It’s strange when you see a part of Australian culture that’s so woven into our DNA laid out for someone else to see. Yassmin Abdel-Magied, who was literally run out of this country by a non-stop, Murdoch-media led campaign of hate directed against her, has done so today in a searing op-ed for Teen Vogue.
Her piece is titled ‘I Tried to Fight Racism by Being a “Model Minority” – and Then It Backfired’, and it is absolutely essential reading.
Australians know we live in a deeply racist society, and if you don’t know, you’re either blind or wilfully ignorant. Yassmin broke this down for Teen Vogue’s U.S. audience in about as succinct a summary as you could hope.
But before I explain what went down, you should understand something about Australia. Although Australia is commonly associated with kangaroos and great beaches, it actually has a deeply racist history. Until 50 years ago, the First Nations people of Australia were not included in the census — so in the eyes of the government, they weren’t counted as people. It took a referendum in 1967 for that to change. Then there were the Stolen Generations, where the Australian government systematically removed First Nations children from their parents. The government was so obsessed with whiteness that up until the 1970s, there was the so-called White Australia Policy, which was a collection of policies banning non-Europeans from migrating to the country. In other words, you had to be white to move to Australia.
After detailing the shocking treatment of Adam Goodes, she goes into the two incidences that led her to becoming enemy number one of Australia’s regular ‘goon squad’: Bolt, Bernardi, Abbott, Devine. (Shout-out to P.TV writer Ben McLeay who coined that term to describe this lot.)
The first, of course, was her Q&A appearance, when she called out Jacqui Lambie for not understanding what Sharia actually is and claimed it was, to her, “the most feminist religion”. That comment got the hackles up on Australia’s more right-wing / racist community; you know, the ones who say things like “Saudi Arabia is worse for women” as though that absolves the patriarchal institutions the Western world lives and breathes every single day.
And then there was her infamous seven-word ANZAC Day post (“Lest We Forget (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine…”), which she elaborates on further here.
I wanted to make my sentiment more inclusive than just those who fought in that war. Who else should we not forget, I thought? So I [made the post].
She explained the significance of Manus and Nauru, then continued:
I also included Palestine and Syria, to remember current conflicts with no end in sight. I was asking for empathy and compassion for others, on a somber day of remembrance.
A friend soon saw that post and suggested that it might be offensive, and so out of respect I took it down almost immediately. I apologised publicly and of my own accord, because while my intention had been one of inclusive empathy, others took it as an insult. They saw it as denigrating soldiers, disrespecting Australia, and being “ungrateful.”
We all know what happened next: national outrage, widespread racism, right-wing columnists so personally angry about a young Muslim woman’s Facebook status you’d think she’d murdered a puppy or something. (And who can forget the 7 New‘s unfathomably stupid ‘should she leave or stay and face her critics‘ poll when Yassmin announced she was moving to London?)
Yassmin writes that the experience has left her refocusing her desire for change away from being “a model minority”, and instead to working on creating change despite the noise.
“No one should ever have to be the “model minority” in order to be accepted as equal. Equality should be given, not earned for good behaviour. If ‘good behaviour’ is required, that isn’t really equality.
So now, I’m no longer interested in centering those who refuse to see my humanity and want me to work for my equality. That diminishes me, my culture, and my agency. Instead, I will focus my energy on myself, my faith, my communities, and those who continue to be marginalised.”
Honestly, do yourself a huge, huge favour and go read her full piece on Teen Vogue now.