Last week Australia celebrated Harmony Week, and more specifically Harmony Day on March 21st. It’s an occasion each year to celebrate cultural diversity, inclusiveness, respect and a sense of belonging for everyone. Events are held across the country to celebrate the rich migrant tapestry that makes Australia so great, so ‘colourful’ and so gourmet.
Harmony Day is a fantastic event, don’t get us wrong. But we can’t help but notice that it coincides (and overshadows) another really important day with a slightly less celebratory theme: International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This day marks the anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre during Apartheid in South Africa in 1960, and calls on us to end racial discrimination everywhere.
While we have a lot to celebrate about multicultural Australia, skipping over the thorny issue of racism seems counter to the whole aim of increasing harmony, understanding between cultures and fostering a sense of belonging that, let’s be honest, not every migrant in Australia is able to feel. Caught up in the excitement of festivities, some of us may have even missed the protests against heinous comments on a major television show by a white panel on Aboriginal child removals, the hate directed at Victorian Honour Roll of Women inductee Leading Senior Constable Maha Sukkar, or the petition to fix the loophole in the Migration Act that makes some overseas-born women ineligible to seek help for family violence.
On a smaller scale, some of us at MCWH spent our Harmony Day at a local shopping centre in Broadmeadows, alongside other great organisations in the region, sharing health information with women in Arabic and other languages. Many of the people we met agreed that there was a lot to celebrate about our multicultural country. However we also met men and women who, because of systemic racism, have been excluded from citizenship, the workforce or social networks, and who felt alone and far from belonging.
Harmony makes lovely listening but if it distracts our ears from hearing about systemic racism and power, it remains a superficial response to a deep and significant problem. Indeed, the push for harmony can even act as a silencing mechanism for disadvantaged people, where complaint or protest can be interpreted as disruptive to the existing harmonious calm.
There is no harm in celebrating the harmony we’ve already won, as long as it is not at the expense of admitting to and addressing racism and other forms of inequity which still exist in our country.