Melbourne Resistance Centre was packed on May 9 as people gathered to hear First Nations activists and other anti-racism activists talk about fighting racism in Australia today.
The seminar began with Wendy Brabham, nationally-respected Aboriginal academic and traditional owner from the Wamba Wamba, Wergaia, Nyeri Nyeri and Dhudhuroa first nations. Brabham is the former director of the Institute of Koori Education at Deakin University. She outlined the history of colonisation as experienced by her family. Brabham’s mother was born on Ebenezer Mission.
Tarneen Onus-Williams, a Gunditjmara woman and member of the Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance (WAR) outlined some of their philosophies. WAR organised the Invasion Day march in Melbourne this year, which marched into the middle of the Australia Day parade. They also organised the protests against the forced closure of Aboriginal communities.
Onus-Williams said that WAR was formed as a national grassroots alliance of young Aboriginal people who got together to protest the government at the G20 last year. She said: “The war against First Nations people has never ended.”
Onus-Williams explained that “WAR rejects colonialism and capitalism. Survival is reconnecting with language, culture and country. Decolonisation is required – the dismantling of the colonial state. This is a revolutionary struggle.
“We need to identify the common enemy. Tony Abbott has become the face of racism. If communities close, people won’t be able to go back and practice cultural protocols.
“The WA government will continue to turn off water and shut schools and government shops, trying to subtly force people out of the communities until we stop the government,” she said.
The second session of the seminar was titled “Racism, Islamophobia and the far right”.
The featured speaker was critical race theorist from the Centre for Muslim and Non-Muslim Understanding at the University of South Australia, Yassir Morsi.
Morsi said: “Islamophobia is racism. Racism under post-culturalism and multiculturalism has moved away from focusing on physical features.
“There has never been a clear distinction in racism between race and culture. Islamophobia has little to do with Muslim practices and beliefs but is a power relationship.
“Too much of the debate is about what is and isn’t a Muslim.
“To understand Islamophobia and racism, you need to shift from talking about who is the subject to who is doing the speaking. It is about asylum seekers and border control, wars, invasions and foreign policy.
“One of the consequences [of Islamophobia] is the narrowing of the debate back onto what is a Muslim. Islamophobia restricts what Muslims can say to a particular framework. Many people respond to Islamophobia by trying to explain the religion”.
He said that to endlessly explain what Islam is and isn’t won’t change people’s minds because Islamophobia and “racism is always about one group of people who have invented a story about themselves at the expense of the other”.
“Islamophobia isn’t new racism – it is still part of old racism”, he said.
Anti-racism activist and Socialist Alliance member Zane Alcorn described the new racist grouping Reclaim Australia, which has organised a series of rallies around Australia and is planning another series of rallies.
Alcorn argued that the most important anti-racist struggles are the campaigns for Aboriginal rights and against the forced closure of communities and the refugee rights campaign. However, it is also important to organise anti-racist counter-mobilisations when Reclaim Australia attempts to mobilise racists into a racist movement.