Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Race hate speech: More than a game

When President Obama was asked a question while on tour in Malaysia last month, it’s doubtful he anticipated his response to the reported comments from Los Angeles Clippers' owner Donald Sterling would be interpreted by some to support the last gasp argument mounted by Australian proponents of the repeal of 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act.
"When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don't really have to do anything, you just let them talk," Obama said.   
Obama said he's confident NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will address the matter. He said the NBA has "an awful lot of African American players, it's steeped in African American culture. And I suspect that the NBA is going to be deeply concerned in resolving this." [27 April 2014]
The following night, during the weekly QandA program Death and Taxes – Right to be bigoted  panel member Malcolm Turnbull, the Minister for Communications said,
"we are seeking the feedback from the community and we have had plenty of feedback and we are taking that into account and the cabinet will come to a conclusion." [28 April 2014] 
The deadline for submissions on the Exposure Draft closed 30 April 2014. 

On the same day LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned for life from any association with the team or the league and fined US$2.5 million by the NBA.

Since then, some have sought to use President Obama’s comments and the action taken by the NBA, to somehow strengthen their argument that the Racial Discrimination Act needs to be amended.

If we are going to compare the Australian experience to circumstances in the USA we need to cast our sights a little wider than one sport. Let’s consider the other sport – the one that figures just as prominently in our minds as American basketball – American Football.
Sherman, who signed a $57.4 million contract extension Wednesday with the Seattle Seahawks that makes him the league's highest-paid cornerback,... 
 in an interview with Time Magazine (asked) whether he thought (NFA Commissioner) Goodell would take the same stance as Silver, who has been widely praised for his decision to rid the NBA of Sterling, Sherman said, “No, I don’t’. 
 (And) expanded on his comments by saying the league already dropped the ball on racial sensitivity with the way it's handled the debate about the Washington R*********' name. "Because we have an NFL team called the R*********," Sherman said, "I don't think the NFL really is as concerned as they show. The NFL is more of a bottom-line league. If it doesn't affect their bottom line, they're not as concerned." [May 28, 2014]
The American Basketball Association is the richest competition in the world – though more people may play the round ball game - but per player, the US Basketball players are the world's most highly paid athletes (playing contracts and endorsements).

Higher placed in earnings and status, than American football, where a player - worth a mere $57m contract - called his own sport out on lacking racial sensitivity.

And where are the Native American groups in this equation? They have been campaigning for decades for changes to the mascots and symbols used in American sport.
"The movement to do away with Indian mascots gained momentum after the American Psychological Association in 2005 called for the immediate retirement of the mascots based on studies that showed the harmful effects of inaccurate racial portrayals."
In this post, I have chosen to blank out a word that it’s been reported Native Americans find specifically offensive.
"The R-word – she can’t even bring herself to say it – is the same as the N-word, says Suzan Shown Harjo, president of Morning Star Institute, a national Native American rights organization."
The embedded links provide sufficient material. That’s what these debates are about, We can choose not to use racial slurs, not because our freedom to speak is limited, but because individuals see the merit in respectful, decent discourse. 

The Sterling scandal stemmed from a 80 year old man who simply could not stop himself from using a racist word, repeatedly.

To accommodate that type of race hate speech, is to set the bar very low indeed. I can't see that our country would be the better for it. Sterling may have been talking in the comfort of his own home with a friend, but that too is about the extent of it in Australia, where the most vocal proponents give the impression they could comfortably all fit around a table in a roped off section of a bistro.

In closing, a quote that caught my eye:
"Young, 27, and a writer for CBS Sports, said he now believes he would have written a more educated post after having discussed the mascot issue with Native Americans."
He went on further to say he didn’t ‘regret’ what he had written earlier, but he is only 27. Perhaps with a little more exposure to the victims of decades of willfully racist treatment, he may go further than his willingness to admit he lacked perspective.  And come to realise that his freedom of speech as a reporter was not limited by choosing to respect rather than contribute to the further victimization and suffering of members of his country's most vulnerable groups.

But in the meantime, what happens? What if he never gets there? I have my doubts that Sterling will unlock that level of achievement. 

Victims of race hate crimes and speech have argued strongly - and I can be confident in saying have made submissions in the hundreds - that relaxing protections under the Racial Discrimination Act sends a clear danger signal to some, and a green light to others.

The arguments for repealing 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act would be usefully extrapolated as a high school debate.

But out here in the real world - where we need laws for our protection, and prisons for when people can't abide by them, despite all the years of robust debate they may have had with parents, the police and the justice system – out here, victims of race hate speech have a fair idea of the conditions which would cause race hate speech to fester and flourish and we don’t need to experiment to see those expectations proven right.

It may not be everyone, but there would be enough perpetrators for potential victims to be deeply concerned, and given the statistics around racist attacks, bullying and movememnt towards a more violent society, this should be enough for the rest of the country to see the very real threat repeal of RDA 18c poses to any hopes of living peacefully together.

We don’t have to like each other, in fact we don’t even need to talk. 

I am not limiting anyone's free speech, or seeking to get off scot-free from valid criticism. I simply have an expectation that I get to live free from being forced to hear what people - who only picture themselves in the dominant position because they have never been the victim - simply do not need to say. 


And just what is the most important issue at the forefront of those who insist most vehemently that their freedom of speech is limited? The reason why Australia should be alarmed and fearful? 
" ... this conversation about Aboriginality runs more than skin deep. Defining and controlling Aboriginal people was a necessary project of the coloniser and remains a popular past-time of many non-Indigenous Australians. " 
Read more here


This post is one in a series of my writings re unnecessary changes to the Racial Discrimination Act and the repeal of S.18c :


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