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The lucky (racist) country

Dinusha Soo dissects racism in Australia through the lens of Reg Mombassa's art....

For many of us growing up in Australia, we were often reminded of the fact that we live in the ‘lucky’ country, made up of a rich fabric of multiculturalism. Our diversity is touted as one of our key strengths, particularly when compared to other Western nations.

But for several Australians – our diversity is the very thing that can lead to oppression. One in five Australians have experienced racism in 2017 alone, according to a poll commissioned by the SBS with Western Sydney University.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a large portion of this racism has been directed to Asian-Australians and prior to this, the Muslim population.

So, what makes Australia racist and has this always been the case?

When the White Australia Policy came into effect in 1901, anyone from a non- European background could not enter the country. This was not abolished until as late as 1973, all while the Stolen Generations period was occurring between the mid-1800s to the 1970s.

Then if we look at our current national anthem, which surprisingly came into effect in 1984, we would all be familiar with the words, “for we are young and free.” Harmless enough? “These very words sung in our Australian anthem ignore the 65,000 years or more of Indigenous Australian culture,” says France Mao in a BBC article.

Reflecting on Australia’s laboured efforts to recognise and afford rights to those of Indigenous descent, it presents as a mere example of underlying racism in this country.

One of Australia’s most renowned artists, Reg Mombassa provides searing political commentary through his artwork. When asked by Troublemag what he perceives as the most important societal issue in Australia today – his response was racism.

Design by Dinusha Soo
Design by Dinusha Soo

Reg has done several pieces discussing racism, one of his more notable designs was for Mambo, where an Australian representation of Jesus extends an olive branch with the words “Australian Jesus welcomes the boat people.”

In recent times, these ‘boat people’ have been denied entry to Australia, even if they were facing persecution in their homelands. Australia currently has agreements with neighbouring countries, to process asylum seekers ‘offshore.’

The Refugee Council of Australia states that this means that people seeking asylum are generally detained, often for long and uncertain periods”. Additionally, there is no independent review of the decision to detain, and people have been detained for increasingly long periods.

“The detention of people seeking asylum under this regime is one of the harshest in

the world and causes terrible suffering,” the Refugee Council of Australia states.

As Australians who recognises our past and indeed our current policies – we must strive to do better. This will require having a sense of empathy and understanding toward our fellow humans, irrespective of the colour of their skin, their creed or their cultural beliefs. It is only by striving for a more equitable society, will movements like Black Lives Matter, which resonates with people globally, have any profound impact on our own culture here in Australia.

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Domino’s ‘Karen’ stunt sparks discussion about misogyny and white privilege

Pizza chain Domino’s has sparked discussion about white privilege and misogyny...
Fight Sexism graffiti. Source: Pexels

Pizza chain Domino’s has sparked discussion about white privilege and misogyny after promoting an offer that gave “the good Karens” of Australia and NZ the chance to win a free pizza.

Their intention was to take the name Karen back, after it has become a negative stereotype – the white, middle aged woman who uses her privilege to demand her own way at the expense of others.

“It’s a tough time to be a Karen,” Domino’s New Zealand’s Twitter post read. “What used to be a lighthearted meme has become quite the insult to anyone named Karen.”

Many social media users found the offer “tone deaf” and “insensitive”, claiming that it trivialises the experience of those who actually face the harmful impact of racial or homophobic stereotyping and slurs.

One Twitter user, @aramreyess, felt the post was ironic. “Most of the time ‘Karens’ are entitled, privileged white women. If a few people actually called Karen can’t handle the meme, they should try handling 400 years of oppression.”

Another user, @alanahparkin, suggests that the free pizzas could have been directed to worthier causes. “There are so many GENUINELY marginalised people doing it tough right now/always, & you wanna give free pizza to … Karen? This misses the mark completely. Give pizza to people in poverty, people who can’t get a wage subsidy, people who are ACTUALLY struggling,” she commented.

Karen began as a Twitter meme, calling out the demanding, white, middle-aged women who “want to speak to the manager”. But more recently, the word has been used to label women who are outrightly obnoxious, entitled and even racist.

A recent example is Australia’s own “Bunnings Karen”, a Melbourne “mask-refuser” who made the news after a video of her verbally abusing a Bunnings staff member went viral.

Now, writers and other public figures are challenging the use of the word, arguing that “Karen” is misogynistic and oppressive toward women.

Feminist writer Julie Bindel took to Twitter to ask her followers their thoughts on the new controversial buzzword. “Does anyone else think the ‘Karen’ slur is woman-hating and based on class prejudice?” she wrote.

Another writer, journalist Hadley Freeman, agreed with Bindel’s tweet, tweeting back “It’s sexist, classist and ageist – in that order.” Freeman even went on to write an article for The Guardian, stating that the word “Karen” had become “mired in sexism”.

“The Karen meme has become a way of not just describing women’s behaviour but controlling it,” she writes. “I’d love to know how many men out there have been called ‘a Karen’.”

It’s no coincidence that much of the controversy surrounding the word has been expressed by Caucasian female writers. Many writers of colour refute the notion that Karen is sexist or racist because the word didn’t originate from white men, and it has been used by men and women from all different ethnicities.

“Just because white men co-opt the language of ‘Karen’ doesn’t make it theirs; and it isn’t sexist or ageist for an underpaid, black service worker to tweet about what a Karen most of her white, wealthy customers are. It’s a way of dealing in the face of limited power,” writes senior editor of Bitch Media, Rachel Charlene Lewis.

Ghanian American writer Karen Attiah supports this stance also, expressing in an article for the Washington Post how jokes like “Karen” are part of “a long tradition to use humour to try to cope with the realities of white privilege and anti-blackness.”

Attiah also suggests that condemning the word Karen as a slur is more harmful than saying it.

“Calling the Karen meme, the new n-word or asserting that it is a sexist slur only trivialises actual violence and discrimination that destroy lives and communities,” she writes.

Another notch in the belt of viral internet slang, the discussion around “Karen” has been productive, acting as a reminder of how stereotyping and pigeonholing can be harmful and destructive – especially for black and Indigenous communities.