Anti-Racism in the Media

I find the idea that anti-racism campaigns are still needed in the 21st century of human civilisation disappointing and saddening. It has been over 100 years since representatives from countries all over the world met in London at the First Universal Races Congress to discuss ‘fuller understanding, the most friendly feelings, and the heartier co-operation’ (Weatherly 1912). I know I myself hold assumptions about race and ethnicity that I must actively reflect upon and try to change, but you would expect that in such a culturally and politically aware environment as 21st century Australia, the media would not (still) be reinforcing divides between skin colour and country of origin. In order to understand just how much difficulty the Australian media suffers from in depicting the interplay of race and ethnicity in Australia we must look at the complex colonial past which Australia possesses. Indigenous sovereignty complicates the media environment immediately, provoking the question ‘Who are strangers?’ and ‘Who determines this’ (white or indigenous Australians), and when transferred to the current hostile treatment of refugees the media in particular should be asking ‘Who has the authority to say who can and cannot be offered safe harbour?’ (Schlunke 2002).

Who has the authority to determine who we are tolerant to and who may ask for safety in modern Australia? Cartoon by Reuben Brand.

If you’ve observed any Australian television, comedy routines or political discourse, then you would be able to determine how far we’ve come in recognising this complexity; not far. We are currently experiencing some representation of minorities in mainstream Australian media e.g. The Project host Whaleed Aly. However, diverse points of view are not properly represented across all media, particularly in the mainstream e.g. news presenters, television show hosts. This may lead to the voices of these diverse minorities being drowned out or misrepresented, creating problematic and prejudiced depictions, such as the over-representation of ethnic groups as perpetrators of crime (Australian Psychological Society 2013).

Seven Network’s ‘Sunrise’ News Team: very little diversity, except for the presence of 75% women. Copyright Seven Network.
A balance of gender but no ethnic diversity on the ABC Australia News Team. Copyright abc.net.au

You would think that this might not be the case with anti-racist media and campaigns; the main aim of these campaigns is to promote acceptance and equality for everyone. However, many examples of anti-racist media can reinforce the importance of race within society rather than diminishing the role that race plays in our culture. Take, for instance, this anti-racism and anti-xenophobia campaign named ‘See Beyond Race’ by VicHealth & the Municipal Association of Victoria which was advertised via bus, television, radio, and the council’s own communication channels. The campaign tries to highlight both ‘sameness’ and ‘difference’ inherent in cultural groups within the community in relation to the ‘dominant cultural group’ (Municipal Association of Victoria 2013). So who is this ‘dominant’ group? Presumably whites, as nowhere across this campaign is a white person featured, suggesting that white (Anglo) people are dominant and are the ones that determine their tolerance to other racial groups (Due 2008).

Municipal Association of Victoria’s ‘See Beyond Rage’ campaign.

A campaign which only focuses on the ‘sameness’ between ethnicities, the ‘humanity’ behind the skin colour or race, seems like a much more progressive and effective way to destroy the ‘differences’ that race creates. By focusing mainly on this common aspect, the campaign turns from a political focus on ‘multiculturalism’ to a humanitarian focus on what we all have in common.

A UK ‘sameness’ anti-racism ad.
We are all the same inside: A United Colours of Benetton (clothing brand) campaign from the USA.

References

Australian Psychological Society 2013, ‘Media Representations of Ethnic Groups’ in Media Representations and Responsiblities, accessed 13/05/15, http://www.psychology.org.au/publications/statements/media/

Due, C. 2008, ‘Who are strangers? Absorbing Sudanese refugees into a White Australia’, ACRAWSA e-journal, Vol. 4, No. 1

Municipal Association of Victoria 2013, ‘Standing Up to Race-Based Discrimination: Local Government Continuing to Build Inclusive Communities’, accessed 13/05/15, http://www.mav.asn.au/policy-services/social-community/multicultural/relateddocuments/Standing%20up%20to%20race-based%20discrimination.docx

Schlunke, K. 2002, ‘Sovereign hospitalities?’, Borderlands, Vol. 1 No. 2, http://www.borderlands.net.au/vol1no2_2002/schlunke_hospitalities.html

Weatherly, U. G. Small, A. W., Faris, E., & Burgess, Ernest, E. W. 1912, ‘The First Universal Races Congress’, The American Journal of Sociology, Vol 17, pp. 315–328

NOTE: This is a blog post related to BCM310 Week 9 ‘Who belongs where? Anti-racism outside dominant media paradigms’

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