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There's Much More To Harmony Day Than Eating Foreign Food

You can still be racist while eating Souvlaki.

21/03/2017 1:16 PM AEDT | Updated 21/03/2017 1:17 PM AEDT
Judith Haeusler
"You can wear the orange ribbon, watch the dance and eat the food, but also meaningfully engage in difficult conversations about culture."

Today is Harmony Day -- a day when we all get together to celebrate the wonders of multiculturalism... by eating food. And watching cultural dance. And holding a fashion parade. But mostly, it's about the food.

In Australia, being one of the most multicultural countries in the world, we hold Harmony Day to remind ourselves of the richness of diversity and the importance of cultural respect. But the token effort that schools, workplaces and community groups go to is just that -- a token effort, with minimal engagement in what true harmony means.

Because you can still be racist while eating a sushi roll.

Food stalls, cultural dances and fashion parades are bright, colourful and look amazing on Instagram. But they are practically ineffective at breaking down barriers between cultures. They teach us little about different cultural values and do nothing to tell migrant stories. There's also a complete absence of discussions about Australians being more inclusive.

As a migrant and a dancer, I actually find this day demeaning. We're made to cook and dance for white people. Cultural clothing is exoticised as interesting, rather than meaningful. We're gawked at and patronised as cultural artefacts.

Food stalls, cultural dances and fashion parades are bright, colourful and look amazing on Instagram. But they are practically ineffective at breaking down barriers between cultures.

Once again, it's up to us to fit in and make Australia more accepting and harmonious. Meanwhile, the dominant culture is allowed to be completely passive, soaking up the benefits while doing nothing to further a tolerant community.

In fact, some are working to dismantle harmony. On this very day government back benchers continue to argue for changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Because their freedom to say anything they wish is more important than harmony, peace and tolerance.

So, how can we do Harmony Day better?

You can wear the orange ribbon, watch the dance and eat the food, but also meaningfully engage in difficult conversations about culture. Multiculturalism is complex and challenging. The Cronulla riots, Hanson (and Hanson 2.0), and the review of 18C demonstrate it stands on a knife-edge. Glossing over tough issues with food will only go so far.

It would be far better to have a guest speaker tell their story. Learn about a local migrant-run business or community group. Ask someone why 18C matters to them. Go to Western Sydney and engage outside a white enclave. Most importantly, have a good look at your school or workplace -- is it truly diverse and inclusive? Find out what you can do to help.

On this very day government back benchers continue to argue for changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Because their freedom to say anything they wish is more important than harmony, peace and tolerance.

Just don't ask a stranger where they're from. If you do that on Harmony Day, or any other day, you're just not getting it.

If you wish people would speak English, you're not getting it. Even if you're eating a souvlaki.

If you think indigenous people should 'get over it', you're not getting it.

If you think the headscarves should be banned, you're not getting it.

Similarly, if you think migrants should subscribe to Australian values, refugees should be sent back, or Hanson has a point, then Harmony Day has been lost on you.

I hope you enjoy our dances this Harmony Day. But more importantly, I hope you value the contribution to society and economy that my family, and so many like mine, have made.

And take a moment to consider what you can do to make every day Harmony Day.


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