Bigotry, Meet Racism. Racism, Meet Bigotry.

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The fight for marriage equality is important. But there’s no room in it for racism, writes Anisha Gautam.

Growing up in Australia with a hyphenated migrant identity is a unique experience, and yet it would be fair to say that most migrant Australians, particular those with visible differences, will at some point in their lives face at least two, very common racist sentiments. The first one is the ubiquitous question “Where do you come from?” as though, despite our multicultural make up, it is impossible to believe that a person with brown skin, say, might just “be” from Australia.

The second is a statement, that old chestnut: “Go back to where you come from.”

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As a somewhat outspoken advocate for minority rights, I cannot count the number of times I have had that sentiment hurled at me with the utmost contempt and hatred. It is a sentiment that is most often expressed when a migrant Australian is deemed to be insufficiently ‘grateful’ to the nation as, for example, when a migrant Australian dares to criticise an unjust government policy.

It is also expressed when a migrant Australian simply dares to express an opinion that the xenophobic right simply doesn’t agree with.

I was very disappointed, however, when I recently found the same sentiment being expressed by advocates of same-sex marriage under an article about the ‘No’ campaigner Dr Pansy Lai. “If she doesn’t like our modern secular society with western values of equality,” one commentator write, “maybe she should leave.” Another commentator suggested that perhaps Dr Lai “would be more comfortable practicing back in China where SSM is illegal”.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely do not agree with Dr Lai. Her opinions on same-sex marriage are, as far as I’m concerned, wrong, and her contribution to the ‘No’ campaign ad was both absurd and harmful. Dr Lai’s organization – the Australian Chinese for Families Association – is also doing the nation a great disservice in advocating against the Safe Schools Program, which aims to protect the most vulnerable of the nation’s children. Moreover, if true, it is abhorrent that the organisation advocates the dangerous and discredited conversation therapy as a “cure” for same-sex attraction.

As far as I am concerned, Dr Lai, in coming forward as a public advocate against same-sex marriage has left herself open to many things. She is currently facing, I would argue rightly, the contempt and scorn of those of us fighting to legalize same-sex marriage as a matter of human rights and human dignity.

What she should not face, however, no matter how abhorrent her opinions, are calls to “go back to where you come from.” Because when you say it to her, you say it to me, and to every other migrant who considers himself or herself Australian. Because when you tell one migrant Australian that they are not welcome in the country because their opinion is unacceptable, you tell every one of us that our welcome, too, is contingent in saying and doing the ‘right’ thing, whatever the issue may be. Because it is racist.

Cella White, one of the people featuring in a campaign against marriage equality.
Cella White, one of the people featuring in a campaign against marriage equality.

If you think my argument is unfair, take a moment to read the comments under articles on Cella White, the white woman in the same video for the No campaign who claimed that her son’s school encouraged him to wear a dress. Not once will you see any calls for her to leave the country because while her argument is called out as absurd and her stance bigoted, being white, her “Australianness,” her right to continue to live in Australia, is never called into question.

The fact is, migrant Australians are not all the same. We do not think in the same way, we do not vote for the same parties. Some of us are progressives and willing to fight for a more just world, and others are willing to fight to keep the status quo. As sad as it makes me to say it, just as I have the right to be progressive, so Dr Lai has the right to be bigoted. When we accept others into our national fabric, we need to do so wholeheartedly, accepting that they are Australian unconditionally, for good or for bad.

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Most of us have been put in a situation we did not want, having to participate in what is essentially a national survey on whether or not our LGBTIQ allies should have the same rights that the rest of us have had for centuries.

This campaign has been exactly what the government promised it would not be: hateful, cruel and divisive. It is important that we continue to fight the misinformation published by the ‘No’ campaign but we must do without compromising our ideals as agents of social progress.

Resorting to racism is not a strategy we should engage, if we want to win the bigger war against all injustice.

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Anisha Gautam

Anisha Gautam has a BA (Hons) majoring in Women's and Gender Studies from UNSW. She currently spends her time doing research for Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics.

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