Vol 11, Issue 11
If like me, you have no choice but to display your ethnicity by the colour of your skin, texture of your hair and physicality of your body, it’s no secret that how you look alters society’s perceptions of who you are. Race is undoubtedly a part of the judgements we make of others which apparently happen in one-tenth of a second. We know these race biases exist.
Ideally, character rather than colour would have bearing on how we are seen in the world. Ideally, firms, universities, and other institutions wouldn’t have to consciously get more PoC. In reality, trying to ignore difference is ignoring the problem. An example is US university admissions. When race-based affirmative action was banned in several states, selective universities declined significantly in their share of minority-ethnic students. Ignoring race simply means that POC are forced to play laggard as whites preference other whites. Those who misguidedly call the increased focus on race identity “tribalism” miss the point: if we don’t stick together, POC are simply erased from the agenda.
Few would argue that it wouldn’t be disastrous for the First Australians if we were to remove measures to increase Indigenous student representation at universities. Grouping Indigenous people together is not divisive. It helps advance the prosperity of individuals and communities. It should go without saying that Indigenous heritage is but one facet of a person’s identity, just as a white person’s race is not their entire identity. Yet POC generally must deal with having their race seen as the major aspect of their identity. Banding together empowers us to tackle the challenges of racism, of which being perceived as primarily non-white is a symptom. PoC solidarity is in fact empowering and ditching it would be to the detriment of all minorities.
The onus for recognising PoC as humans worthy of respect must be on whites. By banding together we are more likely to achieve this. If we are seen as the same, as simply non-white because of this, that fault lies squarely with the white person. Arguing that solidarity is the cause of racism and our being singularly seen as our race is as nonsensical as arguing that individual factory workers are worse-off in the face of offshoring if they join unions.
While I agree it is problematic when the experiences of PoC are heaped together, no credible person argues that feminism is somehow detrimental the woman individual. Advancing women on-the-whole advances the plight of individual women. The same can be said for race. Yes, different ethnic groups have different needs to achieve equality, much like individuals within groups, but when entire communities advance, so too do individuals.
Similarly, by swapping the word “gay,” for “queer,” as an all inclusive term for all members of the LGBTI community, minority groups (like the transgender community) were able to join in on the larger “gay rights” movement, and have their otherwise ignored voices heard. Solidarity provides visibility, and it is the responsibility of every queer person to maintain this solidarity so the horribly treated transgender members of our society are not left behind.
We PoC have the same responsibility. Regardless of how well the terminology – PoC or queer – fits with us individually, remaining in solidarity elevates the issues facing our weakest members. We privileged PoC at MLS must try not to be self-indulgent and shed this responsibility.
Ideally, everyone would have an even playing field. We don’t. Well-integrated Asian people in the West have often been used to silence minority demands for equality. We are told that if Asians can do it then there must be nothing stopping us but our laziness. The previous De Minimis article, “(Not) So Fresh Off the Boat” is instructive on how untrue this myth is.
Without solidarity, POC remain subjugated. Already, some hold up Asians as a model-minority, while simultaneously ridiculing them as poorly-endowed human calculators devoid of personality. No matter how hard we try to “integrate” Western societies don’t see us as equals. This was clear in how commentator Yassmin Abdel-Magied was attacked for daring to suggest that “lest we forget” shouldn’t only refer to white deaths, but also the horror of war and our complicity in its perpetuation in Palestine, Yemen, Syria, and in offshore detention. PoC in Australia must disown our heritage or be attacked as un-Australian. When we do, we are nevertheless reminded that we aren’t white. White Australians can question authority without being un-Australian. We can’t because we aren’t seen as fully Australian to begin with.
It may seem divisive, but focusing on race, as with women’s issues, works to address inequalities not enlarge them. Ignoring that we face racism isn’t a solution; if tomorrow we started pretending that unconscious bias doesn’t exist, women would not magically achieve pay parity.
Yes, different groups have different needs – the changes needed to achieve gender equality are not the same as those necessary for greater income equality. Focussing on class doesn’t address racism, nor fix gender issues – this is the importance of intersectionality. Its great insight is to allow issues to be seen through various lenses. It shows us that, while achieving equal pay for equal work is a worthy goal, it doesn’t help an unemployed trans person break stigma and find employment. It is not divisive to recognise these identities; until racism and sexism are gone, pretending they don’t exist simply ignores very real problems. We POC must lift up our communities rather than leaving the weakest to fend for themselves. We must not kick down the ladder once we are ascendant. Our privilege means we must do ever more.
Asad Kasim-Khan is a second-year JD student
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