why it is necessary to highlight stories of the migrant community right now. I deal with these reasons in the section ‘Why now?’
To focus my subject I have included stories of African Australian Women: Edem Badu and Zioné Walker-Nthenda, who contribute variously towards strengthening the fabric of multiculturalism in Australia.
The conclusion explores the importance of multilayered story as seen through the lens of Chimamanda Adichie’s talk on ‘The Dangers of a Single Story’ (2013).
I am, you are, we are Australian.
(Australian National Anthem)
Australia. The world’s second most multicultural country in the world is tied in this position with Switzerland behind Luxembourg (Griffiths, 2010). With such an accomplishment, one would imagine – as a nation Australia is at the fore of issues surrounding multicultural policy. While Australia enjoys life in the cultural diversity lane, this has not always been the case. It is with acknowledgement to such early campaigners, as Australia's father of multiculturalism Jerzy Zubrzycki who contributed to the historical change that has seen this country become a diverse society that it is today.
Zubrzycki’s notion of multiculturalism stated: “What we believe Australia should be working towards is not a oneness, but a unity, not a
similarity, but a composite, not a melting pot but a voluntary bond of dissimilar people sharing a common political and institution structure” (Alexander Naraniecki, 2011).
Prior to engaging the above-mentioned belief, Australian policy makers’ views were largely fueled by fear of integration with ethnic people. And as members of the African diaspora entered Australia with trickling numbers in the 1900s, “they were sufficient to add to an underlying fear of non-whites that drove the establishment of the ‘White Australia’ policy at the time of Federation (Rivett, 1962 in Jakubowicz, 2010).
Many measures were put in place to ensure that non-white migrants gained entry into Australia such as the literacy test that was a device to restrict immigration. This dictation test which became effective in Australia in 1901 was a precedent of white South African dictation test of 1896 which “explicitly emulated an American Act of 1896” (Lake, n.d).
Nowadays, Australia's Migrant Program accepts applications and award entry and citizenship based on the applicants' merit, thus the individual's "ethnicity, culture, religion or language" (immi.gov.au, Fact sheet 8) are no longer prohibiting factors for social and economic interaction.
Multiculturalism as a Concept
The dictionary meaning of multiculturalism is “the preservation of different cultures or cultural identities within a unified society, as a state or nation” (dictionary.com), while McKenzie (1998) describes the concept of multiculturalism as “Unsound, political theory, advocated by liberals, academics, media personnel, social theorists, government officials, and politicians”, however one description that resonates with me is Gunew’s (n.d) view point where she writes “Multiculturalism has been developed as a concept by nations and other aspirants to geo-political cohesiveness who are trying to represent themselves as homogenous in spite of their heterogeneity”.
Furthermore, Dr Gunew talks about the critical multiculturalism as a device used by minorities – in this case African women – “to argue participation, grounded in their difference, in the public sphere” (ibid).
In an interview on African Media Australia, Kate Hill expresses her concerns about labeling groups of people saying, “when does a refugee stop being a refugee? At what point are you just a citizen?” She makes some great points about the current situation of multiculturalism as seen from an Australian born citizen.
I believe that as a nation that is largely built on migration, it is crucial to acknowledge each other’s cultural diversity as we forge a way forward that is both harmonious and desirable for this generation and more to come. Indeed we live on foreign grounds by choice, need for refuge or search for better opportunities, this means we cannot ignore our existence and contribution to the fabric that holds the Australian society (multicultural or otherwise) therefore, failing to archive our stories told in our own voices is a poor act that only we (migrant community) have no one but ourselves to blame for.
"If there's a book you really want to
Read, but it hasn't been written yet,
Then you must write it"
The incoming government’s failure to appoint Minister of Multicultural Affairs has been criticised as a dangerous practice. Senator Kate Lundy who held this portfolio under the outgoing Labor government says “it’s profoundly disappointing for all those people who devote themselves to that part of our community” (Kenny, 2013). Another controversial move by the Prime Minister to repeal a section of the Racial Discrimination Act has received strong opposition. Abbott’s view is that “the current Act does not sufficiently protect the right of freedom of speech” (ibid). In challenging Mr. Abbott’s view, Veiszadeh (2012) posits, “While it (freedom) is very much the cornerstone of our democratic rights and freedoms, those who spew hateful and misleading vitriol ultimately thrive from the protection it offers.” Therefore by repealing this Act, the government will neglect to protect vulnerable members of society.
Multiculturalism is largely understood as a concept that encourages inclusiveness. [Its] attempt is to not advantage any group of people based on their ethnicity, religion or place of birth. It therefore seeks to “embraces our Australian-grown customs and the heritage of Indigenous Australians, early settlers, and the diverse range of migrants now coming to this country” (Deakin University, 2006).
While this appears to be an attainable ideology, it is however not a notion that the entire Australian society believe in. In his article ‘The Menace of Multiculturalism’ Cameron McKenzie argues that multicultural policy is “a deliberate policy to actively maintain, support and build foreign cultures in Australia, to the direct detriment of the Australian identity, culture and way of life” (McKenzie, 1998). He continues to say, “Multiculturalism is being forced upon the people of the host nations. Its advocates see it as eventually covering the entire globe” (ibid).
This article was published in 1998 and perhaps and 14 years on, one can only hope that these views have evolved somewhat. The world has become a global village where a few hours’ trip on the airplane can see one arrive on the other side of the world, therefore in my opinion, to ignore the influence that migration brings to the host nation is as good as living under a rock.
As part of encouraging tourism in Australia, the world is urged to come and explore the multiculturalism that the country has to offer such as “Our rich cultural diversity, which is reflected in our food, colourful festivals and rainbow of religious belief” (Australia’s culture).
If the country enjoys so much diversity, then why does mainstream media continue to depict African Australians through a stereotypical lens?
Not to be misunderstood, stereotypes can be useful in identifying ‘ourselves’ and ‘others’ it becomes a problem when the story of the 'others' remain one sided by continuously feeding the audience with negative imagery of African migrants.
A minor Australian political party, Australian Projectionist Party (APP) proudly opposes migration of black Africans. In an article on their website titled 'African crime rates are being forced upon us by multicultural extremists' (2009) the political party quotes Dr Andrew Fraser who was prosecuted by the Human Rights group following his remarks here "Experience practically everywhere in the world tells us that an expanding black population is a sure-fire recipe for increases in crime, violence and a wide range of other social problems". In the reference section of the article, it is evident that some of the stories that are used as examples to show African migrants behaving unsatisfactory in the eyes of APP are taken from mainstream media outlets such as the Herald Sun. This article has attracted more than 100 comments from Australians who hold the same negative stance regarding the portrayal of black African migrants.
In recent reports, Victorian Police have come under spotlight for their poor behavior towards African migrants. In Sunshine, Police created a stubby holder with mocking slur towards Sudanese youth. The stubby holder has a picture of ““Mudfish" or "muddie" which is derogatory slang for Africans, referencing the bottom-feeder species that is a common food source in Sudan and other countries” (Mickelburough, 2013).
If “the government views Australia's cultural diversity as a source of both social and economic wealth” (Fact Sheet 8), surely black African Australians are contributing more than crime to this country, but platforms created by such groups as APP clearly demonstrate the dangers of a one sided story. Therefore by bringing to the fore positive stories of African migrants, it is my hope that the askew publicity will begin to straighten.
In conclusion, I would like to emphasise the importance of acknowledging all sides of the story about any member of society before passing judgements. In her talk “The danger of a single story” Adichie (2009) employs her personal experience as a Nigerian living in America to articulate how lack of knowledge about African people can be blinding to even a society that regards itself as most civilised.
While the idea of Multiculturalism seems to be a tangible reality to migrant community of Australia, to others, it remains a utopian notion that rattles the balance of mainstream Australia as highlighted by such groups as Australian Protectionist Party (APP) and the [its] supporters.
Whether people like it or not, as a global village the world continues to evolve and statistics also confirm that migration numbers are climbing and this according to the government is a positive social and economic contribution to Australia.
In the words of Adichie (2009), “when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”
African Women Of Australia