What is privilege and cultural appropriation? and why is it so difficult to talk about?

On 15 February 2016, I spoke on 612 ABC Brisbane Afternoons with Kelly Higgins-Devine about cultural appropriation and privilege. Our discussion was followed by discussion with guests: Andie Fox – a feminist and writer; Carol Vale a Dunghutti woman; and Indigenous artist, Tony Albert. I’ve used the questions asked during the interview as a base for this blog with thanks to Amanda Dell (producer).

Why has it taken so long for the debate to escape academia to be something we see in the opinion pages of publications now?

Social media and online activism have catapulted questions about identities and politics into our screen lives. Where television allowed us to switch the channel, or the topic skilfully changed at awkward moments in work or family conversations, our devices hold us captive. Simply scrolling through our social media feeds can encourage, enrage or mobilise us into fury or despair. Whether we like it or not, as users of social media we are being interpolated into the complex terrain of identity politics. Merely sharing a link on your social media feed locates you and your politics, in ways that you might never reveal in real time social conversations. ‘Sharing’ can have wide ranging consequences, a casual tweet before a flight resulted in Justine Sacco moving from witty interlocutor to pariah in a matter of hours. The merging of ‘private’ and public lives never being more evident.

How long has the term privilege been around?

The concept of privilege originally developed in relation to analyses of race and gender but has expanded to include social class, ability level, sexuality and other aspects of identity. Interestingly, Jon Greenberg points out that although people of color have fought racism since its inception, the best known White Privilege educators are white (Peggy McIntosh, Tim Wise and Robin DiAngelo). McIntosh’s 1988 paper White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies extended a feminist analysis of patriarchal oppression of women to that of people of color in the United States. This was later shortened into the essay White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (pdf), which has been used extensively in a a range of settings because of it’s helpful list format .

Many people have really strong reactions to these concepts – why is that?

Robin DiAngelo, professor of multicultural education and author of What Does it Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy developed the term ‘white fragility’ to identify:

a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include outward display of emotions such as anger, fear and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence and leaving the stress-inducing situation

DiAngelo suggests that for white people, racism or oppression are viewed as something that bad or immoral people do. The racist is the person who is verbally abusive toward people of color on public transport, or a former racist state like apartheid South Africa. If you see yourself as a ‘good’ person then it is painful to be ‘called out’, and see yourself as a bad person. Iris Marion Young’s work useful. She conceptualises oppression in the Foucauldian sense as:

the disadvantage and injustice some people suffer not because of a tyrannical power coerces them but because of the everyday practices of a well-intentioned liberal society…

Young points out the actions of many people going about their daily lives contribute to the maintenance and reproduction of oppression, even as few would view themselves as agents of oppression. We cannot avoid oppression, as it is structural and woven throughout the system, rather than reflecting a few people’s choices or policies. Its causes are embedded in the unquestioned norms, habits, symbols and assumptions underlying institutional rules and the collective consequences of following those rules (Young, 1990). Seeing oppression as the practices of a well intentioned liberal society removes the focus from individual acts that might repress the actions of others to acknowledging that “powerful norms and hierarchies of both privilege and injustice are built into our everyday practices” (Henderson & Waterstone, 2008, p.52). These hierarchies call for structural rather than individual remedies.

We probably need to start with privilege – what does that term mean?

McIntosh identified how she had obtained unearned privileges in society just by being White and defined white privilege as:

an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I am meant to remain oblivious (p. 1).

Her essay prompted understanding of how one’s success is largely attributable to one’s arbitrarily assigned social location in society, rather than the outcome of individual effort.

“I got myself where I am today. Honestly, it’s not that hard. I think some people are just afraid of a little hard work and standing on their own two feet, on a seashell, on a dolphin, on a nymph-queen that are all holding them up.”
“I got myself where I am today. Honestly, it’s not that hard. I think some people are just afraid of a little hard work and standing on their own two feet, on a seashell, on a dolphin, on a nymph-queen that are all holding them up.”

From: The Birth of Venus: Pulling Yourself Out Of The Sea By Your Own Bootstraps by Mallory Ortberg 

McIntosh suggested that white people benefit from historical and contemporary forms of racism (the inequitable distribution and exercise of power among ethnic groups) and that these discriminate or disadvantage people of color.

How does privilege relate to racism, sexism? Are they the same thing?

It’s useful to view the ‘isms’ in the context of institutional power, a point illustrated by Sian Ferguson:

In a patriarchal society, women do not have institutional power (at least, not based on their gender). In a white supremacist society, people of color don’t have race-based institutional power.

Australian race scholars Paradies and Williams (2008) note that:

The phenomenon of oppression is also intrinsically linked to that of privilege. In addition to disadvantaging minority racial groups in society, racism also results in groups (such as Whites) being privileged and accruing social power. (6)

Consequently, health and social disparities evident in white settler societies such as New Zealand and Australia (also this post about Closing the gap) are individualised or culturalised rather than contextualised historically or socio-economically. Without context  white people are socialized to remain oblivious to their unearned advantages and view them as earned through merit. Increasingly the term privilege is being used outside of social justice settings to the arts. In a critique of the Hottest 100 list in Australia Erin Riley points out that the dominance of straight, white male voices which crowds out women, Indigenous Australians, immigrants and people of diverse sexual and gender identities. These groups are marginalised and the centrality of white men maintained, reducing the opportunity for empathy towards people with other experiences.

Do we all have some sort of privilege?

Yes, depending on the context. The concept of intersectionality by Kimberlé Crenshaw is useful, it suggests that people can be privileged in some ways and not others. For example as a migrant and a woman of color I experience certain disadvantages but as a middle class cis-gendered, able-bodied woman with a PhD and without an accent (only a Kiwi one which is indulged) I experience other advantages that ease my passage through the world You can read more in the essay Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person.

How does an awareness of privilege change the way a society works?

Dogs and Lizards: A Parable of Privilege by Sindelókë is a helpful way of trying to understand how easy it is not to see your own privilege and be blind to others’ disadvantages. You might have also seen or heard the phrase ‘check your privilege’ which is a way of asking someone to think about their own privilege and how they might monitor it in a social setting. Exposing color blindness and challenging the assumption of race-neutrality is one mechanism for addressing the issue of privilege and its obverse oppression.  Increasingly in health and social care, emphasis is being placed on critiquing how our own positions contribute to inequality (see my chapter on cultural safety), and developing ethical and moral commitments to addressing racism so that equality and justice can be made possible. As Christine Emba notes “There’s no way to level the playing field unless we first can all see how uneven it is.” One of the ways this can be done is through experiencing exercises like the Privilege Walk which you can watch on video. Jenn Sutherland-Miller in Medium reflects on her experience of it and proposes that:

Instead of privilege being the thing that gives me a leg up, it becomes the thing I use to give others a leg up. Privilege becomes a way create equality and inclusion, to right old wrongs, to demand justice on a daily basis and to create the dialogue that will grow our society forward.

Is privilege something we can change?

If we move beyond guilt and paralysis we can use our privilege to build solidarity and challenge oppression.  Audra Williams points out that a genuine display of solidarity can require making a personal sacrifice. Citing the example of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, where in challenging the director of a commercial about the lack of women with speaking roles, he ends up not being in the commercial at all when it is re-written with speaking roles for women. Ultimately privilege does not gets undone through “confession” but through collective work to dismantle oppressive systems as Andrea Smith writes.

Cultural appropriation is a different concept, but an understanding of privilege is important, what is cultural appropriation?

Cultural appropriation is when somebody adopts aspects of a culture that is not their own (Nadra Kareem Little). Usually it is a charge levelled at people from the dominant culture to signal power dynamic, where elements have been taken from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by the dominant group. Most critics of the concept are white (see white fragility). Kimberly Chabot Davis proposes that white co-optation or cultural consumption and commodification, can be cross-cultural encounters that can foster empathy and lead to working against privilege among white people. However, an Australian example of bringing diverse people together through appropriation backfired, when the term walkabout was used for a psychedelic dance party. Using a deeply significant word for initiation rites, for a dance party was seen as disrespectful. The bewildered organiser was accused via social media of cultural appropriation and changed the name to Lets Go Walkaround. So, I think that it is always important to ask permission and talk to people from that culture first rather than assuming it is okay to use.

What is the line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation?

Maisha Z. Johnson cultural appreciation  or exchange  where mutual sharing is involved.

Can someone from a less privileged culture appropriate from the more privileged culture?

No, marginalized people often have to adopt elements of the dominant culture in order to survive conditions that make life more of a struggle if they don’t.

Does an object or symbol have to have some religious or special cultural significance to be appropriated? 

Appropriation is harmful for a number of reasons including making things ‘cool’ for White people that would be denigrated in People of Color. For example Fatima Farha observes that when Hindu women in the United States wear the bindi, they are often made fun of, or seen as traditional or backward but when someone from the dominant culture wears such items they are called exotic and beautiful. The critique of appropriation extends from clothing to events Nadya Agrawal critiques The Color Run™ where you can:

run with your friends, come together as a community, get showered in colored powder and not have to deal with all that annoying culture that would come if you went to a Holi celebration. There are no prayers for spring or messages of rejuvenation before these runs. You won’t have to drink chai or try Indian food afterward. There is absolutely no way you’ll have to even think about the ancient traditions and culture this brand new craze is derived from. Come uncultured, leave uncultured, that’s the Color Run, promise.

The race ends with something called a “Color Festival” but does not acknowledge Holi. This white-washing (pun intended) eradicates everything Indian from the run including  Holi, Krishna and spring. In essence as Ijeoma Oluo points out cultural appropriation is a symptom, not the cause, of an oppressive and exploitative world order which involves stealing the work of those less privileged. Really valuing people involves valuing their culture and taking the time to acknowledge its historical and social context. Valuing isn’t just appreciation but also considering whether the appropriation of intellectual property results in economic benefits for the people who created it. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar suggests that it is often one way:

One very legitimate point is economic. In general, when blacks create something that is later adopted by white culture, white people tend to make a lot more money from it… It feels an awful lot like slavery to have others profit from your efforts.

 

Loving burritos doesn’t make someone less racist against Latinos. Lusting after Bo Derek in 10 doesn’t make anyone appreciate black culture more… Appreciating an individual item from a culture doesn’t translate into accepting the whole people. While high-priced cornrows on a white celebrity on the red carper at the Oscars is chic, those same cornrows on the little black girl in Watts, Los Angeles, are a symbol of her ghetto lifestyle. A white person looking black gets a fashion spread in a glossy magazine; a black person wearing the same thing gets pulled over by the police. One can understand the frustration.

The appropriative process is also selective, as Greg Tate observes in Everything but the burden, where African American cultural properties including music, food, fashion, hairstyles, dances are sold as American to the rest of the world but with the black presence erased from it. The only thing not stolen is the burden of the denial of human rights and economic opportunity. Appropriation can be ambivalent, as seen in the desire to simultaneously possess and erase black culture. However, in the case of the appropriation of the indigenous in the United States, Andrea Smith declares (somewhat ironically), that the desire to be “Indian” often precludes struggles against genocide, or demands for treaty rights. It does not require being accountable to Indian communities, who might demand an end to the appropriation of spiritual practices.

Go West – Black: Random Coachella attendee, 2014. Red: Bison skull pile, South Dakota, 1870’s.
Go West – Black: Random Coachella attendee, 2014. Red: Bison skull pile, South Dakota, 1870’s by Roger Peet.

Some people believe the cuisines of other cultures have been appropriated – is this an extreme example, or is it something we should consider?

The world of food can be such a potent site of transformation for social justice. I am a committed foodie (“somebody with a strong interest in learning about and eating good food who is not directly employed in the food industry” (Johnston and Baumann, 2010: 61). I am also interested in the politics of food. I live in Melbourne, where food culture has been made vibrant by the waves of migrants who have put pressure on public institutions, to expand and diversify their gastronomic offerings for a wider range of people. However, our consumption can naturalise and make invisible colonial and racialised relations. Thus the violent histories of invasion and starvation by the first white settlers, the convicts whose theft of food had them sent to Australia and absorbed into the cruel colonial project of poisoning, starving and rationing indigenous people remain hidden from view. So although we might love the food we might not care about the cooks at all as Rhoda Roberts Director of the Aboriginal Dreaming festival observed in Elspeth Probyn’s excellent book Carnal Appetites:

In Australia, food and culinary delights are always accepted before the differences and backgrounds of the origin of the aroma are.

Lee’s Ghee is an interesting example of appropriation, she developed an ‘artisanal’ ghee product, something that has been made for centuries in South Asia.

Lee Dares was taking the fashion world by storm working as a model in New York when she realized her real passion was elsewhere. So, she made the courageous decision to quit her glamorous job and take some time to explore what she really wanted to do with her life. Her revelation came after she spent some time learning to make clarified butter, or ghee, on a farm in Northern India. Inspired, she turned to Futurpreneur Canada to help her start her own business, Lee’s Ghee, producing unique and modern flavours of this traditional staple of Southeast Asian cuisine and Ayurvedic medicine.

The saying “We are what we eat” is about not only the nutrients we consume but also to beliefs about our morality. Similarly ‘we’ are also what we don’t eat, so our food practices mark us out as belonging or not belonging to a group.So, food has an exclusionary and inclusionary role with affective consequences that range from curiosity, delight to disgust. For the migrant for example, identity cannot be taken for granted, it must be worked at to be nurtured and maintained. It becomes an active, performative and processual project enacted through consumption. With with every taste, an imagined diasporic group identity is produced, maintained and reinforced. Food preparation represents continuity through the techniques and equipment that are used which affirm family life, and in sharing this food hospitality, love, generosity and appreciation can be expresssed. However, the food that is a salve for the dislocated, lonely, isolated migrant also sets her apart, making her stand out as visibly, gustatorily or olfactorily different. The resource for her well being also marks her as different and a risk. If her food is seen as smelly, distasteful, foreign, violent or abnormal, these characteristics can be transposed to her body and to those bodies that resemble her. Dares attempt to reproduce food that is made in many households and available for sale in many ‘ethnic’ shops and selling it as artisanal, led to accusations of ‘colombusing’ — a term used to describe when white people  claim they have discovered or made something that has a long history in another culture. Also see the critique by Navneet Alang in Hazlitt:

The ethnic—the collective traditions and practices of the world’s majority—thus works as an undiscovered country, full of resources to be mined. Rather than sugar or coffee or oil, however, the ore of the ethnic is raw material for performance and self-definition: refine this rough, crude tradition, bottle it in pretty jars, and display both it and yourself as ideals of contemporary cosmopolitanism. But each act of cultural appropriation, in which some facet of a non-Western culture is columbused, accepted into the mainstream, and commodified, reasserts the white and Western as norm—the end of a timeline toward which the whole world is moving.

If this is the first time someone has heard these concepts, and they’re feeling confused, or a bit defensive, what can they do to understand more about it?

Here are some resources that might help, videos, illustrations, reading and more.

White privilege

Cultural appropriation

The closure of remote Aboriginal communities: What is the role of nurses in Indigenous disadvantage?

Jeanie Govan

The view expressed by Tony Abbott (Prime Minister and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs), that taxpayers shouldn’t be expected to fund the “lifestyle choices” of Aboriginal people living in remote regions in support of Colin Barnett’s (West Australian Premier) decision to close 150 remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia reflects the repetition of the colonial project and Aboriginal dispossession. One of the mythologies of a white settler society is that white people are the first to arrive and develop the land, with colonisation a benign force (rather than one enacted through the processes of conquest and genocide and displacing the indigenous (Razack, 2002)). Closing the community draws attention away from governmental failures to ‘Close the Gap’ and instead displaces the blame on the supposed inadequacies and problems of Aboriginal communities (Amy McQuire) thereby individualising socio-political inequalities rather than revealing them as historic and structural. The paternalism of closing the communities “for their own good” and for the common good, appears benign but hides the brutality of forced removal and in doing so denies the significance of indigeneity as Mick Dodson notes:

It is not a “lifestyle choice” to be be born in and live in a remote Aboriginal community. It is more a decision to value connection to country, to look after family, to foster language and celebrate our culture. There are significant social, environmental and cultural benefits for the entire nation that flow from those decisions.

 

Hamilton action

The protests against this cruel action have resounded around the world and have resonated in Aotearoa where I have lived for most of my life although I now live in the lands of the Kulin Nations in Gippsland as a migrant. As a nurse educator and researcher I am shaped by colonialism’s continuing effects in the white settler nation of Australia.

Nurses have often played an important part in social justice. Recently nursing professional bodies made a stand against violent state practices with the Australian College of Nursing (ACN) and Maternal Child and Family Health Nurses Australia (MCaFHNA) supporting The Forgotten Children report by the Australian Human Rights Commission against detaining children in immigration detention centres. Others like Chris Wilson wrote in Crikey  about the many limitations of the Northern Territory Intervention:

I am saddened that the intervention has wasted so many resources, given so little support or recognition to the workers on the ground, paid so little attention to years of reports and above all involved absolutely no consultation with anyone, especially community members. The insidious effect of highlighting child abuse over all the other known problems in Aboriginal health is destructive to male health, mental health and community health, is unfounded in fact and is based in the inherent ignorance of this racist approach.

It has made me think about how nurses and midwives don’t often problematise our locations and consider our responsibilities within a social context of the discursive and material legacies of colonialism, neoliberalism, austerity and ‘othering’ (of Muslims, of refugees of Indigenous people) and “the ways in which we are complicitous in the subordination of others” (Razack, 1998, p.159). As Razack notes, groups that see themselves as apolitical must call into question their roles as “innocent subjects, standing outside of hierarchical social relations, who are not accountable for the past or implicated in the future” (Razack, 1998, p.10).

Colonisation and racism have been unkind to Indigenous people (term often used to refer to both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples) with the health status of Indigenous people often compared to that of a developing country as I have pointed out elsewhere. The Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage 2014 report measures the wellbeing of Australia’s Indigenous peoples. Briefly, Indigenous people:

  • Experience social and health inequalities (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2004).
  • Are over represented and experience a higher burden of disease and higher mortality at younger ages than non-Indigenous Australians (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2012b).

So, the question for me as a researcher and educator are what responsibility do nurses and the discipline of nursing have to Aboriginal health?

1) Recognise colonisation as a determinant of health

Indigenous people enjoyed better health in 1788 than people in Europe, they had autonomy over their lives, (ceremonies, spiritual practices, medicine, social relationships, management of land, law, and economic activities), but also didn’t suffer from illnesses that were endemic in18th century Europe. They didn’t have smallpox, measles, influenza, tuberculosis, scarlet fever, venereal syphilis and gonorrhoea. However, they were known to have suffered from; hepatitis B; some bacterial infections; some intestinal parasites; trauma; anaemia; arthritis; periodontal disease; and tooth attrition.

What’s often difficult for many nurses and students to imagine is that the past could have anything to do with the present, however, research in other settler colonial societies shows a clear relationship between social disadvantages experienced by Indigenous people and current health status. Colonisation and the spread of non-Indigenous peoples saw the introduction of illness (eg smallpox); the devaluing of culture; the destruction of traditional food base; separation from families; dispossession of whole communities. Furthermore, the ensuing loss of autonomy undermined social vitality, reduced resilience and created dispossession, demoralisation and poor health.

The negative impacts of colonisation on Indigenous led colonial authorities to try to ‘protect’ remaining Indigenous peoples, which saw the establishment of Aboriginal ‘protection’ boards (the first established in Victoria by the Aboriginal Protection Act of 18690. However, ‘protection’ imposed enormous restrictions eg living in settlements; forced separation of Indigenous children from their families. With between one-in-three and one-in-ten Indigenous children forcibly removed from their families and communities from 1910 until 1970. The result was irrevocable harm as one of the Stolen Generations stated:

We may go home, but we cannot relive our childhoods. We may reunite with our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunties, uncles, communities, but we cannot relive the 20, 30, 40 years that we spent without their love and care, and they cannot undo the grief and mourning they felt when we were separated from them

 

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry. To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

Also watch Babakiueria which uses role reversal to satirise and critique Australia’s treatment of its Indigenous peoples. Aboriginal actors play the colonisers, while white actors play the indigenous Babakiuerians.

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2) Recognise continuing colonial practices

This blog started with the news of the closures of 150 remote Aboriginal communities in WA. Only one example of continuing colonial practices. Mick Dodson suggests that the closure of the 150 WA communities reflects an inability of the descendants of settlers to:

negotiate in a considered way the right of Aboriginal people to live as Aboriginal peoples in our own lands and seas, while also participating in every aspect of life  as contemporary Australian citizens.

 

You can also read about proposed alternatives to the closure by Rebecca Mitchell.

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3) Develop an understanding of racism as a determinant of health

Racism (racial discrimination) is linked with colonisation and oppression and is a social determinant of health. Nancy Krieger (2001) defines it as a process by which members of a socially defined racial group are treated unfairly because of membership of that group. Too often racism is seen as individual actions rather than as structural and embedded as this video shows. We know that racism damages health and in the health sector health systems and service providers can perpetuate Aboriginal health care disparities through attitudes and practices (Durey).

Anti-racist scholars suggest that there are three levels of racism in health.

  1. Institutional: Practices, policies or processes experienced in everyday life which maintain and reproduce avoidable and unfair inequalities across ethnic/racial groups (also called systemic racism);
  2. Interpersonal, in interactions between individuals either within their institutional roles or as private individuals;
  3. Internalised, where an individual internalises attitudes, beliefs or ideologies about the inferiority of their own group.

Krieger and others have written extensively about how racism affects health. People who experience racism experience the following:

  • Inequitable and reduced access to the resources required for health;
  • Inequitable exposure to risk factors associated with ill-health;
  • Stress and negative emotional/cognitive reactions which have negative impacts on mental health as well as affecting the immune, endocrine, cardiovascular and other physiological systems;
  • Engagement in unhealthy activities and disengagement from healthy activities

1 in 3 Aboriginal Victorians experienced racism in a health care setting according to a VicHealth survey. The respondents reported:

  • Poorer health status;
  • Lower perceived quality of care;
  • Under-utilisation of health services;
  • Delays in seeking care;
  • Failure to follow recommendations;
  • Societal distrust;
  • interruptions in care;
  • Mistrust of providers;
  • Avoidance of health care systems.

This video on understanding the impact of racism on Indigenous child health by Dr Naomi Priest is well worth a look.

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4) Develop a collective understanding of health and the importance of cultural determinants of health

Health is defined in the National Aboriginal Health Strategy (1989) as:

Not just the physical well-being of the individual but the social, emotional and cultural well-being of the whole community. This is a whole of life view and it also includes the cyclical concept of life-death-life

It is important that in considering the issues of colonisation, racism and inter-generational trauma that the diverse cultures and histories of indigenous people are not viewed through a deficit lens. So often mainstream media reinforce the myth that responsibility for poor health (whether it’s about people who drink, are obese or smoke) is an individual and group one rather than linked with social determinants including colonisation, economic restructuring or the devastating social consequences of state neoliberal policies. As Professor Ngiare Brown notes, there are significant cultural determinants of health which should be supported including:

  • Self-determination; Freedom from discrimination;
  • Individual and collective rights;
  • Freedom from assimilation and destruction of culture;
  • Protection from removal/relocation;
  • Connection to, custodianship, and utilisation of country and traditional lands;
  • Reclamation, revitalisation, preservation and promotion of language and cultural practices;
  • Protection and promotion of Traditional Knowledge and Indigenous Intellectual Property; and
  • Understanding of lore, law and traditional roles and responsibilities.

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5) Develop an understanding of the organisations, policies, levers and strategies that are available to support Indigenous wellbeing

  • Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHSs), which are primary health care services operated by local Aboriginal communities to deliver holistic, comprehensive, and culturally appropriate health care. There are over 150 ACCHSs in urban, regional and remote Australia.
  • Close the gap campaign targets (also see a recent blogpost) developed by a consortium of 40 of Australia’s leading Indigenous and non-Indigenous health peak bodies and human rights organisations, which calls on Australian governments to commit to achieving Indigenous health equality within 25 years.
  • 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Article 24 of which points out that Indigenous people have the right “to access, without any discrimination, [to] all social and health services” and “have an equal right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. States shall take the necessary steps with a view to achieving progressively full realisation of this right”.
  • Become familiar with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-2023.
  • Support the WHO Closing the gap in a generation, which recommends three actions for improving the world’s health:
  1. Improve the conditions of daily life – the circumstances in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age.
  2. Tackle the inequitable distribution of power, money, and resources – the structural drivers of those conditions of daily life – globally, nationally, and locally.
  3. Measure the problem, evaluate action, expand the knowledge base, develop a workforce that is trained in the social determinants of health, and raise public awareness about the social determinants of health.

In recognising the linkages and operational relationships that exist between health and human rights, the nursing profession respects the human rights of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional owners of this land, who have ownership of and live a distinct and viable culture that shapes their world view and influences their daily decision making. Nurses recognise that the process of reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-indigenous Australians is rightly shared and owned across the Australian community. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, while physical, emotional, spiritual and cultural wellbeing are distinct, they also form the expected whole of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander model of care

 

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6) Becoming a critical, reflexive, knowledgeable nurse who legitimates the  cultural rights, values and expectations of Aboriginal people

More than ever, social justice provides a valuable lens for nursing practice (see Sir Michael Marmot’s speech). Cultural competence and safety directly reduce health disparities experienced by Indigenous Australians (Lee et al., 2006; Durey, 2010). It makes sense that the safer the health care system and its workers are, the more likely Indigenous people are to engage and use the services available. Early engagement in the health care system results in early health intervention strategies, prevention of illness and improved overall health outcomes for Indigenous Australians. The key features of cultural competence identified in the Cultural diversity plan for Victoria’s specialist mental health services 2006-2010 are:

  • Respectful and non-judgemental curiosity about other cultures, and the ability to seek cultural knowledge in an appropriate way;
  • Tolerance of ambiguity and ability to handle the stress of ambiguous situations;
  • Readiness to adapt behaviours and communicative conventions for intercultural communication.

Nurses have a role in improving health outcomes, but this requires an understanding of the reasons why there are higher morbidity and mortality rates in Indigenous populations than in the general population. It requires that nurses engage in reflection and interrogate the existing social order and how it reproduces discriminatory practices in structural systems such as health care, in institutions and in health professionals (Durey, 2010). It’s important that as nurses we focus on our own behaviour, practice and skills both as professionals and individuals working in the health system.

I think this statement about Cultural security from the Department of Health, Western Australian Health (2003) Aboriginal Cultural Security: A background paper, page 10. is a valuable philosophy of practice:

Commitment to the principle that the construct and provision of services offered by the health system will not compromise the legitimate cultural rights, values and expectations of Aboriginal people. It is a recognition, appreciation and response to the impact of cultural diversity on the utilisation and provision of effective clinical care, public health and health system administration

To conclude, I leave the last words to Professor Ngiare Brown:

We represent the oldest continuous culture in the world, we are also diverse and have managed to persevere despite the odds because of our adaptability, our survival skills and because we represent an evolving cultural spectrum inclusive of traditional and contemporary practices. At our best, we bring our traditional principles and practices – respect, generosity, collective benefit, collective ownership- to our daily expression of our identity and culture in a contemporary context. When we are empowered to do this, and where systems facilitate this reclamation, protection and promotion, we are healthy, well and successful and our communities thrive.

 

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References

Universities of Australia. (2011). National best practice framework for indigenous cultural competency in Australian Universities.
Awofeso, N. (2011). Racism: A major impediment to optimal indigenous health and health care in Australia. Australian Indigenous Health Bulletin, 11(3), 1-8.
Best, O., & Stuart, L. (2014). An Aboriginal nurse-led working model for success in graduating indigenous Australian nurses. Contemporary Nurse, 4082-4101.
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Ethnic migrant media: Weaving ourselves a home

Exploring the role, benefits, challenges & potential of ethnic media in NZ .

Paper presented at the Ethnic Migrant Media Forum, Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand. Also available as pdf from conference proceedings DeSouza keynote.

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa, it’s an honour to be invited to speak at this forum where we are gathered to talk about ethnic media and the possibilities it offers for our communities. I wish to acknowledge this magnificent whare whakairo (carved meeting house) ‘Ngākau Māhaki’, built and designed by Dr Lyonel Grant which I think is the most beautiful building in the entire world. Kia ora to matua Hare Paniora for the whaikōrero, whaea Lynda Toki for the karanga and this pōwhiri. I acknowledge Ngāti Whātua as mana whenua of Unitec and Te Noho Kotahitanga marae. I acknowledge the organisers of this forum, Unitec’s Department of Communication Studies and Niche Media & Ethnic Media Information NZ, in particular Associate Professor Evangelia Papoutsaki, Dr Elena Kolesova, Lisa Engledew and Dr Jocelyn Williams and all the participants gathered here today.

As a migrant to Aotearoa and now Australia, there are a few places that I call home. Tamaki makau rau and Unitec specifically would be one of those places. This whenua has been central to my own growth and development. I love these grounds, I walked them when I was a student nurse at Oakley hospital in 1986 and then worked in Building 1 or as it was known then Ward 12 at Carrington Psychiatric Hospital in 1987. I also worked here at Unitec as a nursing lecturer from 1998-2004. I have this beautiful Whaariki (woven mat) made from Harakeke (NZ Flax) grown, dyed and woven at Unitec that has accompanied me for over three house moves since I left Unitec and more recently across the Tasman.

Whaariki from Unitec, gifted to Ruth DeSouza
Whaariki from Unitec, gifted to Ruth DeSouza

It is this being at home that interests me as a migrant. Home is the safe space where I can be myself and where there are other people like me. It’s a place where I can be nurtured and supported, where I can thrive in my similarities and in my differences. Where I can see my norms and values reflected around me. I believe that the media can have a special place in helping us to see ourselves as woven through like this exquisite mat as belonging to something larger than ourselves. I believe that it can contribute to helping us feel at home, through it we can feel embraced and included, we can be part of a conversation that can see us in all our glory. However, too often it is also a site where if we are already marginalised, we can be further marginalised.

Advert in the Australian 2013
Advert in the Australian 2013

Today, I am going to briefly talk about the limitations of mainstream media, review some key functions of ethnic media and conclude with some challenges and opportunities for ethnic media. As you’ll see from my bio, I co-founded the Aotearoa Ethnic Network, an email list and journal in 2006 to provide a communication channel for the growing number of people in the “ethnic” category. I’ve been passionately interested in the role of media practices in intercultural relations in health, and also on the relations between settlers, migrants and indigenous peoples in Aotearoa New Zealand. I have been actively involved in ethnic community issues, governance, research and education in New Zealand and Australia.

This hui is timely, given discussions about: biculturalism and multiculturalism; the Maori media renaissance, the growth of Pacific and Asian owned or run media including radio, newspapers, online media; television, web based news services; the underrepresentation of Maori, Pacific and Ethnic in media and journalism; the growth of blogs through early 2000s and the growth in social media (FB, Twitter) in the last decade. It’s also part of a longer conversation, I’m thinking about the forum we had in 2005 organised by the Auckland City Council and Human Rights Commission after the Danish cartoon fiasco, where I talked about the role of media in terms of “fixing” difference or supporting complexity; the role of media in making society more cohesive or divisive or exclusive and the relevance of New Zealand media relevant in the context of growing diasporic media. In that forum I suggested that there was a need for: ethnic media but also adequate representation in mainstream media; the showing of complex multicultural relationships not just ethnic enclaves and ways for people of ethnic backgrounds to be included in national and international conversations. Me and others have also taken mainstream media to task over representations of Asians (Asian Angst story by Debra Coddington);Paul Brennan’s Islamophobic comments on National Radio and Paul Henry’s comments about then Governor General Anand Satyanand. An editorial in the AEN Journal also examines the role of mainstream media in inter-cultural exchange and promoting inter-cultural awareness and understanding. I also challenged media representations of Maori and Pacific people as evidenced in cartoons by Al Nisbet, which were printed in New Zealand media. More recently, I’ve written with colleagues Nairn, Moewaka Barnes, Rankine,  Borell, and McCreanor about the role and implications of media news practices for those committed to social justice and health equity.

Let me start by introducing a fairly binary definition of ethnic media that I am going to use as referring to media created for/by immigrants, ethnic and language minority groups and indigenous groups (Matsaganis et al., 2011). In contrast, media that produces content about and for the mainstream is known as the mainstream media. However, as most of you will know there’s a lot of blurriness and consumers consume both. I also want to preface this talk  by introducing two key words which I am going to use as a lens for this keynote. I believe that these lenses are more important than ever in an era where critique is becoming censured for those in academia and in the context of corporate governance of media. Foucault’s notion of critique which is

“..a critique is not a matter of saying that things are not right as they are. It is a matter of pointing out on what kinds of assumptions, what kinds of familiar, unchallenged, unconsidered modes of thought the practices we accept rest” (Foucault, 1988, p.154).

and Stuart Hall’s definition of ideology:

Ideology: “The mental frameworks – the language, concepts, categories, imagery of thought and system of representation – which different classes and social groups deploy in order to make sense of, define, figure out and render intelligible the way society works” (Hall, 1996 p. 26).

 

It’s in the spirit of critique that I want to talk about the mainstream media’s role in co-option and converting audiences into seeing “like the media”. As Augie Fleras observes, media messages reflect and advance dominant discourses which are expertly concealed and normalised so as to appear without bias or perspective. The integrative role of  mainstream media reflects and amplifies the concerns of particular groupings of power so that attention is drawn to norms and values that are considered appropriate within society. In this way attitudes are created and reinforced, opinions and understandings are managed and cultures are constructed and reinvented. The headline below shows the ways in which language is used to create an “other”, the picture out of focus, the beard a stand in for evil and fear, a threat to national security.

Sponsor a jihad
Sponsor a jihad

Thus mainstream media’s main function becomes commercial, selling by pooling groups together for the purposes of advertising and marketing and in so doing must appeal to a large audience. It can’t be too controversial (unless it’s also supporting larger official agendas such as guarding against the insider Islamic threat or deterring the hordes of maritime arrivals through forcibly turning back the boats) and it cannot segment its audiences with any kind of nuance. I think this meme floating around Facebook captures this idea of communicating some kind of national identity and values well.

team australia

Consequently social media, the internet and ethnic media are seen as able to service more specific audiences. In the case of social media, there’s some great opportunities for connecting beyond the nation state:

As the internet surpasses the nation-state limitations and usually the legislative limitations that bind other media, it opens up new possibilities for sustaining diasporic community relations and even for reinventing diasporic relations and communication that were either weak or non- existent in the past (Georgiou 2002: 25).

 

Moving on to ethnic media, I see several functions or imperatives loosely using the typology by Viswanath & Arora (2000): Ethnic media as form of cultural transmission, community booster, sentinel, assimilator, information provider and one lesser mentioned in the literature, as having a professional development function.

The most obvious role of ethnic media is to provide information for the community, events both local and from the homeland are paid attention to. In the break I was talking to a journalist from Radio Torana who is flying to Brisbane for the G20 summit and to cover Modi’s visit to Australia. Through him I found out about the Modi express. For the first time ever, a train service is running under the name of an Indian Prime Minister from Melbourne to Sydney carrying some 200 passengers who are planning to attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public address in Sydney during his visit to Australia, the first by an Indian premier in 28 years (Rajiv Gandhi was the last, he met with Bob Hawke in 1986). The organisers have arranged for music and dance troupes to entertain the passengers along with free Gujarati specialties like ‘Modi Dhokla’ and ‘Modi Fafda’ (Fafda is crunchy snack made from chick pea flour and served with hot fried chillis or chutney and Dhokla is snack item made from a fermented batter of chickpeas accompanied with green chutney and tamarind chutney).

Photo from India2Australia.com
Photo from India2Australia.com

In its role as cultural transmitter, it has a distributive function to publish or broadcast information that is important to the ethnic community, so information about events and celebrations comes to the fore. This in turn sustains and fosters a sense of belonging to an imagined community, that feels coherent, united and connected to a homeland. However, rarely in that role does it also act as a critic of community institutions or powerful groups within that community.

A second role of ethnic media is as a community booster. In this role the media presents the community as doing well, being successful and achieving. The communities served by the media expect that a positive image is reflected both to its own members and outside the community. Typically close links are fostered between local reporters and editors and the community elite. Stories consist of human interest features, profiles of successful members, particularly those that are volunteers or contribute. There many be a reluctance to feature more radical or critical voices or critical stories as these many adversely affect the community image and the commercial imperative.

A third role is the ethnic media as a sentinel or watch dog. There’s very little about this in the literature but in fulfilling this role, the ethnic media produce stories on issues that could affect the rights of communities, crime against immigrants and so on.

A more common function is that of assimilation, where ethnic media play a part in assisting their community members to be more successful; through learning the ropes of the system. Ethnic media coverage then focuses on the role of the community in local politics and fostering positive relations and feelings between that of the ethnic group’s homeland and adopted country.

Another crucial function which is rarely articulated in this literature, but has been pivotal to my development is that of the ethnic media as space for professional development. Through engagement in ethnic media, members of ethnic communities develop transferrable skills and the capacity to write, broadcast and present. This one is very personally relevant. Through writing for the Migrant News and Global Indian, I refined my writing skills. Through talking on ethnic radio stations like Samut Sari and Planet FM I developed and refined my own capacity to articulate thoughts and ideas. Being featured in stories on Asia Downunder I realised my own ability to speak on television. These opportunities led to developing the confidence to develop my own online journal, the Aotearoa Ethnic Network Journal and write peer reviewed publications and feature on commercial radio and television.  This would never have happened without the support of those ethnic media pioneers. I acknowledge them all.

However, ethnic media is on rapidly shifting terrain. Increasingly consumers are negotiating the availability of media from their place of origin via the internet. Ethnic media are having to consider their roles and business models in the context of neoliberalism and the withdrawal of the state from cultural funding.

The end of the charter. Picture via Against the Current
The end of the charter. Picture via Against the Current

Recently Television New Zealand the public service broadcaster announced that it intended to outsource production of Māori programmes (Marae, Waka Huia) and Pacific (Fresh and Tagata Pasifika) programmes. A depressing move given the unrelenting negative representations of people in these communities who are socially and culturally marginalised in New Zealand mainstream media (see my blog post on how blame for the disparities in health is attributed to individuals and communities rather than neoliberal and austerity policies). This very manoeuvre was used to outsource Asia Downunder a programme which ran from 1994-2011 for Asians in New Zealand and featured the activities of Asians in New Zealand and New Zealand Asians abroad gutted Asian institutional knowledge and capacity within TVNZ when it was replaced with Neighbourhood. Asia Downunder was a casualty of the loss of the Television New Zealand Charter which was introduced in 2003 by the Labour government and removed in 2011 by the National government on the basis that meeting its public service obligations were a barrier to its commercial obligations. The Charter encouraged TVNZ to show programmes that reflect New Zealand’s identity and provided funding. You can read more about its history and gestation and what has been lost in The End of an Error? The Death of the TVNZ Charter and its implications for broadcasting policy in New Zealand by Peter A. Thompson, Senior Lecturer, Media Studies Programme, Victoria University of Wellington.

In this context, I end with several questions. Given that ethnic media institutions help their audiences to reimage or sustain themselves and their place in the cultural and socio-political milieu of their new home (Gentles-Peart):

  • What is the relationship between ethnic media and the ‘mainstream ideological apparatus of power? (Shi, 2009: 599)
  • What is the relevance of ethnic media in terms of the next generation?
  • What is the relationship between ethnic media and indigenous media?
  • How do ethnic media import or reinforce or critique the power structures of immigrants’ homelands including gender, class and sexuality?
  • Are there opportunities for ethnic media to lobby and advocate for their communities?
  • What opportunities and possibilities are available for inter-ethnic media work?

I look forward to summing up the korero at the end of our forum, to report back to the roopu about the strands we’ve woven together and to enjoying the robust and dynamic discussions that I know are going to happen today. No reira me mihi nui kia koutou katoa ano, tena koutou tena koutou, tena ra koutou katoa.

Update: 12th March 2017: the curated conference proceedings of the Ethnic Migrant Media Forum are now available. Edited by Evangelia Papoutsaki & Elena Kolesova with Laura Stephenson.

 

 

 

 

 

Nursing in media-saturated societies: implications for cultural safety in nursing practice

Nairn, DeSouza, Moewaka Barnes, Rankine,  Borell, and McCreanor (2014). Nursing in media-saturated societies: implications for cultural safety in nursing practice in Aotearoa New Zealand. Journal of Research in Nursing September  19: 477-487,doi:10.1177/1744987114546724

Great to be published in the Journal of Research in Nursing September 2014 issue on ‘Race’, Ethnicity and Nursing, Edited by: Lorraine Culley. I had the pleasure of being included in a previous issue in 2007, so it’s great to be in this one.

Abstract

This educational piece seeks to apprise nurses and other health professionals of mass media news practices that distort social and health policy development. It focuses on two media discourses evident in White settler societies, primarily Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, drawing out implications of these media practices for those committed to social justice and health equity. The first discourse masks the dominant culture, ensuring it is not readily recognised as a culture, naturalising the dominant values, practices and institutions, and rendering their cultural foundations invisible. The second discourse represents indigenous peoples and minority ethnic groups as ‘raced’ – portrayed in ways that marginalise their culture and disparage them as peoples. Grounded in media research from different societies, the paper focuses on the implications for New Zealand nurses and their ability to practise in a culturally safe manner as an exemplary case. It is imperative that these findings are elaborated for New Zealand and that nurses and other health professionals extend the work in relation to practice in their own society.

One of my favourite pieces of the article proposes some ways in which nurses can engage in critical assessment of mass media, by asking questions like:

  • From whose point of view is this story told?
  • Who is present?
  • How are they named and/or described?
  • Who, of those present, is allowed to give their interpretation of the matter?
  • Who is absent?
  • Whose interests are served by telling the story this way?

One of the things that I love about this journal is that they ask for commentaries from a reviewer. My former colleague Denise Wilson (Professor, Māori Health Taupua Waiora Centre for Māori Health Research/School of Public Health & Psychosocial Studies, National Institute of Public Health and Mental Health Research, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand), has reviewed our paper and says:

I would urge nurses to read this paper and reflect on how the media influences their own practice and engagement with minority and marginalised groups. Media portrayals of minority groups often reflect negatively geared dominant cultural sentiments, becoming ‘accepted’ fact within our communities. Nurses need to be aware that their efforts to be culturally safe in their practice can be undermined by the normalisation and acceptance of what is portrayed in the media. Therefore, nurses are encouraged by the authors to come together and question the ‘taken-for-granted’ dominant cultural media portrayals to create a stronger platform for culturally safe practice.

Mind the gap: Cultural safety in Australia

In August 2014 there was a wonderful story of how “people power” had freed a man in Perth, whose leg had become caught in the gap between a platform and train on his morning commute. You can watch the video here. What struck me about this story was that people taking part in their “regular” commute noticed something out of the ordinary and used their combined energy to free the man. Someone alerted the driver to make sure that the train didn’t move, staff then asked passengers to help and in tandem they rocked the train backwards from the platform so it tilted and his leg could be freed. It made me think about the gaps people are stuck in, that exist all around us, that have become so routine, that we are habituated to, and fail to notice.

One of the biggest gaps is in the health outcomes between Indigenous and non-indigenous people in settler nations. Oxfam notes that Australia equals Nepal for the world’s greatest life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. This is despite Australians enjoying one of the highest life expectancies of any country in the world. Indigenous Australians (who numbered 669,900 people in 2011, ie 3% of the total population) live 10-17 years less than other Australians. In the 35–44 age group, Indigenous people die at about 5 times the rate of non-Indigenous people. Babies born to Aboriginal mothers die at more than twice the rate of other Australian babies, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience higher rates of preventable illness such as heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes.

One of the most galvanising visions for addressing the health and social disparities between Indigenous and non-indigenous people is  The Close the Gap campaign aiming to close the health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians within a generation. By 2030 any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child born in Australia will have the same opportunity as other Australian children to live a long, healthy and happy life.

Mind the gap

 

Nurses play an important role in creating a more equitable society and have  been forerunners in the field of cultural safety and competence. For the gap to close, nurses need an understanding of health that includes social, economic, environmental and historical relations. Cultural safety from Aotearoa New Zealand has been an invaluable tool for me as nurse for analysing this set of relations. However, as a newcomer to Australia, I have a lot to learn about what cultural competency means here and how I fulfil my responsibilities as a nurse educator to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. To that end, this blog piece focuses on some of the frameworks in nursing that might enable nurses to close the gap. I am particularly interested in frameworks that enable nurses to widen the lens of care beyond the individual and consider service users in the context of their families and communities and broader social and structural inequities. I’m also interested in policy frameworks that can support practice.

Gosford Anglican church

A social determinants of health approach takes into account “the circumstances in which people are born, grow up, live, work and age, and the systems put in place to deal with illness. These circumstances are in turn shaped by a wider set of forces: economics, social policies, and politics” (WHO, 2010). A health equity lens has also been invaluable to my own practice, it refers to the absence of systematic disparities in health (or in the major social determinants of health) between groups with different social advantage/disadvantage. Social inequalities refer to “relatively long-lasting differences among individuals or groups of people that have implications for individual lives” (McMullin, 2010, p.7). While an inequity, refers to an unjust distribution of resources and services. “equity means social justice” (see, Braverman 2003). The term “social and structural inequities,” refers to unfair and avoidable ways in which members of different groups in society are treated and/or their ability to access services.

Equality justice

Principle Four of the New Zealand Nursing Council: Guidelines for Cultural safety in Nursing and Midwifery Education (2011) pay great attention to the issue of power:

PRINCIPLE FOUR Cultural safety has a close focus on:

 

4.1 understanding the impact of the nurse as a bearer of his/her own culture, history, attitudes and life experiences and the response other people make to these factors

4.2 challenging nurses to examine their practice carefully, recognising the power relationship in nursing is biased toward the provider of the health and disability service

4.3 balancing the power relationships in the practice of nursing so that every consumer receives an effective service

4.4 preparing nurses to resolve any tension between the cultures of nursing and the people using the services

4.5 understanding that such power imbalances can be examined, negotiated and changed to provide equitable, effective, efficient and acceptable service delivery, which minimises risk to people who might otherwise be alienated from the service.

The Australian Code of Ethics for nurses and midwives in Australia also pays attention to the role of nurses in having a moral responsibility to protect and safe guard human rights as means to improving health outcomes and having concern for the structural and historical:

The nursing profession recognises the universal human rights of people and the moral responsibility to safeguard the inherent dignity and equal worth of everyone. This includes recognising, respecting and, where possible, protecting the wide range of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights that apply to all human beings.

 

The nursing profession acknowledges and accepts the critical relationship between health and human rights and ‘the powerful contribution that human rights can make in improving health outcomes’. Accordingly, the profession recognises that accepting the principles and standards of human rights in health care domains involves recognising, respecting, actively promoting and safeguarding the right of all people to the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental human right, and that ‘violations or lack of attention to human rights can have serious health consequences’.

 

In recognising the linkages and operational relationships that exist between health and human rights, the nursing profession respects the human rights of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional owners of this land, who have ownership of and live a distinct and viable culture that shapes their world view and influences their daily decision making. Nurses recognise that the process of reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-indigenous Australians is rightly shared and owned across the Australian community. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, while physical, emotional, spiritual and cultural wellbeing are distinct, they also form the expected whole of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander model of care.

The Code stops short of using words like colonisation and racism, but the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation background paper “Creating the Cultural Safety Training Standards and Assessment Paper” (2011, p. 9) points out that awareness and sensitivity training, result in individuals becoming more aware of cultural, social and historical factors and engaging in self-reflection however if there isn’t an institutional response and the responsibilities for institutional racism remain individualised:

Even if racism is named, the focus is on individual acts of racial prejudice and racial discrimination. While historic overviews may be provided, the focus is again on the individual impact of colonization in this country, rather than the inherent embedding of colonizing practices in contemporary health and human service institutions

The focus is on the individual and personal, rather than the historical and institutional nature of such individual and personal contexts.

Cultural Respect
The concept of cultural respect (Aboriginal Cultural Security: Background Paper, Health Department of Western Australia) comes the closest to embedding the health care system with policies and practices to help improve the health care outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Having a cultural respect framework means that there is an acknowledgement that:

the health and cultural wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples within mainstream health care settings warrant special attention.   Cultural Respect is the:  recognition, protection and continual advancement of the inherent rights, cultures and tradition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. ….   [it] is about shared respect ….[and] is achieved when the health system is a safe environment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and where cultural differences are respected. It is commitment to the principle that the construct and provision of services offered by the Australian health care system will not compromise the legitimate cultural rights, values and expectations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The goal is to uphold the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to maintain, protect and develop their culture and achieve equitable health outcomes.

The framework includes the following dimensions:
Knowledge and awareness, where the focus is on understandings and awareness of  history, experience, cultures and rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
A focus on changed behaviour and practice to that which is culturally appropriate. Education and training and robust performance management processes are strategies to encourage good practice and culturally appropriate behavior.
Strong relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities, and the health agencies providing services to them. Here the focus is on the business practices of the organization to ensure they uphold and secure the cultural rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Equity of outcomes for individuals and communities. Strategies include ensuring feedback on relevant key performance indicators and targets at all levels.
What I like about this framework is that it goes beyond attitudes and knowledge-based to also demand changed behaviour and action that leads to culturally safe healthcare for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Central to cultural respect is the need for organisations to engage with and seek advice from local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander communities.
Cultural Security
Another new term is the notion of cultural security (developed by the Department of Health, Western Australian Health, 2003, Aboriginal Cultural Security: A background paper, page 10) which focuses on behavior: the practice, skills and behaviour of both professionals as individuals and the health system:

commitment to the principle that the construct and provision of services offered by the health system will not compromise the legitimate cultural rights, values and expectations of Aboriginal people. It is a recognition, appreciation and response to the impact of cultural diversity on the utilisation and provision of effective clinical care, public health and health system administration

Cultural Responsiveness
Defined by the Victorian Health Department as: The capacity to respond to the healthcare issues of diverse communities. This term broadly considers diversity rather than the unique needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples which are a consequence of colonialism and racism.
Cultural Competence

The term ‘Cultural competence’ originates from Transcultural Nursing developed by Madeleine Leininger. Borrowing from anthropology, the aim was to develop a model that encouraged nurses to study and understand cultures other than their own. You can read my paper on the complementariness of cultural safety and competence here. Wellness for all: the possibilities of cultural safety and cultural competence in New Zealand. Betancourt, et al., 2002, p. v define it as:

the ability of systems to provide care to patients with diverse values, beliefs and behaviours, including tailoring delivery to meet patients’ social, cultural and linguistic needs

The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)’s  Cultural Competency in Health: A guide for policy, partnerships and participation supports the notion of the capacity of the health system to improve health and wellbeing by integrating culture into the delivery of health services, but the scope of the document does not extend to cultural competency as applied to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health care.
Government interventions to address health inequities are being deployed in tandem with neoliberalism and economic globalisation, which push back responsibility to individuals. Now, more than ever, attention needs to be paid to power relations and structures that contribute to inequality in society and injustice within nursing, using approaches that consider equity and the social determinants of health. I personally am looking forward to the day when we don’t need this sign, because there isn’t a gap.
Mind-the-Gap
What you can do:
Support the Close the Gap campaign
Dr Tom Calma’s (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commissioner )  Social Justice Report 2005 instigated a human rights-based approach Campaign to close the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians (up to 17 years less than other Australians at the time). This report called on all Australian governments to commit to achieving equality of health status and life expectancy within a generation (by 2030).
A coalition drawn from Indigenous and non-Indigenous health and human rights organisations formed the Close the Gap Campaign, which was launched in April 2007 by Catherine Freeman and Ian Thorpe, the Campaign’s Patrons.  The CTG Campaign is currently Co-Chaired by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda and Co- Chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, Kirstie Parker. The Campaign Steering Committee is comprised of 32 health and human rights organisations. The members of the Campaign Steering Committee have worked collaboratively for approximately nine years to address Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health inequality through two primary mechanisms: attempting to gain public support of the issue and demanding government action to address it.
Some useful videos
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health videos:
http://blogs.crikey.com.au/croakey/2013/08/04/youtube-an-excellent-resource-for-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-health/Cultural competence video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpzLzgeL2sADr Tom Calma – Cultural Competency
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnYuTY0fn3s
White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack
http://amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.htmlWhat kind of Asian are you?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWynJkN5HbQReverse racism, Aamer Rahman:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dw_mRaIHb-M
Terminology
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the first inhabitants of Australia.  Aboriginal people are extremely heterogenous groups differing in language and tradition. Torres Strait Islander peoples come from the islands of the Torres Strait, between the tip of Cape York in Queensland and Papua New Guinea but who may live on mainland Australia. The term ‘Indigenous’ is often used to refer to both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In the spirit of being both relational and political then I’d like to share with you my learning about cultural competency and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health care.

From bystander to ally: Can small acts help?

I’m interested in what moves us from being bystanders and witnesses to injustice to being moved to act. This has been prompted by several incidents since I arrived in Australia and a few days ago, the savage beating to death of a transgender woman of colour. In our increasingly surveilled and fear based society, there seem to be more effective structures and mechanisms for contributing to injustice than remedying it. In many cases our political leadership promulgate fear and distrust in a bid to retain or increase voters, hate which is then fanned and fuelled by the media. Take the invitation to police our neighbours in the form of immigration policy in both the United Kingdom and Australia. The Immigration Dob-in Service on the website of the Australian Government’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) being a prime example of how with a few clicks and some information “the community” are encouraged to “dob in” people. Similarly the The UK Home Office had vans warning illegal immigrants to “go home” which demonstrated how easily the government could ignore and breach its responsibilities under the Equalities Act (eliminating discrimination and harassment based on race and religion, fostering good relations between people from different racial and religious groups).

Go home van
Photograph: Rick Findler

Luckily the racist vans were subverted with civil liberties group Liberty organising an alternative message. Other advocacy groups such as Amnesty, Refugee Action and Freedom from Torture claimed in a letter to the Guardian:

As organisations with expertise in supporting people who are seeking protection in the UK, we deplore the highly controversial advertising campaign delivered on the side of vans driven through selected London boroughs

The ‘illegal immigrants go home campaign’ is cynical and giving rise to a climate of fear. The heavy-handed ‘stop and search’ activity outside London tube stations harks back to a period before the Lawrence inquiry and raises questions about racial profiling in immigration control

Van

But what if you are an individual who would like to respond to racism but feel overwhelmed and powerless? A recent study by VicHealth (with the University of Melbourne and the Social Research Centre) investigated the role of bystanders and racist incidents by sampling 601 Victorians and asking them whether racism was acceptable in various scenarios in social settings, workplaces and sports clubs; what they would do if they witnessed racism in these scenarios and what they did the last time they witnessed a racist incident. You might have heard about the many incidents of racist violence and abuse on public transport and in sport.

The purpose of the study was to consider whether reducing racist incidents or the impact of incidents could prevent distress and illnesses in Victorian people from Aboriginal and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. People from Aboriginal and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds experience the highest volumes of racism and record the most severe psychological distress, which places them at higher risk than others of mental illnesses (Ferdinand, Paradies & Kelaher, 2013a; 2013b). The VicHealth study found that individuals’ coping strategies provided insufficient protection from harm, and therefore broader community and organisational efforts were needed to stop racism from occurring and that the role of bystanders was a particularly important one.

Encouragingly the study found that 83% of participants felt that more could be done to address race-based discrimination in settings such as workplaces and sporting clubs such as education, promoting cultures of respect and taking action when racist incidents occurred. 84% claimed they would take action against racism with 30 per cent willing to act on every occasion. However, 13 per cent to 34 per cent (approximately one in four people across the sample) claimed they would feel uncomfortable if they witnessed racism, but would not do anything. I agree with the authors that this group of people hold the potential for a new, powerful wave of action. Take this lovely example of an intervention in a supermarket from Upworthy: One Easy Thing All White People Could Do That Would Make The World A Better Place.

That action was a powerful one, but not all bystanders would be willing to act. Imagine though if all bystanders could be moved to act in small ways in their own workplace or social setting and their efforts were co-ordinated. That’s one of the reasons I love the New Zealand Diversity Action Programme, facilitated by the Human Rights Commission who hold their annual forum this week. The programme brings together organisations taking practical initiatives to:

recognise and celebrate the cultural diversity of our society (diverse) promote the equal enjoyment by everyone of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, regardless of race, colour, religion, ethnicity or national origin (equal)foster harmonious relations between diverse peoples (harmonious)fulfill the promise of the Treaty of Waitangi (Treaty-based)

Any organisation that supports the vision of an Aotearoa New Zealand that is “culturally diverse, equal and harmonious” can take part. All they need to do is to commit on an annual basis to taking practical steps to making this vision happen and these steps can be big, small or celebratory.

In the spirit of the Diversity Action Programme, this story about Mariam Issa a former refugee is delightful. Mariam transformed her backyard into a public garden, complete with chooks. She runs regular storytelling sessions bringing women from her middle-class suburb together with former refugees to share stories and better understand each other. Her story inspired me to think how food and conversations might also help us to to shift from bystander to ally and address unequal power relations and racism. I wonder if her new middle-class friends have made that transition?

I loved Mariam’s story because it made me think that the domestic worlds of food and garden can be such potent sites of transformation for social justice. I am a committed foodie (“somebody with a strong interest in learning about and eating good food who is not directly employed in the food industry” (Johnston and Baumann, 2010: 61), who is also interested in the politics of food. My partner and I moved to Victoria, Australia this year near Melbourne, a foodie paradise. Melbourne’s food culture has been made vibrant by the waves of migrants who have put pressure on public institutions, to expand and diversify their gastronomic offerings for a wider range of people. However, our consumption can naturalise and make invisible colonial and racialised relations. Thus the violent histories of invasion and starvation by the first white settlers, the convicts whose theft of food had them sent to Australia and absorbed into the cruel colonial project of poisoning, starving and rationing indigenous people remain hidden from view. So although we might love the food we might not care about the cooks at all as Rhoda Roberts points out:

In Australia, food and culinary delights are always accepted before the differences and backgrounds of the origin of the aroma are

Imagining an alternative Australian future, David Liddle asks if instead of clearing the land and its people and replacing them with cattle, the new settlers had eaten with Aboriginal people a new form of co-existence might have come into play. As a newcomer to Australia I am only just beginning to grasp this history and I know I have a lot to learn.

Which brings me to the crux of this post, can the consumption of food move us from being passive consumers, bystanders if you like, to being engaged allies in the face of racism? The example of the Conflict Kitchen, a restaurant in Pittsburgh which prepares food exclusively from countries currently in conflict with the U.S makes me think it’s possible. Highlighted in a piece in Take Part, the idea is that by eating food from such a country, “the enemy” is humanised and the consumer has an opportunity to deepen their appreciation of cultural difference. Not only is a meal provided but insight into political conflicts and world affairs through performances, discussions and stories about that country is part of the whole experience. Their website says:

…Conflict Kitchen uses the social relations of food and economic exchange to engage the general public in discussions about countries, cultures, and people that they might know little about outside of the polarizing rhetoric of governmental politics and the narrow lens of media headlines.

Closer to my new home is the wonderful initiative by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), which has a Hot Potato travelling van rolling out across Australia and challenging Australia to 10 million conversations in the lead up to the federal election. The idea is to take the heat out of the asylum seeker conversation and debunk the myths—given that everyone in Australia has an opinion, the ASRC’s aim is to attempt to cool a highly politicised debate with facts. The ASRC claims this Australian political Hot Potato, has been manipulated and passed from one politician to another and heated up by the media.

Drowning

Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock, you will know that Australia’s Humanitarian Program has made the news for all the wrong reasons, namely it’s harsh treatment of asylum seekers arriving by boat (Irregular Maritime Arrivals). There’s a huge drive to deter people arriving in this way (you can watch the videos on the DIAC webpage called “Don’t be sorry” which features prominent sportsmen). Australia has been roundly criticised for its migration policy of August 2012 which instigated offshore processing of protection (asylum) claims in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Settled in Australia

What I love about the hot potato venture are two things. First of all, food is an expression of generosity and hospitality. So these folk aren’t charging anyone for the food. Secondly, the consumption of the food moves away from the foodie zone which:

operate[s] as a field of distinction, marking boundaries of status through the display of taste … The professional and managerial classes are thronging to ethnic cuisine restaurants, while poor, working class, older, provincial people are not. Familiarity with ethnic cuisine is a mark of refinement. (Warde and Martens 2000: 226)3

So anyone can go and have a conversation with the hot potato van regardless of income.

Hot potatoI’ve always thought that eating food from other cultures offered a bridge to empathy and affection for different people as a starting point, and potentially a non-threatening way of developing an ongoing engagement, even ultimately world peace. I mean imagine if instead of bombing and fighting, we had cook offs? Perhaps if we all do a little something, whether it is food and conversation, we might have a chance of realising a vision of a world without racism.

Going back to the VicHealth study, the characteristics of allies (or as they call them active bystanders) were that they were more likely to recognise race-based discrimination, understand the harm it caused, feel a responsibility to intervene, and feel confident to intervene. They were more likely to act in work or social settings if they were supported by their organisations (via policies, culture etc) peers and colleagues. If we are to do our part to reduce or eliminate the harms of racism it will take all of us.

If you want to know where to start, here are some resources:

  1. A terrific video of Dr. Omi Osun Joni L. Jones’ keynote speech from September 2010 at a lThe Seventeenth Annual Emerging Scholarship In Women’s and Gender Studies Conference UT Austin, where gives 6 rules for allies (cross race/gender/sexuality/nationality/religion etc).
  2. Read this terrific blog from SMARTASSJEN about being a trans ally.
  3. AWEA (Auckland Workers Educational Association) is a not-for-profit organisation that supports groups and runs community education related projects. Their core aim is to promote a just and equitable society in accordance with Te Tiriti o Waitangi. They have many useful links and resources for social justice in particular the role of non-indigenous supporters of indigenous justice struggles.
  4. A new book, Working as Allies: supporters of indigenous justice reflect written by Jen Margaret is now available.

 

Cartoons displace the blame for social consequences of neoliberal policy away from real culprits

Over the last few years I’ve been involved in various public health and health promotion programmes related to healthy eating and weight management (Clinical Guidelines for Weight Management in New Zealand Adults and the Clinical Guidelines for Weight Management in New Zealand Children and Young People) as well as a social marketing strategy called Feeding our Futures. I’ve also facilitated four Asian Nutrition and Physical Activity Fora for the Agencies for Nutrition Action (ANA) since they began in 2008. I’ve also been involved in research with colleagues at AUT University about problem gambling.

It was my involvement in community organisations and governance rather than my own background as a health practitioner with its attendant reductionist biomedical socialisation that prepared me for the sheer complexities of the determinants of health. I understand now more than ever that macro-level health determinants (that is factors that affect health) including socio-economic status, education, employment, physical and social environment affect health and reinforce the unequal distribution of health-related resources. In contrast, micro-level determinants (lifestyle, genes) have modest impacts on population health. However, more individualistic views dominate our understanding of obesity, smoking and problem gambling. Within that frame, food “choices” are linked with moral acceptability and people who eat “unhealthy” food (with “bad” nutritional elements are deemed as less moral. Equally people that smoke and people that gamble are less “good” than people who “take care” of themselves. Such views ignore the systemic, structural and historical origins of inequality.

Which brings me to two cartoons by Al Nisbet, which were printed in New Zealand media. In the first one published in the Marlborough Express yesterday an inter-generational group of people of “Polynesian appearance” wearing children’s school uniforms and joining a queue for a free school meal. The male adult wearing tattoos and a back-to-front baseball cap, says: “Psst! … If we can get away with this, the more cash left for booze, smokes and pokies!”

Marlborough

In the second cartoon published in the Press today, what appears to be a family group of seven large people are shown with Lotto tickets, beer cans, cigarette packets and flash electronics. The man with a back to front cap on his head says: “Free school food is great. Eases our poverty and puts something in you kids’ bellies.”

From the Press
From the Press

These despicable cartoons highlight the media’s role in perpetuating the myth that  responsibility for poor health (whether it’s about people who are obese, smokers or problem gamblers) is an individual and group one rather than linked with broader issues for example colonisation, economic restructuring or the devastating social consequences of state neoliberal policies. The editor of the Marlborough Express Steve Mason has “apologised for any offence”, a phrase that has always struck me as being bereft of any remorse at harm caused, let alone an understanding of the ramifications of the incident. More callously he commented that “he was delighted that it had sparked discussion on an important issue”. But at whose expense? I am so over the casual racism by white male media influencers that shape public opinion so profoundly, the abuse of their authoritative positions to portray and represent vulnerable groups in ways that further marginalise those groups.

Luckily the Mana party have also noticed how the cartoon takes aim at New Zealand’s most vulnerable children in particular Māori and Pacific children. John Minto, MANA party co-vice president contends in an interview with TVNZ, that the cartoon is insensitive to over 270,000 New Zealand children growing up in poverty who will benefit from the Breakfast at School programme and invites the public to further “scorn them as devious parasites.” Equally this cartoon hits out at Māori and Pacific Island people who are hardest hit by gambling related harms. About 50,000 New Zealanders or 1.2% of the population have a gambling problem (defined as patterns of gambling that disrupt personal, family, or vocational pursuits) and research shows that gambling and social inequality are linked. Māori experience high rates of problem gambling and are more likely than NZ Europeans to be worried about their gambling behaviour and more likely to want immediate help. Pacific peoples living in New Zealand experience socio-demographic risk factors that are associated with developing problem gambling, such as low socio-economic status, being young, living in urban areas and having low educational and low occupational status. In addition, Maori and Pacific women have been identified as an at risk group since “pokies”  (Electronic Gaming Machines) were introduced into Aotearoa New Zealand. Tobacco smoking is a leading cause of preventable death for Māori in New Zealand and responsible for 10 percent of the gap in health disparities between Māori and non-Māori. 45.4 percent of Māori adults identify themselves as smokers, –double that of non-Māori.  Māori contribute over $260 million in tobacco taxes each year. Cumulatively as Minto points out, the cartoon “plays to the lazy racism and deep bigotry of many well-off Pakeha”. It also neglects to consider the historical impacts of colonisation on the health status of Māori and punitive neoliberal social policy on both Māori and Pacific people.

Given that the wider community depend and receive their knowledge of raced and classed ‘others’ through the media, often in the absence of direct experience with those ‘others’, I am grateful for Media commentator Martyn Bradbury and the Daily Blog for alerting me to the cartoon and broadcasters like Marcus Lush, a thriving blogosphere and social media which enable the wide dissemination of alternative discourses. As I’ve said in other blogposts, the racist soup of Pakeha media culture not only excludes particular groups but it also reproduces pathological, deficient and destructive representations of groups that are already discriminated against and marginalised. Take the “common sense” racism of Paul Henry, Michael Laws and Paul Holmes who all compete for New Zealand’s top racist. And now Steve Mason who claims in the New Zealand Herald that “Cartoons are designed to stimulate discussion and obviously that has worked in this case. So that’s what it’s all about.” He obviously missed the hard work that former Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres and others did after the publication by the media of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed in 2006 (the New Zealand Herald took a leadership role and declined to publish them). At the time de Bres asked what media purpose was served by their publication and pointed out the tensions between “the principle of the freedom of the press and the responsibility of the press in exercising that freedom”. His leadership led to improvements in the relationships between media and communities, in Auckland I took part in a forum and in Wellington religious leaders from Muslim, Catholic and Jewish faiths met with the editors of The Dominion Post and The Press.

Let’s hope our new Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy can similarly  take a leadership role in clearly articulating why publication of the cartoons is morally wrong and propose a way forward. But, she is only one person. We also need to address the other forces that reinforce casual racism and classism in our society. The media, the smug comfortable people reading the newspaper and feeling affirmed in their righteous anger by the cartoon, all of us I’d like to leave you with last words from another cartoonist and a cartoon representing another marginalised group. In an in interview in December 2012 in the Age about the role of the cartoonist as being “not to be balanced but to give balance”. Leunig said:

As a cartoonist I am not interested in defending the dominant, the powerful, the well-resourced and the well-armed because such groups are usually not in need of advocacy, moral support or sympathetic understanding; they have already organised sufficient publicity for themselves and prosecute their points of view with great efficiency.
The work of the artist is to express what is repressed or even to speak the unspoken grief of society. And the cartoonist’s task is not so much to be balanced as to give balance, particularly in situations of disproportionate power relationships such as we see in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a healthy tradition dating back to the court jester and beyond: to be the dissenting protesting voice that speaks when others cannot or will not.

 

Leunig in the Age Wednesday 15 August 2012
Leunig in the Age Wednesday 15 August 2012

Unsettled in Australia: Reflections on my first Australia/Straya/Invasion day

koala bear

My first stuffed toy as a child in Nairobi was a koala bear and I’ve been besotted with them ever since. So you can imagine that I was captivated by this meme where the koala realises that she’s not a bear but a marsupial. To draw a very long bow, I think her puzzlement captures the experience of so many visibly different migrants in settler societies who believe they are part of a nation and then find that they aren’t, whether it’s because their qualifications aren’t recognised which leads them to be unemployed or under-employed or they begin to realise that their skin colour doesn’t lend them to being neatly absorbed into the imagined community on national days of celebration. So here I am in Australia, not as a nine year old (when my family were looking to migrate from Nairobi) but as an adult in mid-career, here to live and work. Joining a multitude of other New Zealanders (the most common country of birth of Australian residents outside of Australia is the United Kingdom followed by New Zealand, you’ll find other interesting nuggets on cultural diversity on Esther Hougenhout‘s blogpiece) who’ve also crossed the ditch. I’ve visited Australia for conferences and to visit my partner’s family, but it’s been over twenty years since I lived somewhere other than Aotearoa. In my work and community life I’ve carefully considered how migrants engage with settler institutions and their relationships with indigenous communities, but I am having a powerful opportunity to examine my own complicity in forms of oppression (in the context of another settler society) as Harsha Walia so powerfully puts it in a video on anti-oppression, decolonization, and being a responsible ally.

992894-australia-word-cloud
From news.com.au
australia-map-aboriginal-nations
Courtesy of Brisbane Murri Action Group

We’ve arrived in time for Australia day which commemorates the 225th anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove, New South Wales in 1788, when British sovereignty was also proclaimed over the eastern seaboard of Australia. It’s a day of festivals, concerts, citizenship ceremonies and acknowledgements of the contributions Australians have made with the recipients of honours and Australian of the year announced. Entrepreneur and electrical retailer Dick Smith even got into the jingoistic spirit with his casually racist advertisement for Aussie foodstuffs, beautifully critiqued by Sunili. I’m not sure if the stones that hit both our heads as we were walking along the Nepean highway to look at housing options were an important Australia day cultural tradition for young blokes in fast cars (I’d like to know how their aim was so brilliantly accurate). Nevertheless fervent nationalism is everywhere, cars and houses are adorned with Australian flags and there is an exacerbation in bogan behaviour as comedians Aamer Rahman from Fear of a Brown Planet and Robert Foster/Kenneth Oathcarn observe.

S Peter Davis who made a YouTube video Straya Day, notes that

as January 26 rolls around, you begin to see cars on the road with little Australian flags poking out the windows like a diplomatic cavalcade. In what is usually a pretty tolerant and multicultural nation, this is one day of the year when folks start casting suspicious and slightly disapproving glances toward brown people. Anti-immigrant slogans like “We grew here, you flew here,” and the somewhat more direct “Fuck off we’re full” begin to make the rounds. Understand, it’s the minority of people, and Australia does not hold the patent on racism. But when you combine this with a cocktail of youth, alcohol and barbecue…parts of the country just explode in a shower of beer, singlets and thongs.

Or not as the pictures below reveal.

Beer baby
Via Chalk Hotel’s Facebook page

This day of barbecues and beer is also called Invasion or Survival day. It represents “an undercurrent of division and inequality that belies the happy, egalitarian culture that the day is meant to convey, “a day of mourning for the land that was taken and the ensuing two centuries of social alienation and discrimination” as Robin Tennant-Wood puts it. There are also Survival Day celebrations like the 2013 Share The Spirit Festival featuring Indigenous music, dance and culture. Numerous Invasion day marches have also taken place across Australia.

Grandtheft Australia
Via Idle No More Facebook page

Hip hop artists Reverse Polarities recent release “Invasion Day” acknowledges the historical and continuing injustices faced by Indigenous Australians and pushes for Australians to understand their history rather than being immobilised by guilt (white Australians) or innocence (visibly different new Australians):

Many Australians feel guilt for the actions their white predesessors and claim non- involvement due to being new Australians. We must be active in our understanding of history. The past is not ours to change, but the future can be shaped.

INM Invasion day
Via Idle No More Australia’s Facebook page

Peter Gebhardt a poet, retired County Court judge and former principal asks for accountability and reckoning with the history of genocide “What might an Aboriginal person say of Australia Day? Why should the Aborigines celebrate that day?” He adds:

It was the day that marked the theft of a land (terra nullius), the day that marked the theft and abduction of a people, of a culture, the day that initiated the pathways to the Stolen Children and, to our ultimate shame, the deaths in custody. It is a day that stands as a reminder of massacres. The wind-stench of bodies burned in bonfires hangs heavy upon the nation’s conscience and in the clouds…You can shuttle history, but you cannot shuttle facts. It would be a great Australia Day if it faced honesty, historical facts, abandonment, hypocrisy, shelved superiority and embarked upon an exercise of spiritual empathy rather than religious hubris.

A point supported by Tristan Ewins, who calls for celebration and critique of this national day:

There is a problem, here, in that there is still no formal resolution: comprehensively righting the injustices suffered by indigenous people. Without the closure provided by a just, representative and inclusive Treaty between the modern Australian nation and our indigenous peoples, it is hard to imagine a fully inclusive celebration of the Australian nation. Perhaps in the future – should such a resolution be achieved – then maybe this could become the focus of a new ‘national day’ for all Australians.

The desire for redress and accountability has a long way to go to being realised, but small steps toward reconciliation are evident. This year for the first time both the Aboriginal and Australian flags were simultaneously hoisted on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Aboriginal flag on bridge
Picture: Sam Ruttyn Source: News Limited via new.com.au

Apparently, more than 17,000 people from 145 countries took the citizenship pledge to become Australians on January 26th. Without any sense of irony whatsoever, Tony Abbott Leader of the Opposition told an Australia Day breakfast and citizenship ceremony in Adelaide that change should be welcomed “when it’s in accordance with the customs and traditions of our people” and he added that new citizens were “changing the country for the better”.

Being a new arrival in Australia myself has been interesting, there are many similarities with New Zealand. The neoliberal multicultural success stories of refugees and migrants loom large both in media and in private conversations. Take Akram Azimi, Young Australian of the Year 2013 who arrived  in Australia 13 years ago from Afghanistan and went from being ‘an ostracised refugee kid with no prospects’ to becoming his school’s head boy. Or diasporic Maori, Frank (name changed) who repeatedly called himself and other Maori “niggers”in front of his car salesman colleagues. He told me that his wife wanted to return home six months into their stint here and he insisted they “tough it out”, he quipped “things are fine if you just work hard”. He’s taught his children important aspects of Te Ao Maori and has disdain for the various groups that have formed stating that “if you want to learn about your culture you should go home to do it”. Rauf Soulio (chair of the Australian Multicultural Council and a judge of the District Court of South Australia) peppers an opinion piece with words and phrases like “enterprise”, “courage and commitment” and talks about people who “strove to build new and prosperous lives”.  Extolling a neoliberal narrative combined with a commitment to reconciliation:

It is one of the hallmarks of our multiculturalism that we work hard to ensure that those who come here have every opportunity to become fully participating members of Australian society, rather than remaining guests or temporary visitors. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have Australian lineage or ancestry when you arrive – as long as you contribute.

Aus-strayer
Illustration: Ben Sanders/The Jacky Winter Group in the Sydney Morning Herald

Yup, I’m here to work and become a “fully participating member” of Australian society, and to that end have also been consuming multiculturalism with relish and delight. I am blissfully happy at being able to access ingredients and cuisines that are difficult to find in Aotearoa. But consumption aside, I do want to find a way to engage ethically with this place. Shakira Hussein‘s incisive critique of Scott Morrison’s speech at the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies in London brilliantly skewers Morrison’s selective consumption of multiculturalism:

Morrison doesn’t spell out which aspects of “diversity” would be considered acceptable under a more balanced post-multicultural regime, but I’m guessing he subscribes to the consensus view that multiculturalism has had a beneficial effect on the Australian diet. (Sharia tribunals? No thanks. Homous and baklava? More, please.) Even those most ardent racists participate in the multiculturalism of consumption. But while enjoying our pizza and laksa, we need to “send a message” that such tolerance “is not a licence for cultural practices that are offensive to the cultural values and laws of Australia and that our respect for diversity does not licence: the primacy of the English language”.

His comments come just in time for Geert Wilder’s visit to Australia next month. See Deborah Kelly’s kit below.

Veiled woman

I was in Sydney almost seven months ago when I caught up with a friend of the family who asked me why I hate white people. I had to explain to him that my work is about critiquing white hegemony and that is a different thing. Critiquing hegemony and racism and advocating for indigenous rights is viewed decidedly un-Australian, as effectively parodied by Don Watson:

We’re pragmatists. It comes with being Australian that we don’t upset ourselves about things of no practical consequence. Of course, for some people the wine’s always corked. You’ll hear them from Ballarat to Bali, running the country down. Fair dinkum, you want to deck the bastards sometimes. But, as I said, we don’t upset ourselves. Poor things, they can’t think of the foundation of the country without thinking of the people it was taken from. They can’t think of dear old decent Arthur Phillip without thinking of the time he sent out men with bags to collect half a dozen Aboriginal heads. Nothing in the manifold benefits of British rule, British institutions, British customs and British capital cheers them up or excites a little gratitude.

Remind them of the nation’s progress, show them how human health and happiness have in general flourished here, and in return you’ll get the vale of tears it has been for the Aborigines, or the grave injustices to women, or the treatment of refugees arriving on boats: as if because some people got the rough end of the pineapple we are all supposed to be abraded by it.

Michel Foucault the French philosopher said that the point of “a critique is not a matter of saying that things are not right as they are. It is a matter of pointing out on what kinds of assumptions, what kinds of familiar, unchallenged, unconsidered modes of thought the practices we accept rest”. For me, as an academic with a commitment to social justice, blindly supporting the status quo is not an option. I know that I have a long journey of learning and unlearning ahead of me, without the reassurance of state sanctioned biculturalism or a biculturalism grounded in treasured processes and relationships in Aotearoa that have inflected my adult life. But this grounding from the place I’ve called home for most of my life will be fundamental to examining my complicity in the maintenance of oppression, my understanding of the multicultural project and to forging my own rather than received understandings of indigineity here in Australia. Luckily there are many who’ve already walked this path. Between their wisdom and those of my global intellectual and political community I think I am koalified to undertake this next adventure.

Via Colourfest film festival
Via Colourfest film festival

 

 

 

Migrant support for Idle No More

When my parents were considering migrating from East Africa, their focus was on the white settler contexts of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. For a bunch of reasons I won’t go into here, they settled on Aotearoa New Zealand. A part of me always felt like my life would have been better if we’d moved to Canada or the United States, because there would have been a bigger Goan community and more support for my family. I reasoned I might have felt more culturally confident, more capable at speaking Konkani. My visit to Canada in October helped me accept the gift that my parents had given me in migrating to Aotearoa New Zealand. By not being wrapped in the comforting cocoon of an insular diasporic community, I had to figure out my own relationship with my personal and cultural history but also what Ghassan Hage terms, an ethical relationship with colonisation and living on colonised land. Visiting Canada and meeting terrific indigenous people and migrant scholars allowed me to see the contrast between Canada’s genocidal history and its self-representation as a benign, civilised and benevolent nation. The parallels between Aotearoa and Canada of a colonial history supplemented by exploited migrant labour to meet settler ends mirrored the clearly unfair outcomes in measures of health, well-being and prosperity for indigenous peoples that I see in Aotearoa New Zealand as a health professional. For the first time I began to see how the issues I’d been grappling with as a migrant were replicated across seemingly disparate white settler contexts.

Idle No More. Immigrants support Indigenous rights. Les immigrantes appuient les droits des peuples autochtones. Los inmigrantes apoyan los derechose de los pueblos indigenas. Via Harsha Walia
Image courtesy: Aaron Paquette

The Idle No More movement which began on Great Turtle Island on December 10, 2012 was initiated by four women Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Jessica Gordon & Sheelah McLean in response to legislation (Bill C-45) affecting First Nations people and gained momentum with the hunger strike by Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence. Impressively the United Church of Canada has acknowledged it’s complicity in colonization, inequality and abuse, through being one of the bodies that ran Indian Residential Schools. In 1986 they apologized to Aboriginal peoples for confusing “Western ways and culture with the depth and breadth and length and height of the gospel of Christ.” Apologizing to former residential schools students in 1998. Their response to the Idle No More movement has been to fully support Chief Spence’s statement that “Canada is violating the right of Aboriginal peoples to be self-determining and continues to ignore (their) constitutionally protected Aboriginal and treaty rights in their lands, waters, and resources.”

Other activists have also taken note of the commonalities of the struggle, noting how how what is particular, has universal relevance. Naomi Klein notes that

During this season of light and magic, something truly magical is spreading. There are round dances by the dollar stores. There are drums drowning out muzak in shopping malls. There are eagle feathers upstaging the fake Santas. The people whose land our founders stole and whose culture they tried to stamp out are rising up, hungry for justice. Canada’s roots are showing. And these roots will make us all stand stronger.

International support has come from the occupied lands of Palestine and indigenous communities around the globe. In Aotearoa New Zealand a Facebook page has been developed called Aotearoa in Support of Idle No More: Maori women’s group Te Wharepora Hou, a collective of wāhine based in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland  with a commitment to ensure a stronger voice for wāhine have also pledged support. As a migrant occupying a disquieting position in a country working through issues of biculturalism and mutliculturalism in a monocultural context. Diasporic migrant communities and organisations have also backed the Idle No More movement, with South Asian activists and BAYAN-Canada, an alliance of progressive Filipino organizations noting the similarities between migrant experiences and indigenous struggles.

Immigrants in Support of Indigenous Rights via Harsha WaliaPhoto credit: Cameron Bode
Immigrants in Support of Indigenous Rights via Harsha Walia
Photo credit: Cameron Bode

How do we do engage with an indigenous struggle when we do and don’t belong at the same time? Himani Bannerji notes in a Canadian context (but one that readily resonates through various white settler contexts):

So if we problematize the notion of ‘Canada’ through the introjection of the idea of belonging, we are left with the paradox of belonging and non-belonging simultaneously. As a population, we non-whites and women (in particular, non-white women) are living in a specific territory. We are part of its economy, subject to its laws, and members of its civil society. Yet we are not part of its self-definition as ‘Canada’ because we are not ‘Canadians.’ We are pasted over with labels that give us identities that are extraneous to us. And these labels originate in the ideology of the nation, in the Canadian state apparatus, in the media, in the education system, and in the commonsense world of common parlance. We ourselves use them. They are familiar, naturalized names: minorities, immigrants, newcomers, refugees, aliens, illegals, people of color, multicultural communities, and so on. We are sexed into immigrant women, women of color, visible minority women, black/South Asian/Chinese women, ESL (English as a second language) speakers, and many more. The names keep proliferating, as though there were a seething reality, unmanageable and uncontainable in any one name. Concomitant with this mania for naming of ‘others’ is one for the naming of that which is ‘Canadian.’ This ‘Canadian’ core community is defined through the same process that others us. We, with our named and ascribed otherness, face an undifferentiated notion of the ‘Canadian’ as the unwavering beacon of our assimilation.

The experiences of marginalisation that Bannerji elucidates can guide our responses to the Idle No More movement. Gurpreet Singh from Vancouver, notes that South Asian seniors have always referred to the indigenous peoples as Taae Ke (family of elderly uncle). If we see a familiar connection between what we ourselves experience as migrants and extend that empathy to the struggles of indigenous people who have experienced an inter-generational slow genocide, we might be able to see beyond our own oppression and our view that we are too far outside the structures of power to claim a space. Privileged in some ways, disadvantaged in others, our futures are tightly imbricated in this indigenous struggle. Our presence has sometimes diffused indigenous claims and we must consider our complicity in the continuing colonisation of indigenous people. We must put pressure on governments to recognise the rights of indigenous people and their unique place as guardians of the lands we stand upon, our futures depend on it.

At the asset sales March in Auckland in April 2012. Banner by YAFA-Young Asian Feminists Aotearoa.
At the asset sales March in Auckland in April 2012. Banner by YAFA-Young Asian Feminists Aotearoa. Photo by Sharon Hawke.