In the past few weeks #BlackLivesMatter rallies have been organised around Australia and internationally in solidarity with the Black victims of US police violence and to raise awareness of the racism experienced by Australians of African descent and First Nations communities.
In Melbourne, a rally on July 17 drew a diverse crowd of more than 3500 people. It was organised by just four young activists and mobilised many communities who have experienced racism, as well as their allies.
Green Left Weekly's Jess Ferguson and Sarah Hathway interviewed Zarah Garbrah, who was one of the young protest organisers.
* * *
What inspired you to organise the rally and how did you manage to bring so many communities together?
The rally was initially triggered by the unjustifiable murders of two innocent Black men, plus countless others.
Australia is often slow to speak out about important topics around the world. Mostly I wait for someone else to start something. But this case hit close to home as I am a Black women.
I have many Black brothers, sisters, cousins and it scares me to think that it could have been any one of us.
The rally was also to show solidarity with our brothers and sisters over in the US, as well as recognise what happens on this very soil to Aboriginal people and Black Australians at the hands of police.
How do you think the rally went?
The organisers were absolutely speechless when we saw the growing crowd. Usually at rallies like this, many people click attending and don't show up so we were astonished at the number of people, including non-Black people of colour and white people, who all gathered together as one. It was a historical moment that none of us will ever forget.
There were some criticisms that it was not solely a solidarity action with activists in the US due to the inclusion of First Nations speakers and their struggles. What's your response?
I think that criticism is quite ignorant. We must acknowledge the custodians of this land who have been dealing with 200+ years of anti-Black racism and colonisation.
To not recognise this struggle would not only be selfish, but hypocritical and unappreciative of the struggles that First Nations peoples have endured and still do.
Did you think the media accurately represented the rally and the messages it was trying to get across?
Some articles have positively portrayed the Black Lives Matter rally while others have called it a “hate rally” or a protest to say that “all lives matter”, which is incorrect.
First, the rally was not a hate rally. It was organised to gather many communities to stand up against the anti-Black racism no matter what your skin colour is.
A lot of people did emphasise that “all lives matter” during the development phase, and at the rally, but right now we are focusing on the Black lives. We have never said that only Black lives matter.
But to say that “all lives matter” is ignoring the problem. The reason the Black Lives Matter movement was created in the first place was to seek liberation and justice for Black people in the US.
What are the differences or similarities between racism in the US and Australia? What role does an international response have in terms of fighting racism?
Racism is racism no matter where you are. If your skin has more pigmentation, the chances of someone verbally or physically abusing you drastically increase.
Racism in US has a deep and dark history going back to the 1600s. The US today is built on the backs of Native American and African slaves, who lost all their rights and were treated as nothing.
Racism today has become systemic and institutionalised. Just like Native Americans, Indigenous Australians also faced genocide, mass murder, stolen land, attempts to wipe out traditions and forced integration through institutions like schools and churches.
Like in the US, we experience racism in Australia, but in more subtle ways: rejected at job interviews, being followed around in stores, being asked to participate in random searches, being falsely accused of theft because your features are similar to other Black people, and being told that, “You're pretty for a Black girl”.
These are just a few examples of internalised racism that is alive and well in this country. It exists everywhere, as does anti-Black racism. Racism is a worldwide issue, racial profiling and police brutality happen in all parts of the world and that's why it's crucial to stand up as a collective and fight against these unjust acts.
It was great that the rally was largely organised by young people. What strengths do youth bring to the campaign against racism?
It is so important for us, as youth, to actively participate in events such as the Black Lives Matter rally. As young people, we have the ability to change the world, but it is only possible if we do this together.
Generations have had to deal with appalling consequences if they risked their lives to speak up against racism. Today, we have the power to raise issues and not fear for our lives.
We should use platforms, like rallies, to raise awareness about racism in this country as it is swept under the carpet most of the time and many people do not realise how badly Aboriginal and Black Australians are treated.
What do you think is the most effective way to fight racism in our communities?
The most effective way to fight racism is with solidarity. No matter what your skin colour is, racism may directly affect non-white people, but it is an issue that has a relaying effect.
We should be treated equally and it is crucial that we stand together. We need to acknowledge and understand where we stand and the privilege we hold.
We need to be leaders and set expectations of behaviour, which mean racism and discrimination is called out when we see it. To sit there and not to say anything makes you part of the problem.
What do you think are the next steps after this rally?
We need to keep the momentum alive. Right now we are organising events including music gigs. The rally gathered 3500 people who want to make a change and we have created a Facebook page called “Black Lives Matter Australia” which we will use to share future projects and stay connected with people wanting to fight for change.