On Harmony Day, of all bloody days, the Turnbull Government thought it apt to begin their push to change section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, specifically citing the mercifully deceased Bill Leak – a man who while on this mortal coil revelled in getting paid to publish extraordinarily racist and discriminatory cartoons – as a core impetus for the change.

The changes to 18C will remove the words “insult” and “offend” from the legislative definition, replacing them instead with “harass.” This, so sayeth Turnbull, will both bolster the law as it stands whilst simultaneously encouraging “free speech.” That is to say, you will be free to be as casually racist as you like, just so long as you don’t specifically target one individual for any elongated period of time.

While the legal change is a victory for a curmudgeon conservative political pact who have been fucking dying to drop a lazy N bomb free from fear of reprisal, what’s most utterly disappointing about the whole sorry, weak-arse capitulation to an increasingly-confused hard-right is this quote from Turnbull:

“Cartoonists like the late, great Bill Leak will no longer have to look over their shoulder.”

That Bill Leak is being venerated as a Liberal Party martyr is astonishing as is. But the real kicker comes when you consider that this kind of legislative, policy-shifting urgency was only afford to a 61-year-old white racist cartoonist who died of a heart attack. That the same empathetic call-to-action wasn’t triggered by the suicide of countless at-risk LGBTQI youth, or the documented physical harm and death befalling Indigenous teens either displaced or in custody makes the stomach turn.

In response to today’s (quite frankly) staggering about-face, writer Benjamin Law began posting his first-hand experiences with racism on social media using the hashtag #FreedomOfSpeech. The stories that have flooded in as a result are sobering, heartbreaking, and all-too-common.

Former Senator Nova Peris contributed, sharing a small sample of the horrific things people have said to her thanks to her role as a publicly elected official.

Former MasterChef contestant-cum-TV personality Adam Liaw posted a long and extremely heartfelt rant on the subject, beginning with:

I was in at my mobile phone provider’s store today for over an hour. All the staff there are Asian (I live in a very Asian area). There were maybe 10 other customer group in that hour. 7 Asian, 3 White. I could overhear all their conversations. It was a small store.

All 3 groups of white customers berated the Asian staff. For speaking to them rudely (they weren’t), for being incompetent (they weren’t), for outsourcing customer care to the Philippines (not really their call). All stressed they “weren’t being racist.” I believe that 100%.

I accept dealing with customer service is stressful. I also accept maybe they would’ve spoken like that to white staff too. I don’t know. But I can guarantee you it’s much, much easier to be rude to someone you don’t think is your equal.

Not one racial epithet was said, and nobody was being “racist.” But this is racism. Racism isn’t just for “racists.”

Our politicians will argue a lot today about who has the right to say racist things, and whether it should be criminal. I’ve had my accent (do I have one?) mocked THOUSANDS of times. I’ve been told to go back to where I came from THOUSANDS of times. I’ve been called a ‘gook,’ ‘nip,’ ‘ching-chong’ or any number of racist names THOUSANDS of times. My beautiful, adorable kids will be called those names. I KNOW that because it’s happened to every single Asian person I know in Australia. They’ll be physically abused for their race, too. I KNOW that because it’s happened to every single Asian person I know in Australia. I cried a bit typing that, but that’s life.

The odds of me, or them, bringing legal action around it are next to nil. Amend 18C or don’t. I truly don’t feel strongly about it. But don’t pretend it solves the problems we have in this country with race either way.

The racism I worry about isn’t getting abused on a bus while someone films it on their phone. Or running into “a racist” in a dark alley. Most Australians aren’t racists. Neither are the kids who will one day tease my kids for their race. The racism I worry about is systemic. It’s under-representation in media, boardrooms, or the slightest inkling that kids with brown skin are less Australian than if they were white.

I’m lucky to do what I do. Maybe Asian-Australians of my kids’ generation won’t grow up thinking they need to be somebody’s sidekick.”

But the stories from ordinary Australians, posted today to Twitter, are downright harrowing.

But yeah nah “free speech”. That’s the thing that *really* needs protecting.

Source: Twitter.
Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty.