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#RacismNotWelcome campaign a visible sign of the times

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From left to right: Helen Westwood, Sabrin Farooqui and Kun Huang advocating for #RacismNotWelcome campaign (Image supplied)

Until we fully embrace our new arrivals and eliminate all forms of racism and discrimination in this country, we cannot expect to be a truly cohesive society, writes Dr Sabrin Farooqui.

ALL AUSTRALIANS, regardless of their cultural backgrounds or religious beliefs, deserve to live their lives in their chosen communities, free from abuse, mistrust and discrimination.

As founder and president of Cultural Diversity Network Inc (CDNI), I wholeheartedly endorse and support Sydney's Inner West Multicultural Network’s (IWMN) campaign to end racism and actively show immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers that they are valued and welcome members of our community.

The #RacismNotWelcome street sign campaign aims to make Sydney's inner west a safe and welcoming space for all and inspire other local governments and community groups to join the campaign. IWMN is asking councils in the region to install #RacismNotWelcome street signs and to hold exhibitions and events that highlight the benefits to us all of a multicultural society.

This vital campaign has come about because of growing reports of racist attacks on migrants and asylum seekers, and instances of more blatant discrimination against people based purely on their cultural backgrounds, religious beliefs and the colour of their skin. Such a campaign is needed as much now as it ever has been. People we should be welcoming to our shores are being treated appallingly by those who hope to cause physical, emotional and financial harm and good people are letting it happen through ignorance or a lack of awareness.

The #RacismNotWelcome campaign is just one avenue to raise awareness of the challenges facing migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in the community, and signal to perpetrators of these insidious activities that they will no longer be tolerated.

The campaign would see signs condemning racism – and welcoming migrants and refugees – installed across Sydney suburbs as a way of expressing the community’s support for migrants and refugees, and to let them know they are not alone. And to assure them we have their backs and will do everything we can to make their journey into a new land as pleasant and welcoming as possible.

Those who think such a campaign is not needed need only to spend a short time with people from other racial backgrounds.

In my work, I see people every day who face constant challenges and hurdles because of indirect racism or discrimination that has more deliberate and nasty overtones.

I see men and women who face it in their communities, in the street and at work. To them, it is a growing problem. It does exist and I believe it does not hurt for councils, as community leaders, to publicly, openly and forcefully state that such behaviour will not be tolerated — that such behaviour is not welcome.

On 17 March, I was honoured to join several other locals to address Cumberland City Council in support of the #RacismNotWelcome campaign and to attempt to swing enough councillors to get the motion over the line.

I acknowledged the great work of the council so far in trying to eliminate racism in Cumberland City, but I also pointed out that there was still more to be done and we as a community needed to visibly demonstrate our support for people of different racial and cultural backgrounds.

Every day, I see migrants, refugees and asylum seekers struggle to overcome the hurdles of moving to live in a country that is alien to them. Things we take for granted, like language, education and religion, are daily challenges that, without open support, can see them isolate themselves from the community. Add racism to the mix and the problem multiplies. This does not only adversely affect these people who have come with the hope of making a new home here, it hurts Australia itself through the loss of the many talents and experiences they can bring to our society.

Disappointingly, my efforts and the efforts of others failed to sway enough councillors to change their vote or convince them that we as a community can do more to show racists that their poisonous messages and behaviours are not welcome. But it has still been successful elsewhere, with several Sydney councils voting to play a part in the campaign. It is hoped that if enough councils and public organisations take up the mantle, others will follow and the sentiments will spread to the private sector.

To that end, efforts in this area should go beyond council borders and extend to communities throughout Australia.

The Australian Labor Party (ALP) has made great inroads in promoting and embracing an egalitarian society through advocating and legislating strict anti-discrimination laws and racial abuse laws. But that success has not necessarily reached our national, state and territory parliaments, where there is a distinct lack of diversity. The omission is glaring and seriously undermines Australia’s reputation as one of the most successful multicultural countries in the world.

It is encouraging that some NSW Labor Party rank and file members are urging 2021 NSW Labor State Conference delegates to change that by amending the party policy platform to better reflect Australia’s broad cultural diversity. This is an admirable motion and a policy I support.

Until we fully embrace our new arrivals and fully eliminate all forms of racism and discrimination, we cannot expect to be a truly cohesive society that enjoys harmonious and beneficial relationships.

Dr Sabrin Farooqui is a passionate community advocate for social justice and cultural diversity. She has worked for private and public sectors, in higher education, research and policy. Currently, she is the president of Cultural Diversity Network Inc.

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