Reblogged from Vice
Aug 6 2014
Hey remember that racist lady on the train? You know, the one who offered the heartfelt apology on Channel 7 while using a pseudonym? Yeah, she was horrible but she said sorry so she’s not racist anymore and anyway it was justified because she’s been the victim of racism before and she isn’t really a racist because she has a friend who is half Indian. And it’s okay too because she was splashed across mainstream, independent and social media for days and charged by police for public racial abuse within 48 hours. Thank goodness that’s over and will never happen ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, again.
When it comes to dealing with public discrimination, Australia has the state and federal legislation, but not the teeth. When a YouTube video of a venomous bigot spitting racial diatribe goes viral, it becomes newsworthy. It’s pure gold to mainstream television networks that push voyeuristic sensationalism to an audience hungry for car accidents, home invasions, shootings, and dogs on surfboards.
When this chunk of people power feels offended it’s suddenly vital for authorities and tall poppies to be seen to address the issues immediately. Enter the police spokesperson or local member for Boganville.
It often feels like incidents of racism are on the rise—particularly at the lowly public-transport-riding-citizen level. But a contributing factor is that every person with a mobile phone is now carrying a video camera. The same can be seen in the online world of racism: levels of bigotry have always existed, but now anyone with the Internet has a public voice and the ability to publish their opinions to the world. Camera phones and You Tube may give the impression that we’re more sensitive to racial injustice than our parents, but the actual system in place to protect people against racism is about as effective as clicking ‘like’ on a Facebook post.
Racism was, is and will always be a problem. But the less visible issue arising now is that our legal system isn’t evolving at the same rate as our racist outlets. The enforceable statutes that are in place to protect people from barbs of discrimination are clear and imposing, yet were implemented in a time when incidences of public rants and raves were limited to drunks and creeps on the street beating their chests and dragging their knuckles. It is frequently asserted that people can be ‘prosecuted’ or ‘convicted’ under the Racial Discrimination Act. It is regularly said that section 18C serves to protect hurt feelings at the expense of free speech. In actual fact, neither assertion is true. Additionally, 1 out of every 3 complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is declined due to a complex variety of reasons.
At the most basic level, the Racial Discrimination sector of the AHRC states that racial discrimination is against the law and that citizens may lodge complaints. But it continues by stating that it is “not a court” and cannot prove that discrimination has occurred. Additionally, the HRC will generally only accept complaints lodged by a member of the affected group. For example, if you are offended at a television advertisement where Indian people are portrayed in a negatively generalising way, you may only lodge a complaint with the HRC if you are of Indian descent.
At the authoritative level, making a statement at your Local Area Command (LAC) police station will generally prove to be fruitless as well. Officers will tell you that in order to act on online threats or acts of discrimination they will need to conduct an investigation into whether or not the person on the other end is who they say they are. According to one Constable at a local Sydney LAC, it would take up to three months to perform what is called an iASK. This is the same procedure undertaken by police officers when responding to victims of harassment via email or mobile phone. Dealing with online harassment is difficult due to the fact that people share computers and are tech savvy enough to use VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) that throw their IP location to far reaching corners of the world.
At the holy-shit-I-just-want-to-be-protected level, officers may assist you in applying for a PVO (Personal Violence Order), which can prevent a certain person from harassing you, but this is a lengthy procedure and requires you to be present in a court of law. Additionally, it only prevents one person from harassing you and does not stop them harassing others in the same way.
Our impotence to fight racism isn’t just confined to trolls, but rather compounded by a Scott Morrison inspired Government that attempts to demonize asylum seekers by calling them “economic migrants”. Our own Attorney General George Brandis floated the idea to remove what little protection we presently have (see Section 18C Racial Discrimination Act) because “people have the right to be bigots”. Luckily that didn’t come to fruition.
To say our discrimination legislation is in need of a refresh in an understatement— it was drawn up in a time when our Indigenous population was being referred to as “fauna” and refused the vote. Racism in Australia is an ugly shrouded reality, one generally muffled and confined to family homes and the boozy BBQs. In Australian culture racism is like smoking, just because it’s not allowed in public spaces doesn’t mean a huge section of the population is willing to give it up.
Media and law enforcement should be reacting to online discrimination with the same vehement opposition afforded to public transport bigots with equally, if not harsher penalties. Unlike Sue Wilkins (aka Karen Bailey), there are literally tens of thousands of bigots lining up on social media to offer their real names, smiling faces, and Bali holiday snaps in stark juxtaposition with their hate-filled opinions of people who are culturally, religiously, sexually, physically and politically different minded. To the rest of us, these people are achingly awkward and produce uncomfortable giggles and smirks. It’s hard to laugh at discrimination, but easy to guffaw at nutjobs who are losing their shit on public transport. Poor fools. They’re in a way the victims, to be honest. Victims of a sensationalist media and fear-striking Government that wants them to think they’re in need of saving from the unwashed, coloured mob.
Of course it is naïve to believe that discrimination will fade away and see us living in a harmonic utopia simply on the back of harsher penalties and legislation. It takes a multi-pronged and sustained effort of education, shifts in media and entertainment, endorsement from influential people, denouncement from politicians, and better guidance from parents to see bigots change their ways. But first things first, we need 21st century protections against abuse – if racism and hate can keep up with the times we need to make sure so can we. And if heaven forbid, you ever find yourself chucking a wobbly at some Asian on a hot train on your way home from 28 failed job applications, just make sure you say sorry and pretend your name is Richard Head.