Challenging Notions of Skin Colour and Disadvantage

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In her maiden speech to Parliament, Ms. Hanson from Oxley stated that the colour of one’s skin doesn’t determine disadvantage. But as someone intimately familiar with the impact of skin colour on opportunities, I respectfully disagree. My experiences have shaped my understanding that skin colour can indeed dictate the odds one faces.

Allow me to share a few episodes from my own life that have underscored this reality. In my primary school years, a cousin of mine, whose appearance was more stereotypically Aboriginal, faced prejudiced assumptions about intelligence solely based on his complexion. Assigned gardening duties by a teacher who wouldn’t have him in his classroom because the teacher deemed his dark complexion as synonymous with limited intellect.

Similarly, another cousin and a fellow Aboriginal classmate were met with blatant discrimination at a secondary school, where they were cruelly turned away by a teacher who blatantly stated, “I’m not teaching blacks – get out of here!” Such experiences denied them rightful education opportunities.

Even in my academic pursuits, I encountered biased views. A lecturer attributed my academic success to my mixed heritage, making it evident that appearances played a role in perceptions of capability. This contrasted starkly with the journey of an Aboriginal woman whose appearance aligned more with stereotypes, yet she rose to become a university Emeritus Professor.

My involvement in an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander housing cooperative shed light on how those with darker complexions faced more significant placement challenges. The discrepancies based on skin colour were glaring.

Ms. Hanson’s continuing re-election to the Australian senate demonstrates that there is a significant percentage of Australian voters who argue against a society where certain groups are treated equitably. Ms. Hanson’s plea for equality resonates on the surface, but her approach overlooks the nuanced reality that equal treatment isn’t always equitable. The difference lies in recognising and addressing historical disparities that have disproportionately affected certain communities, such as the First Peoples of Australia.

Historically, Australian society has been rife with inequalities based on ethnicity and skin colour. It’s imperative to acknowledge the lived experiences that show the undeniable impact of skin colour and other physical features on opportunities and treatment within society. Recognising and addressing these inequalities is crucial to creating a better, more inclusive society for all.

Addressing accountability, Ms. Hanson rightly emphasises personal responsibility. However, this sentiment overlooks the historical baggage carried by marginalised communities. A legacy of colonialism stripped away our rights and impacted our ability to take responsibility in the same way.

Recall the history of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) and the outcome of the October 2023 Referendum. Visionaries like William Cooper (1860 -1941) envisioned a representative body to Australia’s parliament as a crucial body for First Nations representation. The dismissal of ATSIC and the premature attempt to birth the Voice saw it wither in the womb, making it a disregarded aspiration of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

The unique challenges faced by marginalised communities such as First Peoples saw it illegal for families to walk down Brisbane streets together because of Commonwealth Games Legislation of 1982. The legislation restricted basic activities for First Peoples, robbing us of everyday freedoms.

Politicians who call for a unified nation under one flag disregards the diverse tapestry that is Australia. The notion of one people and one flag is uncoordinated with the continent’s richly diverse history and the reality that is Australia in the 21st century.

Advocating for support for those facing life’s hurdles, with a focus on “ordinary Australians” is exclusionary. Who exactly are ordinary Australians? Are they the group promoted by the White Australia Policy? The political right stance on immigration echoes past discriminatory rhetoric and fails to acknowledge the value of cultural diversity.

As Australians, we aspire for a society where true equity, respect, and understanding prevail—where all voices, histories, and realities are acknowledged and embraced. That’s the foundation for genuine progress. Embrace Australia’s shared history, acknowledge the massacres, the enslavements and the racism of the passed so we as an enlightened nation may move forward.

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