Racism is an ongoing problem in Australia that directly affects a significant number of Australians.
The late activist, author, and Nobel prize recipient, Toni Morris, suggests the persistence of racism is constructed around the concept of ‘other’ and it is the fear of ‘other’ that continues to fuel intolerance.
Those who are the targets of explicit or casual racism must also explain the implications of being perceived as ‘other’ which perpetuates the problems of group-based differences or ‘othering’.
How do those who have never been subject to racism begin to understand the experiences of those who have? How do we work toward a common ground and overcome prejudices through an inclusive non ‘other’ approach?
Join our panel as they share their experiences and stories in a nuanced exploration of contemporary racism.
This conversation was recorded live under the blue whale in Hackett Hall at WA Museum Boola Bardip on 10 November 2022.
Intro: Welcome to Human Rights Stories, our conversation series and podcast curated by the Western Australian Museum Boola Bardip in partnership with the Museum of Freedom and Tolerance. Join us and some of Australia's leading thinkers discussing a range of universal human rights issues through stories of resilience and action that shine a spotlight on overcoming prejudice in the face of persistent challenges and slow progress. Human Rights Stories is recorded on Whadjuk Nyoongar boodja. The Western Australian Museum acknowledges and respects the Traditional Owners of their ancestral lands, waters and skies.
Elizabeth Lang: My name is Elizabeth Lang. I'll be your facilitator for this evening. To kick off I'd like to firstly thank you all for being here today and your willingness to engage in this very important conversation, a conversation that we know many people shy away from. So, thank you for being here today.
Before I continue, I'd also like to acknowledge that we are on Nyoongar boodja. I want to pay my respects to Elders past and present, and I also want to extend this to anyone of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage joining us this evening as well. I want to also acknowledge the fact that sovereignty never ceded and I stand in solidarity for the ongoing struggle for recognition. Robyn touched on the tragic passing of Cassius Tovey and in honour of his life, I'd like us to take a moment of silence and just reflect as well.
Thank you. To give you a quick rundown of our event this evening, we will be— This is a very intimate group and we’ll have plenty of time for discussion and for questions as well. I'd really like this to be an interaction between you all here tonight and our panellists. So, our panellists will share some insights as it relates to the topic. I will kind of throw around some questions and leave plenty of time for you to also contribute. I welcome your contribution in the forms of questions, but also if you have insights or comments you'd like to share, or experiences, I really welcome you to bring that into this space as well. So, I'm going to introduce each of our speakers this evening. So, joining us online, we have all the way from Geneva, Switzerland, is Fadzi Whande. Fadzi is a global diversity and inclusion strategist and is considered an expert in her field, specialising in the areas of racial equity, social justice, and inclusive leadership. She has worked in Australia, Africa, UK, and the USA. She's also a board member of the Museum of Freedom and Tolerance and the Senior Diversity— Sorry, the Chief of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. So, thank you, Fadzi.
I would now like to introduce to Dr. Sender [Dovchin]. Sender is joining us on stage this evening. Sender is an associate professor from Curtin University. She is the Director of Research and principal research fellow at the School of Education. Her research focuses on empowering culturally and linguistically diverse populations through combating linguistic racism. Dr. Dovchin is Editor in Chief of the Australian Review of Applied Linguistics. She was identified as a top researcher in the field of language and linguistics under the Humanities, Arts, and Literature of the Australia's 2021 research magazine and also the top 250 researchers in Australia in 2021.
So, thank you, Sender.
And last but not least, we're joined by Dr. Rama Agung-Igusti. I'm delighted to introduce Rama this evening. Rama has recently moved to Perth from Victoria. And Rama was born in Melbourne on Wurundjeri Country to parents with migrant— Sorry, parents of migrant backgrounds, Balinese, Scottish and Australian backgrounds, and now lives and works on Whadjuk Nyoongar country. He's currently a research associate with the Transforming Indigenous Mental Health and Wellbeing Project at the School of Indigenous Studies UWA. He recently completed his doctoral research in community psychology in 2022 at Victoria University, where he worked alongside a collective of creatives from racially marginalised communities, documenting their work in responding to structural and cultural exclusion through the development of a self-determined community arts initiative.
Another speaker, who Ciaran mentioned is not able to join us this evening, is Bobby Henry. Bobby is very ill and has emailed me not long ago letting me know so she won't be joining us. But thank you all for being here this evening. I'm going to go over to you Fadzi, if you'd like to kick off our conversation with some initial thoughts.
Fadzi Whande: Thank you very much, Elizabeth, and good evening to everyone. I can see some familiar faces in the room.
I also want to just— I acknowledge the time that we're in and the importance of having this discussion. I feel that a lot of the times it's a discussion we seem to be having over and over.
And I think that it's really important for us to be able to have, you know, an understanding of what we're talking about, but also highlight the importance of why talking about issues of race and racism are important. Because they permeate in our workplaces. And so what happens is society kind of mirrors what what's happening within the workplace. I think one of the ways that I guess I want to kick this off is by highlighting that when you talk about racism, we often confuse it with talking about race or racial identity. And so for a long time, when you bring up the issue of race, people tend to get very defensive. And I think it's because we have a lack of understanding of what we're referring to. So, if we think about race as a form of racial identity, and then racism and of the negative impact in terms of how we have behaviours that that are very harmful to people based on the colour of their skin or ethnicity— I think there's a clear distinction between the two.
And I think for an Australian context, we've skirted around the issue because we often don't want to engage in the impact that racism has had on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, looking at the history of our country and a lot of the things that have happened since. And I think until we can reconcile that and have an understanding of how our past is and where we are as a nation, it'll be very hard for us to be able to tackle some of the things that we see within the workplace.
And so I think that the responsibility of having these discussions should not be on the people that are impacted by them. And we've seen this in a lot of the things that we do from a broader diversity inclusion agenda, that a lot of the things that we're seeing— For example, when we talk about gender equity or parity, and we always advocate for men to be champions and to walk alongside women. And I think when we’re talking about racism and racial discrimination, we also need allies. True allies, not people who just say it, but you have to be able to sort of champion the cause and see it as harmful. And I think this is what we're seeing within our nation at the moment, where it's always the people that are impacted that have to point out these experiences.
And so hopefully with tonight and starting this conversation, we will actually get to the real heart of the issue. And I believe that it's about taking individual responsibility for all of us, in order for us to actually say what do we want to see, what the outcomes that we want, and how am I going to hold myself responsible for making sure that we just don't have this conversation every year and there’s very little change.
Elizabeth Lang: Thank you. So now over to yourself, Dr. Sender. Would you like to share some thoughts on highlighting particular in your recent in your research looking at linguistic racism? Sender Dovchin: Thanks, Elizabeth. And thanks, everyone for coming tonight. You were supposed to be having your dinner and relax, but then you're all here coming to our talk. So thank you so much for everyone.
But I think this conversation is really important. So okay— So personally, I am Mongolian background researcher. So I came to Australia in 2005 as an international student, just after my Master's degree. So obviously, you know, since then I've been through a lot. So one of the most, sort of this traumatic experience for me was about my language. So when I first came to Australia in 2005, I thought my English was really good, you know? Because in Mongolia, like, you know, I finished university, I've got a Bachelor's degree in English, you know, and all that. I'm like, hero in Mongolia. So I came to Australia, and become a zero here. From hero to zero, because first of all my accent was not Australian-- standard Australian English, right? It was just different. So Mongolia is a very specific country because it's only got two and a half million people and you know, it's just located between China and Russia. So it was a Soviet country for like 70 years until 1990 after the Cold War. So, Mongolia became, you know, like sort of democratic countries. So not as Soviet influenced country any more. So when we learned English there in Mongolia, it was always Russian textbook about English, right? So I would actually learn English from the Russian textbook.
I know the name, it's called Bonk. [laughs] And maybe Tatyana knows about the book, right?
Yes. So when Mongolians speak English, they have a very heavy Russian accent, Russian accented English. You know, like in science, we call it Russian accented English. So I came to Australia. So, you know, I hang out with the local students and everyone, and my English— I started getting comments, especially from Australian men. Hmm. “Your English is— Your English sounds very Russian. Your English sounds very— It's very sexy.” So I didn't know how to react to that. I started getting really like, you know, self-conscious, right? Because I'm like only 20, in my early twenties, and what is even sexy, right? So I was like, okay, so how do I— Should I say thank you or, you know, is it a compliment? Or something like that? Right? So I didn't really know because I was so young.
And then when I was in the classroom, some of the local Australian students were telling me,
“You've got a Russian accent,” you know, “Why would you have a Russian accent? I thought you were Chinese,” or something like that. So these kind of comments start coming to me and I was— I didn't know what to expect because my imagination about Australia was so different as an international student. And my first, you know, comment about my English was having a heavy Russian accent. I do know, I do have a Russian accent, now. You can tell, I think, but improved a lot. You know, it improved a lot.
So that's the first time when I first started really feeling the linguistic racism. You know, not really the racism based on my skin colour, not really the racism based on my, I guess, religion. You know, it was the linguistic racism that— I was really, really like hurt a lot, you know, because, you know, look Asian and people think I'm Asian or Chinese or you know, because people wouldn't know Mongolians, so they would assume that I'm Chinese. So anyway, so that was one of the first experience that I have really, really like thought, oh god, you know, my English is just not right here.So what should I do to improve this? You know?
So as a migrant, I start working very hard and then I start my master's degree, start writing my essays, start talking to my classmates. And I do know I had a problem with my English. And then going on from there, I sat my Ph.D. and so forth. So linguistic racism is one of the things that I have really personally experienced. This is why I really wanted to do this research. So what is linguistic racism? Linguistic racism, basically— We have lots of isms, right? So we have ableism, ageism, racism, we have classism. So, for example, ableism is the discrimination based on one's disability and, you know, sexism based on one's gender and so forth. So we have very big discourse and narratives about all these isms.
But then when it comes to linguistic racism – or sometimes we call it linguicism – it wasn't really out there. People really didn't have awareness about linguicism or linguistic racism. So this is why I started really focusing on linguicism or linguistic racism. And I started talking to people, especially non-English speaking background migrants and also Australian Aboriginal English speakers as well, you know, because they don't they don't speak standard Australian English.
So I started talking all this participants of people and I really started getting the hang of it. What is really— It wasn't just me. It just happens to everyone when you have this dominant monolingual language ideology that is happening in the country. So linguistic racism is basically, to simply say, it's a discrimination based on how one speaks certain languages in an Australian context. How one speaks, for example, English or maybe in Mongolian context, how one speaks standard Mongolian.
Because even in Mongolia, if you don't speak standard Mongolian, you're considered as like, you know, you're not Mongolian, you know. So I'm not only talking about Australia. It’s a very global phenomenon. And also someone's fundamental human right is really violated basically as soon as they open their mouth. So you look very different, or you look very same, but then as soon as you start speaking, people start judging you, you know. So, when you have an accent or when you speak not very good English or when you have that ethnic accent, a foreign accent, or when you write English in a nonstandard way, then you become the victim of the linguistic racism and it has a lot of negative consequences.
So I'll just stop here [laughs] so that you can speak!
Elizabeth Lang: Dr Rama, go ahead.
Rama Agung-Igusti: Thank you, and I want to ask you all these questions, but I’ll have to— [laughs] As you're talking I’m like, oh, that's really interesting! But I'll have to save that for later. G'day folks, my name's Rama. And I'm going to try and briefly speak a little bit about my Ph.D. research, which I finished this year. And I think it touches on a maybe a few of the things that folks have been talking about as well. I think as these conversations unfold, you sort of start to see all these different interconnections between, I guess, those really individual experiences and then some of the bigger systems and structures that sort of shape those experiences. But a bunch of years ago, I started working with a collective of creative artists from the African diaspora, so, over in Melbourne on Wurundjeri Country. And they'd been working together in various capacities in community arts, and community and cultural development a whole bunch of years, and they'd gotten together and decided to go in to secure some funding so they could create their own spaces for young people from the African diaspora to come in to develop skills to enter the creative industries, but also have critical conversations about race and identity and belonging, engage in intergenerational conversations but also build solidarities with other racialised communities.
A big part of their desire to do this was responding, I guess, to sort of the cumulative experiences of cultural and structural exclusion that they'd experienced individually within their communities as well. So stuff that, you know, that we know has been the context of Australia since colonisation, but then also particular contexts in Victoria during that period where— There was a really nasty state election, where there was a whole lot of— I don’t know if folks are sort of familiar with the African gangs discourses that were that were popping up. And so this was a really, you know, violent sort of context that also sort of played a part in this desire to sort of have these kinds of spaces. So they were successful in this grant and got to create their own spaces that weren't part of a mainstream organisation. They weren't part of an institution. It was their own self-determined spaces that they could come together and create projects and do all this really neat work.
And so I spent the last few years sort of documenting the things that they were doing and what it means to kind of have those spaces and to sort of engage in ways of working that are really culturally grounded, that are that are grounded in sort of sets of values that aren’t necessarily supported in other spaces or dominant institutions. And what it means to sort of do work in those kinds of ways.
And also the kinds of meanings they get shared in those spaces. And so obviously this is a community art space and people are doing this, this really neat kind of creative work and the kinds of things that were produced that speak back to some of those dominant narratives and dominant discourses that construct people in really constraining and nasty ways. So, you know, I think just to name some of the things that they were responding to. And again, this touches on sort of stuff that you were talking about.
You know, I think foremost these sort of deficit discourses that were constructing themselves in their communities in these sort of violent negative ways, but also a devaluing of identities as well. The sort of this idea that that your capacities, your capabilities are ‘less than.’ You're not as good, you're not as clever or not as capable. And this kind of perception that's grounded in racism and racist systems. But also sort of what can be seen as on the surface, these sort of positive ways of, you know, complimenting people or engaging people that also sort of objectify and really constrain the ways that a person can be.
You know, it's just sometimes often things that come across as like a celebration of identity and culture can be really kind of constraining and so, you know, in the arts practice, you know, those sort of— Often people would speak about being constrained to these sort of narratives of, you know, some had refugee backgrounds or other sort of stories that then became defining for them and really constraining in the things that they could produce, the kinds of identities that they could adopt.
So these, you know, through their creative work, they’re some of the things they were challenging. And some really important parts of that was, yeah, connecting back into culture, but also imagining different ways of being and, I guess, histories that kind of get glossed over in the stories that circulate in mainstream spaces. And something in particular is, sort of ideas of migrant belonging that are centred around Indigenous sovereignty as well. So there's this singular narrative of migrants that gets told and sort of you're putting forward these different ideas.
Before— I would just say, because I'm conscious that I'm going to rattle on too long. But I think the other, the other part that that is really important from the experience of this collection of folks was, what happened when they still had to engage or encounter mainstream institutions and organisations because that's inevitably, you know, something that you can't not do or very hard to sort of not do. You know, you still need support. You still need access to resources and spaces. And so even having your own space, you going to have to engage with different settings.
And what they experienced was these kinds of ways of racialised exclusion that would occur but would be really hidden in these sort of objective kind of discourses around risk management or even sort of ideas of, say, leadership, or what it is to be a professional in a particular setting. And so these are sort of objectively kind of, you know, managerial practices or things that seem pretty normal and standard in any organisation, but the way that they're applied has this really deep racial precedent and is really oriented around control and surveillance and all of these kinds of things. But it's kind of really easy to sort of distance themselves— Anyway, that's my two, two bits and bobs.
Elizabeth Lang: Thank you. I'm going to come back to you Fadzi. And you talked about the notion of race and racism as being two different concepts that are often conflated as one. Can you unpack the concepts a little bit more and what the differences and the significance of that as well?
Fadzi Whande: I think if we think about a race based on racial identity, so, you know, skin colour, melanin, hair, all the features that make you who you are in terms of an identity— You know, there's been a lot of discussion around what racism actually is, and I think it's important to understand the role that power and privilege have when we actually look and unpack racism as well, because the enacting of race and— One of the things that I always mention is, we have to also understand that race is a social construct, first and foremost. And what I mean by that is that we are actually all one race. You know, there's no scientific evidence that shows that there's different races. In fact, science proves that there's more difference between me and you Elizabeth, although we might racially identify as black, there's more differences between me and you than me and a white person.
And so, I think when we talk about the social construct, we have to look at some of the some of the ways that the origin of the word came about. And if we look at some of the historical writing, going back from the American civil area, we can see there was a differentiation between talking about Native Americans, and then there was just this whole notion of the difference of race, the difference between white skin and the Other.
And so we see this in a variety of different fields. And even from a political perspective within our own history, the White Australia Policy, for example, even apartheid, where there's differences based on the colour of one’s skin or how they identify racially. And a lot of that is racism in the fact that there's a group of people who are in privileged positions and who have social, economic power to basically enact policies that impact on another group based on the colour of their skin, based on how they identify. So that's what we mean when we talk about race being a social construct or a political construct and being a false qualification. So I think that's the first thing that we have to understand is that humans are the ones that created this whole notion about what race is. It's not based on science. And when we can understand that, that it's actually an affect for whatever reason or whatever period, people feeling superior, people feeling that they're more privileged or they have more rights is when you start to unpack what you mean by racism. And I think for people who are not white, and they have clearly articulated the experiences that they've had through things that have been said, been said and been done, and I think when we also look at racism, we have to consider that it shows itself in so many different ways.
So one of the ways and the most popular way is this interpersonal one, that's me not liking you, and that's what we tend to hear a lot about: things that are said, things that are done to somebody because of the way they look. But then racism manifests also structurally. We see it in our systems. It can manifest at an organisational level and it can also manifest internally. What we mean by that is, if we look at the systems— So for example, a good example would be we look at Australia within the legal system, there is no reason why Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth should be incarcerated more than any other group, considering that it's such a small percentage when we think about the population. When we think about achievement gaps, when you think about life expectancy, these are some of the ways that we can see that the racism has permeated to the point that it's now within our structures, within our systems, and then becomes part of our institutions.
And when we talk about the internal bit of racism, this is when we take on the beliefs of a dominant group. And when I'm talking about ‘dominant group,’ I'm not talking about dominance as it pertains to subjugating others. I'm talking about a group that enjoys social and economic privilege. So, what I mean by that is, if we’re talking about gender, for example, males would have, would be a dominant group; if we’re talking about sexuality, straight people; if we're talking about disability, people who are able bodied, would be the dominant group. So when we think about that, we have to recognise that for people who are part of the majority of the status quo, they do have a lot of power and privilege associated with that.
And we should be asking people how they're using their privilege for good because we, you know, we have to recognise that people don't ask for privilege, because if I was to say to the audience, how many of you got to choose what colour skin you are born, or have before you are born? Who’d raise their hand? What if I said to you, how many of you got to choose who your parents would be, who would raise their hand? How many of you got to choose your nationality? And so forth. So a lot of the things that make us who we are in terms of identity, we don't have any control over. And so the reverse of that is people who are in dominance or part of the majority group also didn't choose that.
However, what we should be saying is, now that you know that you're part of that, now that you know that society's affording you certain privileges, how are you using that for good? How are you using that to advocate for a more just and equitable society? And this is where I feel a lot of the problems come in, because we're not actually addressing people. And even if we're thinking about the speaker series, you know, who's listening to who? t's always the same people that are in the room, you know, the people that should be in the room are never in that room, and so the people that need to hear these conversations and do something, sometimes aren't. And so I think that this is a reflection of where we are in society and the importance that we attach to certain things.
And this is what creates a diversity hierarchy. So, you know, within my work, to give you an example, you know, the race conversation obviously has accelerated over the last few years, with what happened to George Floyd, at a global level. But even talking about diversity and inclusion within an organisation, or when you talk about race, oftentimes you have people saying, why are we focusing on this? Why aren’t we focusing on gender? Or why are we now watering down the work that we've done for gender or, you know— And so we are creating this hierarchy where, based on how you identify, people feel that they need to be heard. And so we are attaching importance to something that— I think that oftentimes we attach important things that are easier for us to do to handle where we don't want to have those difficult conversations. And I think that, you know, it's the same for me as when you go to a hospital and you go to see a doctor and you have a wound, and you want the doctor to help you, whether you're in pain of any sort. They have to diagnose things. And sometimes the medication you're given can make it a little bit worse, but it's all because you want to get it better.
And so I think that oftentimes when talking about race, we often want to skip over those hot spots and get to the easy fix. But we can't do that without unpacking what it looks like. And I think that for us to have a clear understanding that all of us can play a role in basically creating these environments that make people feel, eh, you know— Whether it's racial profiling, for example, whether it's the microaggressions— And the racial microaggressions, for me, are more harmful than overt racism or somebody's doing something that's completely harmful because a lot of the times people think— And what I mean by microaggressions is those slights, those small little slights or actions that we do and we don't actually realise it and an example of it, which I think we're all familiar with, is this question of , “Where are you from?” And oftentimes I'll ask people like, again, in an Australian context, if I was to ask our audience, can you describe what a typical Australian looks like? People will oftentimes look at me like I'm crazy because they'll talk about how multicultural the country is and how they perceive it, and then some will be able to say, Well, the only people who could be classified as, you know— So there's always discussion. And the thing is, no, we can't, because we are diverse and we identify in so many different ways. But the thing is, we also have an obsession for asking people where are you from? And oftentimes that's followed up, “But where are you really from?” Now, if you are somebody who's the fourth generation Chinese, for example, you know, that could be a very offensive question.
And oftentimes people say, you know, people of colour are too sensitive. And the thing about microaggressions is, I compare them to a raindrop. So if you think about a raindrop, a single raindrop has no impact at all. But if you think about a raindrop over, repeatedly over a number of years, it causes erosion. And so the thing about racial micro-aggressions is, you know, as a once off you might think that, you know, nothing’s happened, but over a period of time, they cause erosion.
And this is where we have to now take individual responsibility for some of the things that we say and do and the impact that it has and start to think about if we are part of the majority groups, how are we using our privilege for good? How are we opening up space to hear the voices of people that are not there?
Elizabeth Lang: Thank you. You touched on a lot, Fadzi, and I'd like to just draw out a few things that I think are very key is part of that reflection. You talked about the notion of racism being a system, and you talked about structural racism within that context as well. And I think that's a really key concept for us to unpack further. So I'd like to jump to you, Rama, because I know that a lot of your work in Melbourne and in particular your Ph.D. research was looking at how racialised groups, I guess, resisted those systems. Can you share a little bit more on that?
Rama Agung-Igusti: Yeah, definitely. I think, sort of responding to things at a structural level, at a systemic level, is so important. I think there's a big shift, or trends that have occurred over the last many years towards things that really focus on individuals. You know, so we sort of see this huge explosion of anti-racist training that often can keep the focus at that individual or interpersonal level and really neglects to think about, you know, I guess building up a critical literacy around systems and structures and how that plays into racism. And, at the same time, you sort of see that being employed in organisations that also are hesitant to change things at a structural level or at a systemic level as well. And so I think this is an issue because then it sort of gives the illusion of change or taking action or sort of trying to transform things without actually changing the kinds of settings that contribute to those spaces.
So you know, I think, you know, from some of the things that were really being called for, I think from the experiences of the collective and other folks that that we spoke to, were kinds of really pivotal changes in the context of— This is in the context of human services and community development. But I think it extends to all settings, really. But things that actually see different organisations and institutions transforming the way the power is distributed and who holds power, but also what it's like to be a person that's from a marginalised community within those spaces. So often you can see people that end up being able to hold power within an organisation, but they can still be a really violent and toxic place that isn't actually safe to be in, in many ways.
So some of the things that I think that people were really calling for, you know, in the context of the work that we were doing was, first of all, seeing things like resources shifted out of institutions so people can have their own spaces, but also capacity building being part of that. So not just sort of sending people off on their own to fend for themselves, but saying, hey, actually, no, there's a there's a responsibility, shift the resources, but also support people to create their own spaces, create their own initiatives and to do things for the community and hold spaces for their community.
Um, and then, I think for those organisations that are still doing work with particular communities, is really changing the way they operate. So that looks like things like ensuring that you have people on your boards with lived experience of the communities that you're working with. Ensuring that you have people in power, you know, executives and directors and managers, again, that have lived experience, if not a fundamental understanding of the experiences of the communities that you're working with and really making an effort to build that capacity.
And I think the third thing is, is that moving down to that kind of individual level. Pushing past, I guess, ideas of simply just building cultural competency or cultural knowledge and awareness, but actually engaging in what we’d call an ongoing critical reflexive practice that's an ongoing project. It's not about, say, developing a particular competency that you can sort of tick off and say that you've achieved that, but actually reflecting about power and positionality on an ongoing basis. And so I think having that as a set of skills on an individual level, I think is of utmost importance.
I think it's those kinds of changes that happen at multiple levels that need to sort of come into play. And then I think if you sort of take that step back— You know, I talked about the collective and the creative work that they were doing, and I talked a little bit about the narratives that they were producing in their creative work. And so I think there's also this stuff that happens in the cultural sphere, the kinds of stories and narratives that are available for people – so not only communities that are creating them for their own communities, so giving people resources to construct their own identities, individual and collective identities – but also for folks that aren't from those communities to push or develop new understandings about relations of power in broader society, but also relations between different groups.
And so, you know, I think we're seeing a shift in that, in new forms of media that give us different stories and different ways of thinking about history and in places like Australia and our relationship to those histories. And I think that's also a really important element. So, you know, thinking about all of those different levels, that broader sort of discursive— The stories that we have available to, you know, form opinions and our thoughts and identities. Those kinds of structural changes that happen at an organisational level and the kinds of things that we do individually but in an ongoing way.
Eliabeth Lang: Thank you. I think that's very insightful, particularly your point around you know, the, I guess, the role of organisations or workplaces and sometimes the Band-Aid solutions that we see organisations or individuals initiating. And sometimes, you know, it's with good intention, but there's also the potential for harm because it can create cynicism, because sometimes there's a sense that the organisation is engaging in anti-racism training or doing diversity and inclusion, or even Aboriginal cultural awareness training, for the purpose of ticking a box and to be seen to be doing the right thing, rather than actually meaningfully wanting to engage in these conversations. I think that's a really key one and that, you know, I'd love to unpack a little bit further and I would also welcome the audience in sharing a little bit more around this as well in a few moments. But I'm going to jump to you, Sender. So, thank you so much for sharing your story. That was really, really insightful. I'd like you to share a little bit more around the notion of linguistic racism. And you started off by sharing your story, but what is the impact? Can you unpack it a little bit more?
Sender Dovchin: Yeah, thanks, Elizbeth. So linguistic— So the theory of linguistic racism or, I said linguicism, right. So this is basically in my field— My field is called applied linguistics. In my field, it's a very sort of new term because you— Usually previously scholars would call it just sort of like, you know, it's an accent-based discrimination or, you know, it's say just the way the person speaks and, you know, he or she gets discriminated or whatsoever. So it wasn't really that big a sort of like concept in my field. So we just wanted to look at it more deeper and we just wanted to theorise it more so that we can raise the public awareness about that. So in order to reach that, we have interviewed, or not only interviews, it's also open ethnographic observation, we call it: around 160 non-English speaking background, migrant background, migrant background speakers in Australia, and also some of our research participants were also Aboriginal Australian participants. So based on those interviews and openness ethnographic observations, we have concluded that, okay, what is linguistic racism? Right? So obviously we our research is very data heavy. We based on data and evidence, but we also have to engage with the previous studies and concept. So what is linguistic racism? In order to unpack it, basically, I said it's the discrimination based on how one speaks certain languages, certain accents and dialects and repertoires, and so forth. But there are two types of main linguistic racism in our study. So it's an implicit linguistic racism, and explicit linguistic racism. So explicit one is very obvious. You can identify this. You know, the AFL, Aboriginal AFL player Adam Goodes, he was called, like, what was he called, an ape, right? So that is linguistic racism because you're directly offending that person through offensive term, right? Or there are some examples when you're on the bus, someone is, we're speaking our first language and someone says, “You have to speak English. This is Englishonly speaking country.” So that's very explicit. You can identify you can you get offended by that comments So we call it explicit sort of linguistic racism. Sometimes you get mocked, right? Like I said, you know, “You have a very sexy accent.” Although it's in a very playful, funny way sometimes, you know, the person who received that comment, they can get very offended by that.
So it's kind of like the intersectionality of the explicit and implicit linguistic racism. Whereas implicit linguistic racism can happen in a very hidden sort of subtle way. You know, you don't really— You can't really identify whether it was the linguistic racism or not. But for the victims, obviously, they can feel it was a linguistic racism. So for the implicit, like, it can happen in a very sort of like implicit hidden, subtle, covered ways. Some of the examples of the implicit linguistic racism is, for example, when you're hanging around, for example, with a group of people and then this group of people, for example, dominantly Australian people and talking to each other in a very heavy Australian accent. Right. And then they're using these insider jokes and then you don't really know what to contribute because you do not understand the insider joke or you didn't really understand what they're really talking about. So you feel really sort of , like, you know, like socially excluded, or peer rejection and you feel really awkward, right?
So I know the other group is like, you know, they don't really necessarily want to hurt you on purpose or intentionally, but you really have to have that sensitivity about the person who is really non-English speaking background person, because they don't know the insider joke. You know, for example, when I first came to Australia, I went to Coles, the grocery shop, and the shop assistant said, “Do you have a Flybuys?”
And I'm like, “What?” “Do you have Flybuys?” “What?” So what is Flybuys?! I get so, so, you know, like self-ashamed by not knowing Flybuys. So this is a kind of very implicit way of linguistic racism, like— But when I say, like, by linguistic racism, we're talking more about the language, language-based side of rejection and social exclusion, marginalisation and so forth. And this is still happening because the public— People are not really, you know, they're not very conscious, are aware of all this happening because, you know, people have their own lives. They don't really concentrate on all of that every day. And, you know, we need a bit more information and education about why this can happen, why how can it be identified, and what can we do to combat this? Because, you know, non-English speaking background migrants, they have feelings, they're humans, they can get hurt.
And we have examples of very sort of like severe examples where some of the international students, they were the victims of the linguistic racism. So they started developing suicidal ideations. You know, I know one Melbourne University student. He actually killed himself because he didn't understand English, what was happening at school at Melbourne University. He couldn't keep up with his exams and he couldn't make any friends because all his friends were like really good English speakers. So he ended up ending his life. And this is very common in our research in, you know, in our study about linguistics. So we call it linguistic inferiority complex, which can cause the psychological damage [to] mental health and also the physical damage as well.
Elizabeth Lang: Yeah, thank you. I think it's interesting when you share about the notion of linguistic racism where there's very covert examples, you know, that you shared, or very overt examples, rather, but there's also the covert examples of linguistic racism. And I think when I think about the connection of, you know, exclusion through language and the issue of racism, and I guess where the two also collide in some way and you touched on how, you know, at times somebody might share something that might sounds like a compliment, but the undercurrent of that is actually, it's not a compliment.
So, it's interesting because I think that manifests in other ways as well in terms of racism, in terms of people being overly praised or overly celebrated or seen to be exceptional, but underlying that is this idea that of someone of your background, we do not expect this level of excellence. So, it comes across as a compliment, but it's actually very harmful.
Sender Dovchin: Yeah, it's called exoticisation of that person and we don't want to look exotic, we just want to be a part of you, right. But I'm not exotic or you are exoticising my English or exoticising my race and so forth. In terms of Fadzi, Fadzi said that you know, actually humans are all same. We don't have those races. And she pointed out that point and I agree with that because often for example, in my latest book, I argued that above the ordinariness of diversity. So all Homo sapiens, we humans, we are all the same. We have same brain structure, we have same body, we all have ten fingers, ten toes, and so forth. We are all the same, the only diverse— So we are all ordinary human beings. But only thing that is different and diverse is our inner beings. You know, we all think differently. We talk differently. So that is the theory of ordinariness in diversity. And we don't need to celebrate diversity like exoticising or othering each other, rather than we should just accept it as the way it is and see how it goes. Because diversity is ordinary. We are all the same, you know, human rights or human beings. So, yeah, I would like to point out that.
Elizabeth Lang: Thank you. Thank you for saying that. I'm going to throw out a general question and I welcome anyone to contribute. I've been reflecting on this a lot because this comes up in many different ways, I guess, in my work as well. I often wonder, how do we begin to address the issue of racism when the, there's a pervasive denial of its very existence? Like, how do we address it when most people just are not willing to even address that it's actually an issue, or that it's a problem that should be addressed? So, who would like to speak to that first?
Rama Agung-Igusti: It's the million-dollar question, right? [laughs]
Sender Dovchin: Yeah. So the question was, how do we—
Elizabeth Lang: How do we address racism when they are part of— One of the biggest issue is that there's a pervasive denial of its existence. So people are not willing to acknowledge it to begin with.
Sender Dovchin: Yeah. Well, it's a very sensitive topic and no one wants to be racist, you know. That's where it starts from. So when you say, oh, you've been linguistically racist, they will probably say, no, I have not. You know, so we have to also take care of each other. You don't want to accuse people of being racist because that's not fair for everyone, right? But it's very important, for example, in my field to really feel when you're talking to that other person, how should he or she's feeling when you say a comment like, “Wow, your English is so good, I can't believe your English is so good!” Like, “Where are you from? How long have you been living in Australia?” And I'm like, well, I'm a professor at Curtin, so you know, like, I'm an applied linguist, so I think I know how to speak English. Like, I'm not that arrogant, but that's what I think inside, right? But that's not really what I say.
But I would say to them that, I would say to this interaction, for example: everybody's English is different. Everybody speaks English differently. You know, there is no, like, good English or bad English. Everybody speaks differently. Like, you know, I speak Mongolian, I speak some Russian, I speak English. This is how I speak. So, this is how I speak English. And somebody who is from— Somebody who is from, for example, Southampton from UK or Manchester from UK, they have different English accents. They speak different Englishes. They have some sort of like classism going on. So everybody speaks different English. So my comment is, well, I speak good English. Thank you. So, this is how I speak, but everybody speaks, you know, different the English or something like that.
But the first step of combating pervasive racism, in my opinion, based on my research, is, you know, we really have to embrace the diversity and promote sort of like, you know, the ordinariness of diversity. Being diverse, being different is ordinary. We just have to accept, you know, who they are, how they speak. And then we need to encourage the diversity in the classroom, at workplace, in the public transport, like everywhere, you know, and you don't have to make them feel different. That's really important in my opinion.
Elizabeth Lang: Thank you.
Fadzi Whande: I just want to add to that, by saying that, I think this is the whole concept that we're talking about today, right? About the othering. And I think that when we deny the existence, it's because we're not really exercising— We have a lack of empathy and we actually don't see ourselves in the experiences that people are sharing. And I think the first part is raising that awareness, but it's also about looking at people as individuals and actually affirming and validating their experiences. And I think that the first thing I would say is, when I'm— When I tend to talk to people around this, I tend to use my experience. So I will say, you know, “What you said made me feel this particular way,” or “What you did came across like blah, blah, blah, towards me,” as part of a way of educating people, that some of their actions and some of the things they say have an adverse impact on me. And I found that when I personalise it to myself and I'm not labelling, it also opens up conversation, right? But I think fundamentally the reason why we have that problem is, I think there's a lack of empathy, and there's, uh, denial because people don't want to see themselves as being bad.
And I think this is what Sender's referring to. I don't want to see myself as a racist. I don't want to see myself as somebody who's like this. So, I will, you know, I'll deny that. And I think that's the thing is, like, we all have to understand that we can be in situations where we say things that can impact negatively on other people, you know?
And I like to always sort of, like, show how stereotypes can lead to discrimination. So, if we think about stereotypes as an overgeneralised opinion or view about a particular group— So, for example, a statement like ‘men are more logical than women.’ It's a stereotype that believes that men are better at certain tasks. Right? So if we make that statement, that's like the stereotype, but if I attach a feeling towards that and if somebody then looks at me and— Let's say I'm in a work context and they don't give me the position because I'm a woman, then basically what that has turned into is prejudice towards women. So, for example, “I need somebody who is logical. So I'm not going to give Fadzi this task.” And they're not giving me that task because they have this stereotype belief that men are more logical. Now, when I attach an action to that by not giving them the task, that becomes discrimination, because I've acted on what started off as a thought. It became a feeling, and now it's become an action.
And I think that, when we're thinking about racism, in that, we also have to consider, what are the thoughts that we have about certain groups of people? What are the thoughts that come to mind when we hear people speaking in a certain accent? And do we act on that? Are we then going to say, oh, you know what? Sender, you know, her accent is not as polished as I would want it to be. So I'm just going to make sure that she is not in that situation where she's engaging with people or something. And so we act on these things. And I think that all of us have the propensity to do that.
And I think it's understanding that, there. But I would also say that whenever we are in those situations, we need to speak on how it makes us feel. Not on the broader context, but there and then. And I think we need to approach it from that angle of saying— “You know what, Elizabeth, when you said this, this really made me feel like this,” because now I'm sharing with you my experience and some people can be quite shocked by that.
Some people might say, I didn't mean it. And then there's some people who, you just have to accept that there's just no empathetic bone their body and you sort of like move on from there. But I think it's just about creating more awareness and pushing for us to see people as individuals and not as part of, like, a racialised group and making stereotypes and prejudices based on that.
Elizabeth Lang: Thank you. And Rama?
Rama Agung-Igusti: Yeah, I think... So I think, first of all, I think if we if we can take the position that we live and work in race, or within racist systems and racist structures, and especially so when you think about being here in this place, in Australia and the legacy of coloniality. So if we sort of know that we also have to accept that we are overall, in some ways, complicit and implicated in racism and racist systems and structures. So I think in that sense, yeah, we all have the capacity to sustain that system and to participate in that system in ways that can afford us privilege and power. I think that the tricky thing is, is that it's hard to give up privilege and it's hard to give up power. And nobody really, you know, wants to, readily or easily. There are, if anyone's read— There's a guy. Charles Mills is a philosopher. And he wrote a book called ‘The Racial Contract.’ And part of that's talking about this idea of wilful ignorance and its sort of wilful ignorance around things like history and context, which allows people to understand those workings of privilege and power. But it's this sort of collective contract to kind of ignore it, and not accept it, and continue upholding those kinds of systems. But of course, you know, that's, you know— There are people that are really invested in changing things and shifting their own perspectives. And so, I think there's a really big role to play for folks that are on that journey to sort of step up and do some meaningful labour and work to educate people that are around them in really productive and generative ways.
You know, I think, you know, people— There's this whole bunch of writing on the kinds of approaches to doing that. But, you know, I think echoing some of the other things that were said, it's not the burden of folks that experience that that racism and marginalisation and to always be doing that labour. And I think that's really important, roles of allies to have that solidarity and to step in there and do that work. So, yeah, I think that's probably the only thing that I'd add onto it.
Elizabeth Lang: Thank you, everybody. Thank you to the audience for your willingness to come out on this rainy evening, and for engaging in this conversation. I just want to say that, particularly if you're new to this, I think some of the language we're using tonight— I mean, I'm very comfortable saying things like black, white, etc. because I work in this space. But I realise that it can be confronting and quite uncomfortable for people. I just want to say that if you came tonight and felt a sense of discomfort, use that as a learning moment and be comfortable being uncomfortable because I think that's where the growth happens. But I want to thank you so much for your engagement tonight, and thank you to all the speakers, and thank you to Ciaran for putting all this together and for your support all in the background, as well as the tech team as well.
Outro: Thanks for listening to Human Rights Stories. This podcast is created by the Western Australian Museum Boola Bardip in partnership with the Museum of Freedom and Tolerance. To listen to other episodes from this series, go to visit.museum.wa.gov.au/boolabardip where you can listen to all eight conversations from the 2022 In Conversation program. Human Rights Stories is recorded on Whadjuk Nyoongar Boodja. The Western Australian Museum acknowledges and respects the Traditional Owners of their ancestral lands, waters and skies.
Elizabeth Lang is the founding CEO and Lead Consultant at Diversity Focus. Diversity Focus helps align company policies, procedures, and practices with global diversity, equity, and inclusion benchmarks. She leads a team of practitioners committed to a research-led approach to DEI that creates measurable and sustainable change in workplace culture. Diversity Focus delivers a range of workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion, focusing on gender and race.Fadzi Whande
Fadzi Whande is a Global Diversity and Inclusion Strategist and is considered an expert in her field, specialising in the areas of racial equity, social justice and inclusive leadership. She has worked in Australia, Africa, UK and the USA. A board member of the Museum of Freedom and Tolerance (MFT) and the Senior Diversity and Inclusion Advisor at the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, Fadzi has worked with Boola Bardip to curate a fascinating series of discussions that explore human rights and examine ways in which to redress injustices.Sender Dovchin
Associate Professor Sender Dovchin is a Director of Research and Principal Research Fellow and at the School of Education, Curtin University. Her research focuses on empowering CALD population through combatting linguistic racism. Dr Dovchin is an Editor-in-Chief of the Australian Review of Applied Linguistics. She was identified as “Top Researcher in the field of Language & Linguistics” under The Humanities, Arts & Literature of The Australian's 2021 Research Magazine and Top 250 Researchers in Australia in 2021.Bobbi Henry
Bobbi Henry recently finished her Masters in Performing Arts with a strong focus on the matriarch and Indigenous women in the theatre, primarily in WA. She is currently Associate Artist at the Perth Festival and an Associate Producer at the Yiraa Yaakin Theatre Company.
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