Sadly, discrimination and prejudice continue to exist.
People are discriminatory, biased and all sorts of phobics. And while it is important to understand this reality, the issue should not be one that dampens a narrative around reform. The latest 2021 Australian Census highlights that Australia is a nation of migrants, with 51.5 percent of all people either born overseas or having a parent born in another country. But, although we tend to think of Australia as being multicultural, we actually rank relatively low in terms of diversity and tolerance for people from different cultures, races, or backgrounds. The national survey series Is Australia Racist?, confronting highlights Australia’s attitudes and experiences with racism, with alarming statistics headlining the continued impact of discrimination in our country.
A social virus?
Discrimination occurs in many different shapes and forms. An interesting article describes discrimination based on race as a social virus, analogous to the infectious coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The authors explain that structural racism is embedded within our societal structures and unfairly advantages certain racial or ethnic groups over others. They explain that discrimination is a common lived experience of many minoritised groups, and its impacts spread like a blind virus through harmful, uneducated practices that negatively impact society.
Confronting our prejudices
Understanding the nuances of discrimination to improve the society we live in, can make a difference. A first step is recognising that discrimination exists. Because biases often penetrate into the deep structural and systematic nature of societies we live in, the next step is to realise that this issue won’t be fixed overnight. Understanding that there are differences between assimilation and integration is another. The assumption that society cannot flourish unless a common way of life is adopted is often the root cause of prejudice.
“We are only as blind as we want to be.” – Maya Angelou
When information is so readily available, our attention often nosedives into the negative. We become overly exposed to extreme perceptions and negative aspects of the very few. Our perspectives become skewed and our understanding of the people around us is ignorantly influenced. We start to demonise each other. We start to judge each other. And, we start to take refuge in an understanding that is disconnected from reality. We become blind to the wonders of the world, and the beauty that exists within its people.
Making diversity work
Science explains that most of our actions occur without our conscious thoughts. This results in thoughts and actions that occur without our conscious awareness. Within the context of discrimination, implicit biases can take place without us even realising. These stereotypes become automatic, unintentional, deeply engrained in our beliefs, and have the ability to affect our actions and behavior. Unconscious bias fosters attitudes that form the basis of our impressions of others. Accepting diversity within our communities becomes a challenge and sentiments that promote hostility become prevalent.
To address unconscious biases requires acknowledgment that everyone has them. It requires that we challenge our beliefs and reflect on our thoughts, actions, and behaviour. Creating a more inclusive and equitable environment around us can become a reality. But, we must make time and take action to educate ourselves. However, action without education may do more harm than good.
Proactively pursuing interactions with people different from us can transform societies. However taking steps to reform ourselves, without an informed understanding of our diverse identities can be problematic. A fundamental rule of thumb is to learn about different people, from those people themselves. Rather than relying on perceptions or assumptions, why not just interact directly?
NAIDOC Week – An example of solidarity that enables reform
Within the Australian context, issues of discrimination can be traced as far back as history permits. Aboriginal Australians have faced a long history of painful colonisation and face intergenerational disadvantages across many spectrums. Despite this, values of respect and traditions, as well as tolerance of differences and practices, profoundly exist among Aboriginal people and communities. Like Islam, which emphasises the need for equality among all of mankind irrespective of race, skin colour, culture or faith, Aboriginal Australians place great importance and the need for a peaceful co-existence.
Interestingly, in Australia, it is commonly unknown that both Aboriginal Australians and Muslims lived side by side without conflict or discord, for more than three centuries, and that this coexistence still prevails today. Even before contact with the early Christian settlers, Aboriginal communities interacted and lived in harmony with Muslims. From as early as the 16th century, when Muslim cameleers, labourers and industrialists were living in regions such as Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, to Broome, and Central Australia, where the Muslim cameleers prevailed, both communities had built strong links and developed sound coherence. Relationships of Muslims with local Aboriginal people were developed over time, and a great sense of respect and mutual understanding existed.
IN the present day, every year, just like in the past, Aboriginal Australians provide an opportunity to further strengthen and develop community connections. NAIDOC Week celebrates and recognises the history, culture, and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This event is a chance for all Australians to learn about Indigenous cultures and histories and participate in celebrating the oldest, continuous living culture on Earth.
Evidence-based practical reform
In the current era, many nations across the world implement unjust policies inciting racial discrimination. History is also a witness to forced invasions and the occupation of land in Australia. The Holy Quran explains that God Almighty has created different races and tribes across the world for the benefit of mankind: “O Mankind… and we have made you tribes and sub-tribes that you may know one another…”
Education can eliminate ‘labelling’ and stereotyping, and restrict us from categorising people to determine their worth. As we navigate our world, we must check our biases at the door, conscious or unconscious. We can do that by learning from each other and expanding our knowledge. We can intentionally navigate our interactions with others based on kindness, respect, tolerance, and understanding.
It is obligatory upon everyone to respect and get to know each other’s cultures and traditions. No one has the right to discriminate against another. And today, an increasing number of Australians are living a way of life that can provide them with the religious freedom to practice their culture and keep their traditions alive. It is up to us to acknowledge each other, sit back, and listen to those different from us.