Week 8, Semester 2
By Jackson Willows
‘Equality & Social Justice invites you to join us for our second People of Colour Lunch! The event is a wonderful opportunity to meet and chat with other students and staff at MLS who identify as persons of colour.’: “E&SJ People of Colour Lunch”, MULSS Website.
If this doesn’t disturb you, I am sorry - you have lost the plot.
I would like to think folks who peddle this kind of thing have good intentions. I am not out to compare anyone with Hitler or anything, but this stuff is just annoying because it is so obviously wrong. I know they think they are correcting historical wrongs, which is why they use ostensibly harmless words such as ‘equity’ and ‘inclusiveness’ (the irony...) as justifications, but for God’s sake, how are people so blind to the inherent hypocrisy?
Imagine if someone at the Law Students’ Society organised a ‘white people lunch’… Melbourne Law School would go bananas, and rightly so. Exclusion on the basis of race is absolutely unacceptable and every student here should know that. What is more, the Law Students’ Society should not be facilitating or endorsing it. There are no excuses.
‘But it’s impossible to be racist to white people because history’ … ah, no. Think about it - if you decide whether something is racist based on the race of the person it is committed against, then you have a shoddy and half-baked definition of racism. I would even go so far as to say you have a necessarily racist and self-defeating definition of racism.
We should not be dividing ourselves along arbitrary lines that have fuelled one historical tragedy after another. We should know better than that, especially here in Australia with our history. We should be emphasising the things that unite us, like our common humanity, our dignity and how we are going to work together to improve our future. They are the things that matter, not race.
I know it is terribly clichéd to invoke him and it is surreal to be doing it against people who think they are combating racism, but that is the message of Martin Luther King Jr, to judge people ‘not …by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.’
In any case, how does excluding people of one race correct historical wrongs? Are you not merely committing the same wrong you are trying to correct? If race-based prejudice is wrong, it is wrong. Full stop. This needs repeating: the wrongness of the prejudice does not depend on the race of the person subjected to it.
While we are on the subject, people should not be held responsible for the historical wrongs of people of their race. Obviously. If you disagree with that statement, take a second to think about what that means. Should people be held responsible for things they did not do, merely on the basis of their race? Do you think that is the way forward? Do you think that will solve our problems, really?
You are not guilty of anything committed by someone else in history merely because you share a race. Neither am I. Neither is anybody. Race-based guilt is morally regressive to the core and should be expunged from society.
That is not to say we are not obliged to solve the problems that history has left us, such as the gap in life outcomes between Indigenous Australians and other Australians. That particular problem has been with us a shamefully long time, and is far too pervasive for anyone with half a conscience to be satisfied with. We are not only obliged to solve these problems, we are obliged to work together to solve them - that is what we should be talking about.
It took hundreds of years and God knows how many lives for us, as a society, to figure out that racism makes us all worse off, and that it is evil, wrong, ugly and degrading to everyone. I am not willing to let that go so easily and neither should you be. So, next time you are tempted to think racial discrimination is okay, especially if you think it’s for a good cause, remember that it is wrong.
That being said, I want to reach out to all students with an invite to a potluck on Tuesday the 18th of September in Room 224 at 12:30-1:30pm where we can share a meal and talk about what unites us, not what divides us.
In response to this article, Ayman Shash (Director, Equality and Social Justice) MULSS and members of the ESJ team provided the following response:
The ESJ portfolio of the MULSS is committed to facilitating greater access and inclusion within the law school community. To that end, we and other MULSS portfolios facilitate initiatives that respond to inequities experienced by some law students, seeking to encourage a sense of belonging for all. Our Book Fairy program, as well as the recent activities of the Education, Women’s, Queer & International portfolios provide examples, some of which are autonomous.
Through our consultations with students, we are aware that marginalisation, intentional or not, does impact upon the experience of some students from First Nations and minority ethnic backgrounds. Prejudice and unconscious bias are not things of the past, with real consequences on the participation and wellbeing of those subjected to it. While we share your egalitarian aspirations, it is with this backdrop in mind that we agreed to facilitate the lunch, following the lead of previous MULSS committees, fostering community as an act of inclusion. To characterise the event as reflective of or equivalent to institutional discrimination is, respectfully, not a position we subscribe to.
We should all feel that we belong and are valued at the law school.