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Is Harmony Day a distraction from our racism problem?

Next week on the 21st of March, Australia celebrates a Harmony Day. A day where we celebrate Australia’s diversity and promote inclusivity but are we really understanding what Harmony Day is saying, (or not saying).

Harmony Day was named in 1999 as a part of the rebrand of the International Day of the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (IDERD), a day which remains celebrated by the rest of the world, except for Australia. The introduction of Harmony Day showed that we as a nation are not only uncomfortable talking about racism, but uncomfortable in recognising the saddening realities of the diverse communities who experience it.

We are unable to acknowledge our racism problem.

There are various ways racism shapes our society, more than one would like to think and while Harmony Day celebrates our diversity, it doesn’t facilitate an active discussion and take action against racial discrimination. It is pointless to have diversity without having inclusion.

While, “harmony” is an important word, it is also a racial neutral word and one that can discourage people who are experiencing racism to speak up, out of fear for disturbing a harmonious Australian society.

Racism in numbers

Time and time again, reports are released with data that shows our deep-seated racism issue, and it is not improving.

One third of all Australians have experienced racism in the workplace, while more than two thirds of students from a non-Anglo background reported racism at school. Last year, Diversity Council of Australia, released a report that revealed 93% of workers agreed organisations need to take action to address racism, while only 27% said their organisations are proactive in preventing racism.

While our First Nations peoples experience more racism than anyone, with 52% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples reported to have experienced at least one form of racism in the past 6 months. First Nations peoples are the most vulnerable to racial prejudice, being the most incarnated people on the planet and having health outcomes comparable to those of the Third World, when it comes to the realities of having a racism problem, they unfortunately bear the brunt of it.

What do we celebrate then?

The majority of Harmony Day celebrations happen in schools across the country, which have embedded this celebration as a great introduction for children to learn inclusivity and to practice it, but where are the grown-up conversations taking place? Are they taking place at all?

Again, these days are important but if it is not starting a call to action to eliminate racial discrimination, then is it doing anything but shying away from the true issue at hand? We cannot sugar-coat racism. It’s time we call this day what it was originally meant for, International Day of the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

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