Today, the government seems one step closer to watering down the Racial Discrimination Act. Many people online are blown away by the perceived irony of promoting the right to racially discriminate on Harmony Day. The truth, however, is that Harmony Day has always been about watering down the issue of racial discrimination.
Harmony Day first started in 1999, under the Howard government, and was its way of finding a warm and positive way of not actually doing anything about the issue of racial discrimination in an increasingly multicultural society.
This is why Harmony Day falls on the International Day of Eliminating Racial Discrimination. The Howard government, and John Howard himself, was completely unwilling to acknowledge that any form of racism and racial discrimination existed in Australia. Howard was even quoted as saying “I do not accept that there is underlying racism in this country. I have always taken a more optimistic view of the character of the Australian people. I do not believe Australians are racist” in response to the super racist 2005 Cronulla riots.
So, instead of doing anything about eliminating racial discrimination, they created a campaign, and a day, that argued that Australia was already a harmonious society, and something that should be celebrated.
This placed people who wanted more substantive change in a difficult position – it is hard to argue against the idea of a harmonious society. So, instead of more significant action we have a day where kids get to wear orange shirts to school and adults all around the country eat foods that come from other cultures and feel that this is achieving something. We don’t need to address the issue or racism whatsoever, we don’t even need to say the R word, and we don’t have to look at how we meet the challenge set by the International Day – Eliminating Racial Discrimination. We already are a harmonious society, according to the Howard government campaign, so we can just celebrate that fact – and definitely don’t mention the R word.
We are so harmonious it seems, that we can even do away with protections against racial discrimination – hooray for Harmony!
We are so harmonious that we can lock up innocent asylum seekers in detention camps offshore to ensure we stay a harmonious society.
We are so harmonious that we can refuse to address the impacts of racism on criminal justice, suicide rates, life expectancy, and all other adverse outcomes faced by Indigenous people across Australia.
We are so harmonious that we can continue to dismantle Indigenous frontline services and advocacy bodies, and we can basically just blame the gap on Aboriginal people themselves while simultaneously removing programs that could hope to actually close it.
So rather than looking at today as a slap in the face to Harmony Day, we should see it as a glorious continuation of what Harmony Day was originally created for: not having to do anything about Eliminating Racial Discrimination, or even acknowledging that it exists.
Hooray for Harmony!
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