In the feel-good aftermath of the Commonwealth Games, it may seem strange to raise the topic of racism. These games were touted as the “friendly games” and several aspects of the opening ceremony deliberately focused on affirming diversity within the community of the Commonwealth. At such times, it can be tempting to think that racism is a thing of the past – a shameful thing that we want to leave behind.
And yet, I have received recent reports of students using racist and sexist language, language designed to humiliate and embarrass people of a particular gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. The fact that students feel emboldened to use such language suggests that, at least for some, there is a lack of understanding of how hurtful and disrespectful such language is for those who have survived discrimination and those who suffer discrimination on a daily basis.
Let me be absolutely clear, such language is unacceptable at Inaburra, just as it is unacceptable in our wider society. Racist, sexist and homophobic statements and perspectives should not be part of our discourse. No matter what a person’s race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation may be, they should feel safe and accepted as part of our community, free from harassment, bullying, coarse jokes or racial slurs.
As a culture, we have been encouraged to acknowledge the wrongdoings of the past – to acknowledge the separation of children from their families, the dispossession of people of their native lands, the failings of our courts and police to respond appropriately to crimes driven by bigotry and prejudice, the forced assimilation of peoples from different cultures and the explicit and implicit messages which accompanied colonialism across the globe. Maybe, however, in our “post-truth” age, there are some who would wish to forget that these things took place. For it would seem that some (though not many) within our culture still believe that it is acceptable to use words and language associated with the oppression of one race by another, to use language that has been associated historically with violence enacted by one group against another. It may seem strange to some that I am calling out such speech – surely we all know how inappropriate such language is. Recent reports, however, suggest that not everyone recognises how profoundly wrong, how disrespectful, hurtful and painful such language is for someone who lives with the possibility of exclusion because of the colour of their skin, their gender, their culture or their religion on a daily basis. It can be difficult for those of us who do not experience such discrimination to recognise how real the experience of trauma and harm is for victims of discrimination. As a community, we need to listen more to understand these experiences and reflect on the significant role that language and speech play in reinforcing attitudes and promoting behaviours that have contributed to discrimination throughout our history.
One of the issues for our young people (and not-so-young people) may be that we do not know enough about the history of those who have suffered as minorities. A 2002 study found that those who were ignorant of the history of oppression and domination of one race by another, for example, were far less likely to see racism as a serious matter and were also far more likely to hold racist attitudes themselves. As a school, therefore, one way of combating racism, and discrimination more broadly, is to ensure that our students are aware of our history – history that includes both our finest achievements as well as our greatest failings.
Even in 2022, racism and other forms of discrimination need to be confronted and identified as symptomatic of our brokenness as human beings. We will not tolerate discriminatory behaviour or the use of discriminatory language within our community. As a Christian school, we look forward to the day when all humanity is brought together as one, serving the God who makes no distinction between Jew and Gentile, male or female, slave or free. The apostle John receives a vision of heaven in the Book of Revelation in which he sees “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev 7:9). Discrimination on the basis of gender, race or ethnicity, will not be present in the coming kingdom of God: and as we look forward to that reality to come, we want to do everything we can to eliminate discrimination from within our community here at Inaburra.
Dr James Pietsch