An article I co-wrote with Javed De Costa of Beyond Borders on why the Boycott of the 19th Sydney Biennale over its involvement with Transfield, the company that runs the detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru, was an important first step in the campaign to boycott and divest from the profits of mandatory detention.
Last Friday, the seemingly impossible happened. Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, director of Transfield Holdings, resigned from his position as chair of the board of the Biennale of Sydney. He tweeted “I hope that blue sky may now open over this 19th @biennalesydney”, as the Biennale simultaneously dropped Transfield’s funding.
For over a month I have been ensconced in the rapidly evolving campaign attacking the supply chains that prop up the Australian system of mandatory detention. This has largely been through playing a supporting role in the blog, Cross Border Operational Matters in the context of which I am learning from long time activists from the Melbourne based Beyond Borders group, especially the burgeoning Women’s Caucus, as well as the unequalled intellectual and organising capacities of Angela Mitropoulos whose work I read many moons before ever dreaming about finding myself in this colonial outpost of the Southern Hemisphere. Recently, I have been particularly thankful for the interventions of Liz Thompson, long time open borders activist and Manus Island whistle blower. Apart from her crucial interview on the SBS Dateline show last week, her recent article in which she explains why she chose not to address the Refugee Action Coalition rally in Melbourne last Saturday was a vital intervention into the politics of the stagnated refugee movement such as it is in Australia.
Liz argued that
I have become increasingly concerned about the self-promoting, NGO-proliferating arm of the “refugee movement”, the lack of self-reflection on the amount of space taken up by white people saying “not in my name”. These rallies serve to reinforce and reorganise a white refugee movement that speaks on behalf of others.
This last few weeks has provided a quick lesson in the myth and mechanics of border policing in and beyond Australia. Linked is a Working Paper on ‘operational matters’ in the campaigns around border issues in and beyond Australia. It is meant to provoke a focused discussion about how to bring about change. [An earlier version of this was distributed on January 26, 2013.]
I recently gave a talk on Good and Bad Diversity: The Crisis of Multiculturalism as a Crisis of Politics at the Reconfiguring Antiracism Conference, held at Deakin University, Melbourne (9-10 December 2013). This paper emerges from The Crises of Multiculturalism, the book I co-wrote with Gavan Titley in 2011 and ‘Post-race, Post-Politics’, the article I published in Ethnic and racial Studies in 2012 (Online First) and which is free to read until the end of 2013. I am now moving on to a new phase of research involving a number of strands – the transformation of race through digital communication networks and the challenge for internationalist antiracism (with Gavan Titley), the relationship between racism in public and public racism, and the silence about race in mainstream migration sociology. As I leave The Crises behind, I thought I’d share this audio of my last public talk in which this book figures. I can’t keep dining out on it forever (!), however its impact and the questions it opened up for me will continue through my work into the future. Watch this space…
On December 2-3, I am organising a workshop for graduate students at the University of Western Sydney on the topic, Are We Really Post-Race?. There is a fantastic line-up of international and local speakers: Suvendrini Perera, Joseph Pugliese, Sherene Razack, Sohail Daulatzai and Christopher Kyriakides.
I’m a bit late updating the site with this article from last week in which I argued, against Antony Loewenstein, that Section 18C of the Australian Race Discrimination Act should not be repealed as proposed by the Attorney General, George Brandis. I preempted Antony’s argument, that the 18C which protects against racial vilification could be used against those who campaign in favour of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, as Zionist organisation Shurat Hadin is trying to do against Sydney University Professor Jake Lynch.My argument is that, it is undoubted, as I have argued in many places, that the state is duplicitous in its implementation of antiracist legislation while enacting racist policy and practice at the same time. However, protection from racial discrimination and vilification is generally called for by those who face racism, and it is not up to those not directly affected to argue against it. Antony’s argument and those of his supporters is that vilification laws are an ultimate danger for freedom of speech. But, the fact is that, in practice, any threat to the freedom of speech of the middle class, non-racialised population is outweighed by the daily racism (systemic and casual) experienced by people of colour, migrants and asylum seekers. Right-wing media pundits like Andrew Bolt, against whom Section 18C was successfully used, do not suffer in any real way from the existence of these laws. He did not lose his position or his ability to sully debate in this country in any sense. However, giving him license to spout racism in the interests of ‘freedom of speech’ would be a significant symbolic loss for those of us committed to racial justice. Freedom of speech is a strawman of liberals across the West; we all know that the freedom they expect for themselves is deemed higher than that of their opponents. You can be ‘free like me’, but not free ‘against me’. That is why those who cried freedom of speech following the publication of the ‘Muhammad cartoons’, opposed the freedom of speech of outraged Muslims to protest their publication. I am not under any illusion that Section 18C will end racism, but in the limited armory available to us, it is an important – symbolic – tool.
I had the pleasure of participating in a live debate on Wednesday August 28, Organised by Intelligence Squared Versus Debates, on the question ‘Has Martin Luther King’s Dream Been Realised?’ It was a tough gig at 4 am for me in Sydney, but it proved well worth it, especially due to the participation of Sohail Daulatzai who reminded us that ‘you have to be asleep to dream,’ that essentially using MLK’s speech as a clarion call for a postracial society is to literally be dreaming. I also made the point that no women of colour were asked to participate and that the use of the trope of ‘personal responsibility’ not only vilifies black womanhood, but is a complete misunderstanding of how structural racism works. I also noted that it was paradoxical that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation had several programmes commemorating the anniversary of the speech, but failed to make a link to the disproportionate incarceration of Indigenous people in Australia, or to the fact that they still have a life expectancy 16-17% lower than the average Australia. It was also interesting to hear British MP, David Lammy, speak out as an anti-capitalist and a Socialist. I asked him to confirm this on Twitter, but he declined to answer The discussion was expertly chaired by Kenan Malik with whom I always enjoy a lively debate. Off the cuff poetry from Benjamin Zephaniah was also a treat!