A blog post written by the NSW Minister for Ageing John Ajaka, which discussed the discriminatory typecasts faced by Australia's older community, covered some important points that also relate to culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.
Like our ageing population, CALD communities are routinely pigeon-holed and stereotyped with labels such as 'vulnerable' and 'marginalised'. Whether true in each instance or not, most of us have been conditioned to accept this sweeping generalisation. But describing entire communities of people with these terms is not only condescending and belittling -- it's also plain wrong.
It's high time we recognised that immigrating to a new country takes courage and resilience. Those who do it are typically far from what you'd call weak or vulnerable -- in contrast, they are most often very strong and deserving of admiration, not pity. The language we use should empower migrants to participate as full members of the Australian community; to chase their goals and fulfill their potential. Instead, we discourage and segregate them with labels that reflect a minority group of poor, helpless people.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) almost a third of Australia's population was born overseas. Dig a bit further and you'll find that nearly half of Australia's population was either born overseas or has one or both parents who were. That's not to mention pretty much every non-Indigenous Australian alive today can be traced back to a foreign ancestor. In light of such facts, it seems a bit rich to marry the word 'migrant' with the words 'marginalised' or 'minority group'.
Data from the ABS also shows recent migrants in Australia have a 77 percent labour participation rate, which sits above the national average participation rate of about 65 percent. These statistics don't prove that migrants are not vulnerable, but they might help us think twice about jumping to the assumption that they are powerless or that they don't participate in Australian life.
Some months ago, I attended an information session about a website designed to help the public find information on Australian aged-care services. I asked the question: "What are you doing to ensure CALD communities can access information on this website?"
The speaker just responded: "Oh, well, the marginalised and vulnerable populations will also be catered for."
I realised then how easy it is for one person to unwittingly marginalise entire CALD communities (and thus millions of Australians) by referring to them as marginalised.
Some may argue that despite the fact that migrants make up a significant portion of Australia's population, and despite evidence to show they're working, they are vulnerable and marginalised. I argue that by disempowering migrants -- through repeatedly describing them with this type of language -- we are perpetuating a culture where anyone with a different accent can expect fewer rights and privileges than their 'non-migrant' counterparts.
I'm not saying people who have immigrated to Australia are free of the challenges that situation brings with it. CALD communities tend to face certain difficulties, whether due to language barriers, cultural shifts or other circumstances. What I am saying is the existence of these challenges is no reason to automatically lump all migrants in a category that is inappropriate, unflattering and demoralising.
Like the NSW Minister for Ageing, I believe we should work towards creating a more inclusive society. We should be empowering our communities instead of undermining them with language that detracts from their strengths and achievements. Instead of continuing this trend, why don't we focus on inspiring hope and positivity among all the communities who call Australia home? We can start by scrapping default descriptors such as 'vulnerable' and 'marginalised'.