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In The Wake Of Westminster, This Is The Wrong Time To Be Making 18C 'Fairer'

You never know when a verbal attack will turn to physical violence.

27/03/2017 2:02 PM AEDT | Updated 27/03/2017 2:03 PM AEDT
Peter Nicholls / Reuters
"When I say I hope my friends are safe in London, I don't just mean from the terrorist attack itself. "

When I learned of the attack on the British Parliament, my first thought was for the safety of my friends. For an immigrant and person of colour such as myself, that concern carries added weight beyond the thought of whether a loved one might have been near Westminster that day.

I was living in London and on the way to work when the tube bombings took place in 2005. It was terrifying. The aftermath was also horrible for anyone with dark skin. Racial profiling and bigotry ran amok. Immigrants and foreign nationals were suspects... of something, of anything. I feared for my own safety. As a protective measure, I shaved every day for work, never carried a bag, and never ran to catch a train. Even then people recoiled from me when I jumped on the tube.

A few days after the bombings, an olive-skinned Brazilian man was shot dead by police, later found to be a case of mistaken identity. Thus, when I say I hope my friends are safe in London, I don't just mean from the terrorist attack itself. How my friends will be treated -- the bigotry and violence that will target them -- is also in my thoughts.

When Khalid Masood went on his murderous rampage at the British Parliament last week, the harsh bigotry, synonymous with xenophobia, was stoked. French politician, Marine Le Pen seized the opportunity to rail against immigrants as did British Brexit campaigner, Nigel Farage. The conservative Prime Minister of Poland and our own Pauline Hanson also sought to capitalise on the incident to push their extreme anti-Muslim agendas.

When Dimitrious Gargasoulas went on his rampage through Bourke Street, people of colour were shocked and afraid. Thoughts turned immediately to the background of the offender. If he was identified as being a person of colour, I would need to contemplate how to get home safely.

It does not matter to these bigots that Masood was UK-born or that he had a history of convictions for violent crimes going back over 30 years, long before ISIS existed. It does not matter to Hanson that the perpetrator of the Bourke Street massacre was an Australian bloke with "mental health and drug-related issues". It doesn't matter to Farage that three of the four tube bombers were UK-born and that the fourth was a Jamaican immigrant. Somehow, Jamaica is a country that has eluded the watchful eye of not just Hanson and Le Pen but even the travel ban of Donald Trump.

These politicians and pundits have no idea how someone of colour feels every time they are yelled at simply for the colour of their skin.

There is a general uneasiness with how readily our government can take up the cause of those wanting the freedom to offend. These politicians and pundits have no idea how someone of colour feels every time they are yelled at simply for the colour of their skin. They have no idea how it feels to be watched as if you are a shoplifter every time you enter a retail store, or how it feels to be attacked by thugs when walking home from work. You never know when a verbal attack will turn to physical violence, but as a person of colour we have to dedicate time to think about it, to judge when a situation will turn violent and avoid it, all because of the way we look.

This is why section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act is so vitally important. It nips some of these attacks in the bud and offers a measure of security to those of us who are subject to them. This is why it so deeply concerns us to hear Malcolm Turnbull speaking for the Australian right in his call to make 18C "fairer". Fairer to whom? Not to those of us who live in fear of discrimination and who depend on the law for protection.

The colour of one's skin is something that you cannot hide. The media we absorb is peppered with images of violent people of colour, but seldom spends time covering threats and attacks made by white extremists. In the US since 9/11, the number of people killed by white extremists is almost double the number killed by Jihadists, yet the Trump administration has aimed its fire at Muslims. And all the while bigotry against minorities rises, from the swastikas appearing in playgrounds, to the ignorantly racist murder of an Indian man in Kansas.

I urge all responsible Australians to join me in condemning these crimes. All of them. But to also be clear about who the perpetrators are, their allegiances, and their motivations. Our country has benefited so much from the contribution of immigrants and people of colour, and benefited little from suspicion and fear. Let Australia continue to be a welcoming, inclusive society, the lucky country for all who chose to make it their home.


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