Facing down racism is essential


Conflict will always be a part of political debate, especially on issues as important as the legacy of the British Monarchy. But as Senator Mehreen Faruqi explains, there’s never an excuse for attacking someone for who they are.

By Senator Mehreen Faruqi

When Pauline Hanson told me to “piss off back to Pakistan” last month, she managed to pack a whole lot of what’s wrong with Australian politics into a single sentence.

I can’t tell you how many hundreds of times I’ve been told to go back to where I come from. Everyone who looks like me has copped it at one point or another, but I can tell you the hurt and sorrow you feel hearing it never lessens.

It’s made worse by the sheer volume of hate whipped up because far-right figures have social media hordes at their beck and call. Comments like Hanson’s aren’t just one-off cracks at someone they dislike – they’re a signal to their followers, who dutifully pile onto the target.

In the aftermath of Hanson’s tweet responding to my criticism of the British Monarchy, I received hundreds of abusive calls, emails, tweets, and comments, which said things like “people will piss on your grave”, “I will cheer when you die,” “all you pricks are an enemy of our country,” and, predictably, dozens of variations of “f--k off back to where you came from”.

Of course there’s going to be disagreement about the Queen’s legacy in the wake of her passing. Conflict will always be a part of political debate on such important issues.

But there’s never an excuse for attacking someone for who they are. We must not confuse discrimination with debate.

I decided to move a censure motion against Pauline Hanson in the Senate, because racism must be called out and our Parliament – of all places – should have zero tolerance for discrimination. But when the motion was debated, it was watered down by Labor and the Liberals, who removed the part of the motion which actually censured Senator Hanson for what she had said.

This was extremely disappointing. It would be hard to find a workplace where someone would get away with such behaviour towards a colleague, yet in the highest office in this country, there were no repercussions for this anti-migrant slur. Unless we call things for what they are, and name and shame those who perpetrate racism, nothing will ever change.

Some people argue that it’s better to let these things go, or ignore them; that we only give people a platform to spout further hate when we respond to them. Why are the targets of racism expected to stay silent? Why are we expected to become resilient and just let this abuse and hate slide? Why are we called to order rather than the perpetrators? Well, I for one am not going to ignore it or feign indifference. I am unapologetic about calling out racism, challenging it and demanding action to dismantle it.

I am now pursuing a racial discrimination complaint with the Human Rights Commission because racism takes an immense toll on our health and wellbeing, and those responsible for inflicting this harm must be held to account.

At the very least, I want a public apology and a retraction from Senator Hanson, acknowledging the harm her words have caused – not only to me, but to the many migrants across this country who have been told to ‘go back where they came from’ throughout their lives here. So many have told me how triggered they felt after hearing such words again.

While this is underway, Parliament is currently developing new codes of conduct for parliamentarians, staff and parliamentary workplaces. It’s critical these codes are strong on protecting diversity, explicitly prohibit racism, and come with real consequences and accountability for not adhering to them. We cannot continue on with a blindspot as far as racism is concerned.

Politicians should also be required to undertake mandatory anti-racism training. Training like this can certainly help people unpack white privilege, identify how racial discrimination and harassment manifests, inform the workplace’s response to racism, and encourage people to be better allies.

Ultimately we need to unwind the systems and structures of discrimination that prop up the racially disparate society we live in, and which perpetuate cycles of harm against First Nations people and people of colour.

This whole ordeal has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with. Receiving and exposing hate is exhausting. It does grind you down.

But I have been heartened by hundreds of messages of support, many from people who have faced the sear of racism and want to see discrimination called out, held to account and eradicated. I’m with them. Together, we can build an anti-racist Australia.  Everyone has the right to live without fear of racism, abuse and discrimination.

Parts of this article first appeared in Junkee.

Hero image: James Eades via Unsplash.

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