Rays peace activism
September 24, 2018
My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 25 September 2018: Let’s salute those who won’t stand up for the national anthem The recent story of Harper Nielsen, the nine-year-old child attending Kenmore South state school in Queensland who, like Wagga’s Joe Williams, refused to stand up for the national anthem “sparked an extraordinary bullying campaign from prominent Australian adults in politics and the media” (The Guardian Australia). The Year 4 student refused to stand to sing Australia’s national anthem on the grounds that the anthem erases 60,000 years of Aboriginal history by claiming the nation is “young and free”. She’s spot on. It does. To get to the root of the problem, let’s look at the anthem itself. It was simply a song when it was written in 1878, framed by both British jingoism and the awful colonial fiction of “terra nullius” that claimed, conveniently for the British imperialist project, that Australia was an empty land. Since it officially replaced our former national anthem, God Save the Queen, we’ve managed to edit out some brutal lines about slaughtering foreigners and the song’s sexist repetition that the only people who lived here were men. But no song can be separated from its context, which in this case involved stealing land from First Nations people, and nine-year-old Harper Nielsen knows, we live with its impact today. Indeed, this young child is very publicly learning that standing by your principles and making a symbolic gesture of resistance can incite the violent condemnation of those whose status and authority paradoxically depends on noisy rituals of mindless obedience to the status quo. Nielsen’s understanding, empathy and solidarity with Indigenous Australians has resulted in threats of suspension and orders to submit an apology that she will not sign. For example, extreme conservative shock jock supremo Alan Jones made an incensed condemnation of what he labelled the child’s “defiance” with his usual conviction in his own moral infallibility. His guest, Mark Latham, joined in, accusing the nine-year-old of “behavioural problems”, insisting she should be “kicked out” of Kenmore South, and sent to an old style ‘reform’ school, which of course, thankfully, don’t exist anymore. These tirades inspired, Senator Pauline Hanson to join Jones’ sorry crew. Going so far as to threaten violent punishments of her own. “I’d tell you what, I’d give her a kick up the backside,” said this appalling example of the behaviour of an actual adult Australian senator. Sadly, television show host Karl Stefanovic added his voice to the chorus. The child should “go somewhere else” than a state school it is her civic birthright to attend. Queensland shadow education minister, Jarrod Bleijie who should know better, but clearly doesn’t, determined that the nine-year-old “disrespects our country and our veterans” for desiring an Australia with an honest history, “and suspension should follow if she continues to act like a brat”. Their never-ending demands for ‘free speech’ and ‘individual rights’ fall silent the moment anyone else exercises it, according to this sorry mob, and, one suspects, also to those who take their rants at face value. I won’t labour the point that though this crew promote themselves as rebels sticking up for the ordinary folk the sad truth is that they are addicted to a fawning conformity to authority that their public images in no way resembles, for instead I’d like to devote my remaining column inches to what their response to Harper Nielsen’s brave stance says about our attitude towards our First Nations People. Researcher Megan Boler believes it’s an attempt to protect not only one’s beliefs but one’s “precarious sense of identity”; a defence of one’s investment in the values of the dominant culture”. As Tim Soutphommasane, the outgoing Race Discrimination Commissioner, recently pointed out in The Griffith Review, Australia’s media and political structures are still dominated by white men of Anglo-Celtic or European background. While in reality, Australia is far more culturally diverse, the positions that shape both the nation’s policies and stories we tell about it, are still dominated by Anglo-Australians. It’s high time not only the shock jocks and right-wing politicians woke up to this reality, as should all of us if we are to have a society informed by social justice rather than white male Anglo-Celtic supremacy.
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