#UnityOverFear: Responding to coronavirus racism 

What have recent months taught us about the heart and soul of Australia? 

While coronavirus has prompted stories of community initiatives to support one another, there has also been a troubling rise in incidents of racial discrimination and phobia.  

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, around 1 in 4 people who lodged complaints about racial discrimination in February and March this year say they were targeted due to COVID-19, while an online survey of coronavirus racism incidents launched by the Asian Australian Alliance has collected hundreds of responses. 

Asian-Australians have reportedly experienced physical and verbal assault, vandalism, refusal of service and death threats. We should rightly be disturbed by these incidents and stand alongside Asian-Australians in calling out racist attacks and ensuring their right to safety and freedom from discrimination and abuse. 

However, calling out racism when we see it will never be enough – on its own – to bring substantial or sustainable change to the underlying values in our society.

For more than 40 years, ECSC has been dedicated to pursuing diversity and inclusion, and particularly to upholding the human rights of the most vulnerable people within our Culturally and Linguistically Diverse communities, including children, people with disability and older people.

Our work has taught us that three things are needed to address the fear and misinformation which stand in the way of inclusion. Firstly, we need better self-awareness, to understand our own cultural perspectives, values, fears and motivations. Secondly, we need to develop our skills and practice in effective intercultural dialogue, to better understand each other. Thirdly, we need to build a shared commitment to human rights.  

It is no accident that these three factors form the core components of our approach to building cultural competence amongst our own staff and through our training delivered to the community services sectorCentral to developing cultural competence is not just knowledge about other cultures, but developing skills in self-reflection, cross-cultural communication, and an ethical commitment to human rights 

These factors are also reflected in the upcoming World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development on Thursday 21st May. This day not only celebrates our cultural diversity, but also emphasises the critical role of effective dialogue in promoting peace and development for all peoples.

With Australia being home to people from more than 270 ancestries and more than 22% of households speaking a language other than Englishwe have a brilliant opportunity – and also a shared responsibility – to demonstrate the power of building understanding across cultural divides in pursuit of a shared vision of human rights and human flourishing.  

Where can we start? 

It may be introducing a habit that develops our own self-awareness, such as journaling or regular self-reflection activities in our supervision sessions or team meetings. It may be facilitating effective communication across cultural divides, through seeking to understand the values and beliefs affecting the actions of others. Or it may be looking for opportunities to promote a human rights perspective on situations we encounter in our work or personal lives. 

Let’s call out racism when we see it. But let’s also put in place practices and habits in our work and personal lives that increase our self-awareness, enable us to understand the perspectives of our neighbours, and promote everyone’s rights to peace, safety and inclusion. Only when all three are in place, will we see real progress toward realising the vision of multicultural Australia. 

Ingrid Boland, Social Work Consultant for ECSC 

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