We stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter

We watched in horror the coverage of the death of George Floyd, the most recent victim among many black deaths at the hands of police in America. An action that has sparked protests of support throughout the world, including here in Australia.

This is a global wake-up call. This historic moment asks us to question and reflect on our own humanity and sense of justice. Here in Australia this work must begin with an acknowledgement of the history and foundations of racial inequity in our own country. As a community, we need to listen and understand how this entrenched racism is impacting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria, and what role each of us can play in contributing to change.

Racism exists on many levels and in many forms. While it is most insidious when perpetuated by those in positions of authority and trust in the community, like the police, it is equally as violent and destructive in its everyday and even unconscious forms, where it chips away at the confidence, sense of belonging and identity of our young people.

We know that for many of the young people and communities from migrant and refugee backgrounds we work with, racism is part of daily life. Watching these events dominate our social media feeds or attending protests may have bought up a range of feelings – from sadness to anger, frustration to exhaustion. We want you to know that we are with you in this. 

We stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

We hear countless stories in our daily work of the impacts of racism on the health and wellbeing of young Victorians, particularly in recent times with the rise in racist attacks during the Coronavirus pandemic. We are listening to these stories and pledging to act. 

At the recent Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Vilification Protections, CMY gave evidence highlighting the lived experiences of young people, the barriers they face in reporting incidents of racial vilification, and expressed our concerns around the significant increase of online discrimination young people are experiencing.

One of the young spokespeople for CMY, Akeer Garang, who shared her experiences said:

“For young adolescents who experience vilification in the schoolyard, what happens when vilification incites an internal sense of repugnance for your own difference? How can we then empower those young people who have internalised this to seek support?

I think the current structures that exist in schools to educate young people and support them in that process are not robust enough, because they do not seek to speak about racism in a way that actually reflects how people experience it. In order for that to be redressed… young people need to be at the centre of this conversation, and it needs to be done in a way that is authentic and robust.”

We need to take responsibility for racism as a community and move away from the idea that individuals experiencing racism can somehow be the ones to also make it stop. The impacts of racism and discrimination are already far too great, it is unfair to place the burden on victims to enforce the law – or to try and fix something they have little control over.

The voices and experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, as well as those of refugee and migrant communities, are critical to this conversation, but we have a responsibility as a broader community to pick this up and work on this together going forward. Let this be the beginning of a collective response, particularly from those of us who sit in positions of power and privilege.  

As noted in our submission to the Inquiry into Anti-Vilification Protections, we believe the following measures are key to creating change:

1. Legislation is important. Legislation sends an important signal to the community that this behaviour will not be tolerated. However, legislation needs to be understood, enforceable and accessible. We need to ensure the current mechanisms for protecting against racism and discrimination are understood are accessible to those they aim to protect.

Find out about your rights and how to make a complaint here.

2. Accessible reporting and redress mechanisms. We believe there is work to be done to make redress and reporting mechanisms more accessible (including taking the onus off the individual as the sole person who can make a complaint by allowing the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission to initiate investigations).

3. A coordinated, commitment of leadership to sustain and drive real change in the community. This should be steered by a whole of government Anti-Racism Strategy that builds on, expands and brings together efforts like Recruit Smarter, and Department of Education and Training projects on racism in schools, into a long-term and funded plan for the state that is:

  • informed by research – investment in research to understand the extent of underreporting and depth of the problems, interpersonal and systemic, in our community so we can target interventions and efforts to address this
  • developed with the whole community – not just multicultural community representatives
  • led by government and influential Victorians, including young people
  • setting clear targets that address overt expressions of racism – but also tackle the underlying attitudes and ideas (interpersonal and systemic) that lead to exclusion, intolerance and ultimately hate and violence.
  • including ongoing community education and awareness.

We know that conversations on race and racism need to start early and often, if we are to affect real change. We have been working in partnership with the Department of Education and Training to develop a set of resources for secondary schools which aims to support this process. Look out for its release in the coming month.

We must also educate ourselves, particularly those of us who experience privileges based on the colour of our skin. We encourage you to learn from the work of the Koorie Youth Council here in Victoria or tap into the resources available on Common Ground’s website. 

Now more than ever, we need to be listening to the voices of young people with lived experiences of racism. Voices like actor Meyne Wyatt who shared his powerful monologue on racism on ABC’s Q&A this week.

We know that young people are already leading in this work (see Scanlon Foundation’s Mapping Social Cohesion report), and we need to do more to support them. Young people cannot do this work alone, but their engagement cannot be tokenistic. We need to trust young people, invest in the skills they need to participate effectively, provide real opportunities for them to influence change, and support their leadership.

CMY has a critical role to play as an organisation. We will work to strengthen our advocacy efforts and continue to work in partnership with young people, communities and organisations. We must respond to this global call for change by acknowledging our shared responsibility to challenge systemic racism and inequality.