Cultivating a culture of intolerance

In the wake of the murder of nine African-American’s by a white supremacist in Charleston, South Carolina this week, Australians reacted the same way we always do when a “newsworthy” gun-related killing takes place in the USA.

With disbelief, coupled with a glimmer of smug superiority.

We shake our collective heads at a nation that owns almost half of the world’s civilian-owned guns and wonder when someone will have the courage to take on the seemingly all-powerful NRA.

We wonder how change will come if the deaths of TWENTY five and six year-olds in a mass shooting wasn’t enough to shake America out of its gun-loving ways.

And we gloat about Australia’s lack of mass shootings since laws were tightened following the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.

Many of us have watched with horror as nothing more than sheer racism has seen countless African-American men gunned down at the hands of white police in the US.

Again, we got our smugness on. We’re better than that. We don’t have mass shootings. Our cops aren’t killing black people at a rate three times higher than they’re killing white people.

We tell ourselves that America has big problems. Problems that we don’t have. We tell ourselves that they can learn from us; that we’ve got it right.

Except we’re wrong.

We might not have the same number of gun deaths as the US does (not even close) – among civilian or law enforcement populations.

But it’s not like we’re a shining beacon of peace here in Australia. Least of all if you’re a non-white person.

The racist persecution and killings of people of colour is quieter here, somehow.

We* don’t talk about Aboriginal deaths in custody. We don’t talk about the fact that Aboriginal people make up approximately 30% of the Northern Territory’s general population, but 85% of their prison population. We don’t talk about the fact that Aboriginal women are 45 times more likely than white women to be victims of domestic violence. We don’t talk about the forced closures of Aboriginal communities that are happening simply due to Australia’s ingrained racism.

We don’t talk about the gross abuse of the human rights of predominantly non-white asylum seekers in Manus and Nauru. We don’t talk about the fact that these asylum seekers have become political footballs, real humans used to further political agendas.

The murders that took place in South Carolina this week are no different to the deaths of Australian Aboriginals in custody. They’re no different to the murders of countless people of colour at the hands of white police in America, which in turn, are no different to the appalling manner in which successive Australian governments have demonised asylum seekers.

They’re all things that happen when we allow the cultivation of a culture of racism and intolerance. A culture that, in Australia at least, right now comes from the top; from our so-called leaders. “Leaders” who will allow the passing of laws that will punish those that speak out about the human rights violations taking place in Australia’s offshore detention centres. “Leaders” who refuse to act to end the sexual assaults of children in those centres. “Leaders” who will forcibly remove Aboriginal communities from the lands they have lived on for tens of thousands of years.

While we decry the latest in a long line of mass shootings in the USA, and discuss the blatant white supremacy that led to them, we need to also look at what’s happening in our own country.

Because the only real difference that I can see is the presence, or absence, of guns.

*Obviously, this is a generalisation. But, while there are some amazing people in Australia who are doing all they can to address these issues, there are obviously those who either don’t care, or support the things being done in our names.

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Enough is enough.

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” – Benjamin Franklin.

Imagine this.

A regular, Australian woman is in a violent relationship.

Every single day she is subjected to verbal, mental and physical abuse.

She’s threatened with death, beaten, and terrorised by her partner.

One day, fearing for her life, she flees to a nearby house for help.

Upon her arrival, she tells her story, and begs for help.

Instead of helping the woman, the owner of the house declares that she is a law-breaker, trespassing on his land and has her arrested.

Within 48 hours of seeking help, the woman is imprisoned.

She is not provided with adequate health checks, despite her obvious wounds.

She is not provided with adequate access to legal advice.

The conditions in the prison are hot, overcrowded, and there are not enough showers or toilets for the prisoners, with around one toilet for every 40 prisoners.

The woman is forced to share a cell with dozens of other prisoners, with only basic bedding providing. There is no ability for her to enjoy any privacy, with beds lined up next to each other without privacy screens.

The prison is infested with lice and rodents.

And the woman is given no indication as to when she can expect to be released.

All she wanted was help to save her life.

Horrific, right? And certainly not something that we’d consider fair treatment for one of “our own”. I can only imagine the public outcry were such a thing to occur.

For the asylum seekers that are currently being detained in Nauru and Manus Island, due to the draconian laws of successive Australian governments, this isn’t just an arbitrary anecdote. This is real life.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recently released damning reports about the conditions on Manus Island and Nauru. The UNHCR found that Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers constituted arbitrary and indefinite detention in unsafe and inhumane conditions that did not meet international standards.

Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, seems to disagree with the UNHCR, declaring that the conditions of the camps are better than those at Australian mines – a statement that is truly laughable. (Disclaimer: my mother has worked on two mine sites this year. She is given all the food she can eat, has her own air conditioned room that has cable television, is serviced daily and has its own en-suite bathroom, the workers on site are provided with entertainment, get flown home every two or-so weeks, and get paid a butt-load of money. Hardly mandatory detention, Ms. Bishop.)

This week it was revealed that those detained on Nauru and Manus Island would no longer receive humanitarian assistance from the Salvation Army, who have been providing emotional support to those subjected to the conditions of the detention centres. The team that provided advice about asylum seeker health issues, including psychologists, psychiatrists and GPs, has also been dumped.

A group of doctors who work at the Christmas Island detention centre have written a 92-page letter outlining “numerous unsafe practices and gross departures from generally accepted medical standards which have posed significant risk to patients and caused considerable harm”. They provide examples of inadequate medical care and shortages of facilities, equipment and medications, among other issues.

We look back in horror at the way the world has treated some members of society. From Jews during the Holocaust, to our treatment of Indigenous peoples around the world, to the South African Apartheid, we hang our heads in shame and wonder how. Why didn’t anyone stop it? How did we allow it to happen? Yet here we are again.

Australia, we have and are continuing to allow the demonization and cruel treatment of human beings. Right now. By our government. And history will judge us harshly for it.

The government will not continue this inhumanity in my name. And they shouldn’t do it in yours. Write to your local MP and Senators. Contact the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and the Immigration Minister.

It’s time to stand up.

Speak out.

Do something.

Be brave.

Enough is enough.