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Where to for migrants and minorities?

By Saeed Khan - posted Tuesday, 6 December 2016


The dust is yet to settle on Brexit and Donald Trump's presidential victory but Australia's own deplorables are already out in force beating their chests. Banking on political discontent, racism, and lack of unity among minorities, alarmists think we are ripe for pickings. They openly troll the web and organise around social media to contaminate the debate. You can feel the toxicity of the talkback radio pumping poison into murky airwaves. You can spot the beat-up merchants lining up to attack migrants and minorities as the existential threat to white Australia's future. More importantly, you can see the ugly beast raising its head on front, back and cross benches of the Australian Parliament.

In many ways, we may be different from US and United Kingdom as a society but not more resilient against such cultural turmoil by any means. In fact, less would be truer. Unlike the US we don't have a great civil rights heritage and robust institutions to mobilise the masses. We have next to no legislative protection for migrants and minorities. To make matters worse, we don't seem to have any political will, let alone leadership. The past 20 years of heartless politics has helped legitimise xenophobia and racism.

The tone of politics suggests we have accepted that a wave of xenophobic nationalism is reaching our shores. Assuming this Tsunami of hate and filth is heading our way, we must ask ourselves and each other some tough questions. If the deplorables take over with the support of white Australia, amidst ensuing racism, bigotry and cultural chaos, it may be too late for open-minded majority to say 'not-all-white-Australians' are like that. As the famous US comedian Samantha Bee perfectly put a torch on white American voters the day after Trump's victory; "If Muslims should take responsibility for every member of their community, so should we." Yes, the shoe will be on the other foot and it's going to feel awful.

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If you are of a migrant background, would you treat this racist wave as a fait accompli, hide your head in the sand pretending racism doesn't exist, or do something about it?

With a migrant background, likelihood is you did better at school than your most white friends. As a professional, while you have worked extra hard for your successes, you have learnt to remain passive. However ambitious, you don't want to be seen as a trouble maker. You are sold a utopia of equal opportunity in a deceitful meritocracy, where minorities are never on equal footing with the incumbent white elite. You have tasted cultural prejudice, often sugar-coated as subconscious bias, rife in the upper echelons of business and bureaucracy. The struggle comes in many forms and descriptions. It is known as glass ceiling for women, bamboo ceiling for Asians as introduced by an Asian-American author Jane Hyun, or cultural ceiling as coined by the Diversity Council of Australia.

The real problem is, unlike most affluent white Australians, migrants and minorities haven't inherited a sense of privilege. While the glass ceiling may be beginning to crack in some instances, cynical of cultural and class diversity, the upper rungs of business, bureaucracy and politics strictly remain self-replicating white boys clubs.

As predicted, if minorities and middle Australia confront each other in a cultural chaos, there will only be losers on both sides. Those in position of power are likely to fortify the status quo and our future generations are less likely to see shared opportunities. If anger and resentment is the currency of the day, it is important that we get angry about the real reasons for exclusion and ever creeping economic hardship affecting us.

We need to get angry because the politicians on both sides who take us for granted. They think migrant communities are complacent and come election time are easily manipulated. They know migrant communities lack unity to have any real say. Some of us having been here for four generations can still be instantly painted as outsiders.

Let's get angry about immigration politics that reeks of extreme hypocrisy. In recent decades, politicians who have taken issue with migrants, be it Howard, Abbot, Morrison or Dutton, have supported a massive bipartisan skilled migration regime under the command of big business. Middle Australia has its reason's to be angry about migration not migrants. One can understand their anxieties as justifying the benefits of decades of migration and what it means for jobs and the economy, has always taken a back seat to boats and border farce. Someone needs to dissect this beast for good.

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The organisations representing migrant communities, like the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council of Australia (FECCA) and its state councils, are way past their use date. They have no clue that the traditional lip service to language, access, rights and recognition is being replaced by a class struggle facing skilled and educated new arrivals as well as second and third generation migrants out in the workplace. We desperately need new creative forums, brave leadership and alliances to nurture and unite the emerging face diversity.

The price is too high if the beat-up merchants are allowed a free ride. We are likely to see many more Cronulla riots rip apart the very fabric of our society. Since our two-faced-two-party political system is not capable of leadership, our only chance is to join our hands and unite communities of all class, creed and cultures. We must.

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About the Author

Saeed Khan is a writer, diversity advocate, a former Deputy Chair of the Ethnic Communities Council of NSW and a former Treasures of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council of Australia (FECCA). Twitter @saeedahmedkhan

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