Growing up black in Australia is a unique experience.
You’ll often sacrifice parts of your existence in order to assimilate into white Australian culture. There aren’t many of you around, and being as inoffensive as possible is key if you want to fit in. You’ll cringe when that kid Lachlan jokes to you about fried chicken, and swallow your anger at the legions of kids asking your permission to use the N-word.
Eventually, you get fed up. You rebel. You fully embrace your blackness. You scream at those who touch your hair, roll your eyes at those who find cheap shots at your lineage funny, and educate yourself on your culture.
You’re finally at ease. There’s no point in denying your culture when it is so intricate, beautiful, and worthwhile. This is who you are, and you think it’s wonderful. You shine, finally feeling at home in the country you’ve spent all your life…
Until you get a reminder that you aren’t wanted here.
A couple weeks ago, I was sitting with my family when an advertisement for a Sunday Night report came on the television. A dramatic voice boomed that something is “Running riot across our suburbs…” and the words fade in, bold, all caps. AFRICAN GANGS.
I was shocked. It’s 2018, I was under the impression that respectable news outlets had moved on, but alas, this was not so.
According to Sunday Night, Africans (specifically those of Sudanese descent) are destroying lives, “sending chills across Australia.” They are tearing Melbourne apart, and they are a problem that NEEDS to be rectified. Inflammatory language like this is not only inaccurate, but also dangerous. Gang violence isn’t a specifically African problem, it’s often socioeconomic factors that lead young people down that path. The media’s reliance on an ignorant, prejudiced narrative is not only misleading, but harmful to the African community. African people make up a very small percentage of the Australian population, meaning fear mongering can put us in very obvious danger. The spotlight is on African Gangs, but not that racially based discrimination is on the rise in Victoria, partly due to stories like these. Even the promos can catch the eyes of the Australian public and turn them against your run of the mill Africans such as myself, and the majority of Melbourne’s African population.
Unfortunately, this issue goes beyond lazy, viewer hungry journalism. Politicians like former PM Malcolm Turnbull and almost PM Peter Dutton *shudder* have legitimised the issue.
In January, Peter Dutton said “The reality is people [in Melbourne] are scared to go out at restaurants of a night time because they’re followed home by these gangs, home invasions, and cars are stolen.” The comments caused controversy, and are spookily reminiscent of Trump’s demonisation of Latino people in the US. Malcolm Turnbull stated that “There is certainly concern about street crime in Melbourne. There is real concern about Sudanese gangs.”
The amount of airtime this issue has gotten is emblematic of the obvious prejudice White Australia has to non-white immigrants. Sudanese people are overrepresented in Victorian prison populations, but this is due to a variety of social factors, not their heritage. Flashy headlines and political power moves distract from real issues facing the small percentage of the Sudanese population who are committing crimes. Factors like unemployment, poor housing, and not completing education link these men, not their race. These issues would make a far more accurate and important episode of a late night TV show, and might open the floor for vital conversations we need to be having as a nation about how we treat our immigrants. Unfortunately, Channel 7 doesn’t think this would bring in numbers, and would much rather create a dramatic, fanatical piece of media that misrepresents African people as a violent group.
Treating the African race of people in such a way not only affects how we are viewed in society, but how we view ourselves. Growing up in a ‘White Country’ makes it easy to feel like an outsider when you don’t conform to the standards of Aussie normalcy, and the ‘African Gangs’ debate is beyond harmful to the community. The belittling of black men, and stereotyping them into the role of being overly aggressive and violent, affects how these men perceive themselves. Further alienating a group of people who already make up such a small part of the population only worsens the problem. I cannot speak for the immigrant or masculine aspects of the black community, but as a young black girl, seeing this kind of ignorant dialogue happening in 2018 breaks my heart.
The chatter around this issue has quietened, but I am still very much affected by it. I was previously blissfully ignorant to how my people are viewed in this country, I figured there were too little of us to cause a stir. Sunday Night’s coverage on ‘African gangs’ opened my eyes, and made me wonder how I am viewed in the country I’ve called home all my life.
Our society needs to rethink its treatment of not only African Australians, but all marginalised groups in Australia. If we can rid ourselves of damaging preconceptions and stereotypes, then maybe we could become a more culturally accepting society.
Lindsay is a 16 year old writer living in New South Wales. When not cracking lame jokes, you may find her deep in thought, trying to think of more lame jokes.