Sunday, January 13, 2019

South Sudanese Community in Australia and their Social Problems


*WILLIAM ABUR (Ph.D.)
 Melbourne, Australia
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"Raising a family in a new culture ... is a challenge for South Sudanese and many African migrant families with very little knowledge of western ways of parenting ... Children and teenagers tend to adopt new cultures quickly, but their parents still hold on to their own cultures and parenting styles based on where they grow up. As children and teenagers find ways to adapt or integrate into a new culture, they are more likely to struggle with identity issues, lack of mentoring, which robs them of the guide  into the right paths. This is the case with many young people and their families from the South Sudanese community in Australia. "
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1    Introduction

William Abur.
Picture: Courtesy of the author
MANY PEOPLE, from the South Sudanese community in Australia, arrived as refugees for resettlement in Australia after living for some years in refugee camps. Resettlement in a new country is a dream for many refugees worldwide, including people from South Sudan, who left their country because of war. 

Leaving a country during a war can be traumatic since people leave under very challenging circumstances and travel to neighboring countries with cultural experiences different from their own experiences and knowledge. In addition, refugees are often not able to return to their home countries because the causes of their departure [wars, insecurity, hunger] continue to apply in their country of origin. 

It is therefore important to highlight the global situation and the crisis of refugees seeking asylum due to constant forcible displacements. This article discusses some social issues and challenges facing South Sudanese-Australians in the process of integrating. The challenges and struggles of refugees are multi-faceted and include dealing with difficult decisions such as abandoning their homes and jettisoning their belongings as they flee. These issues significantly affect their lives, because their social networks and economic livelihoods have been disrupted by displacements and forced migrations so they are often exposed to dangers and uncertain journeys

Large numbers of South Sudanese families, who are currently living in Australia, came from refugee camps such as the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, from other camps in Uganda, Ethiopia and urban cities in Egypt. These camps are characterized by shortages of food, inadequate medical services, and lack of sanitation.

2       Settlement Issues
The settlement issues of the people from refugee backgrounds can be complex so refugees require ongoing assistance and support from the host community, government, and non-government agencies to address different settlement challenges. Sometimes families and individuals can make their ways to achieve a better or successful settlement. However, the question of a successful settlement is still debatable as to what this means for refugees. There are various rationalizations in relation to what it means to be “well settled” in a new country. These include feeling safe from racism and discrimination, obtaining secure and well-paying employment, buying a home, children feeling well supported at school and in the community, and playing sports with the host community, all without experiencing any aggressive or abusive language. Sometimes, settlement can be a two-way process of mutual understanding of cultural expectations, with the host community working in partnership with refugees. 

Monday, December 31, 2018

Resisting and accepting change in society: Part I

Photo: Global Teen Challenge
The 1960s is a period that might not, perhaps, come back even when common knowledge has it that 'history repeats itself.' Whether it repeats itself as a tragedy and then as a farce as Karl Marx once put it, the 1960s is unique in goodness and badness. The radicalism of that era will never be replicated. Undoubtedly, the historical importance of this era is transformatively reflected in many impactful and fundamental political, economic and cultural changes that endure to the present. 

This period saw the youth rebellion in drug use and sexual expression and the general counter-cultural revolution that still makes cultural conservatives and religious leaders groan in anger; the passage of the civil rights act and its affirmative action provision; the independence of African countries; the assassinations of Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, John Kennedy and Robert Kenney; the increasing acceptance of bikini use in society and by women generally; the near descend of the world into nuclear annihilation; the economic prosperity that would open the way to the rise of neoliberalism and the fundamental form of capitalism (which Noami Klien calls 'disaster capitalism') in the mid-1970s...among others. 

While people always talk of  'good old days' or that "old is gold', it is good to note that these comparative expressions are usually ways we escape contemporary realities even if there might be some truth to them. Indeed, there are times when past historical realities are preferable to contemporary changes. An example is the lives of American natives pre and post-Columbus. There is no doubt that the destructive effect of European voyages makes native Americans long for the 'good old days' of pride, cultural and linguistic expression of their human-ness. Before Columbus, they were indeed 'good old days' for indigenous peoples.

And for Europeans (continental, in the Americas and Oceania), the past (with slavery and colonialism) was 'good old days' given their then unbridled control of the world and the ability to act without any (or with little) moral accountability. Good old days indeed for far-right Europe as it is trying to re-dream their past glories and our past dreads as exemplified by Brexit and the resurgence of right-wing extremism and populism in western and eastern Europe. 

Against our dreadful past (colonialism and slavery), African scholars are now moving toward this pre-colonial African 'good old days' reality for better (because of paradigmatic importance of African viewpoint) or for worse (for this good old days is not well known). For Europeans, however, 'good old days' may be the 'dreadful old days' for Africans and Native Americans.

However, historical changes in values of society and the normative resistance to such value changes are part of the numerous dyads of history that repeat themselves like Siamese twins. Change is instigated by others within society and resisted at the same time by others within the same society. No change is accepted by everyone in society and at the same time unless there is a coercive force behind such a change instigation. Whether it is in society, at the church, in schools, in universities, at work, change is both necessary and dreadful. But what makes change necessary yet dreadful? 

Essentially, change is usually proposed by people who have found a flaw in contemporary structural and functional norms, or by those who don't benefit from that contemporary, normative structure. The former case can be seen in resistance to proposed changes in paradigms in scientific research as explained by Thomas Kuhn in his influential book, The Structure of Scientific Relovution. As Kuhn explained, older scientists whose scientific theories have been received, find it hard to accept that new research pieces of evidence undermine their theories so they resist these new pieces of evidence until their death, after which their theories die.

The latter case can be seen with minority groups in the west, especially in North America. In this case, minority groups are challenging dominant ideologies and paradigms that benefit those who created and functionalized such ideologies and paradigms. What minority groups see as a rational quest for inclusion or representation as Stuart Hall would call it, the dominant party sees as an unreasonable demand to either wrestle power away from them or to undermine their cultural essence. To the latter group, it is not about inclusion but the cultural destruction of their dominance. The change-resistance is a historical dyad that is repeated in history. The change group, whether slowly or rapidly, always (I risk saying) wins. 

However, it is good to note that those who resist change don't necessarily think that change is a bad thing in society; they just don't like its disruptive effects and the time it takes for them to readjust. Change always target the elites so they only embrace change only if they've found a way to embrace change without any fundamental effect on their bottom line. 

While change-instigators are usually those who fight for inclusion, it would be naive to see all change-instigators as always acting as moral agents who are only after egalitarian agendas. There are those who are indeed after either the destruction of the very playing field or the upending the balance of power. 

So what am I suggesting here? What I am suggesting here is DIALOGUE no matter how naive and unrealistic it may sound. A dialogue with hate groups might sound very naive when it comes to change, which they perceive as a power-upending project. 

Admittedly, those who resist change have a number of reasons that should be put into consideration instead of assuming the moral imperative that necessitates that change is enough a reason for everyone to accept change. People need to be listened to even when we think that their reasons are not worth listening to. Avoidance of dialogue is what we do with the so-called 'white supremacists groups', who are dismissed as nut cases without the need to listen to why they hold hateful views.

No one is born with hateful views. They are learned as Nelson Mandela and develoment psychologists tell us. So instead of seeing these people as unworthy of any dialogic process, we should keep the dialogic door open. As historian Nell Painter has argued, what we believe is what our culture has trained us to believe.

Hate groups (for there is nothing supreme about hatred) are products of their cultural ecologies so blaming them without addressing the deterministic forces that make them assume such a dangerous mind set, is to add to the problem rather than address it. 

On the other hand, those who fervently and ideologically resist change need to understand historical realities and the futility of resisting change without listening to its moral imperative. Slavery, segregation, scientific racism, European superiority, and racial segregation, were accepted historical truisms. There used to be a time when they were considered established, immutable facts. Now, only the waste bin of history knows them well even when some conservative writers try to reanimate them into the popular discourse on racial identity. 

While change-instigators suffered gravely when they attempted to inspire societal change that would later engender their abandonment, they still had the last laugh. While change was resisted through blood and politics, history still took the day: slavery ended, segregation (the officially sanctioned one, that is) ended, colonialism ended, scientific racism ended etc. It is therefore futile to resist the irresistible. 

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SELF-ESTEEM AND DISCRIMINATION

As someone who grew up in war conditions and lived as a refugee for a long time, I'm sometimes considered by many people in the 'west' to be prone to (or have) low self-esteem, be poor or illiterate. Living as refugees or displaced persons, who depended on the good will of others put people in a situation where they don't think much about themselves. But that's not everyone though.

As I stood by our front desk at my place work talking about Race and Identity in relation to my book, Is 'Black' Really Beautiful?, the issue of why many African peoples in North America become so over-sensitive when racial issues come up! For many rational people, this owes its origin to slavery and racial segregation.

But one of my coworkers, a person of European descent, was surprised to realize that her 'black' friend, a very intelligent woman, easily becomes irritated by simple things she [friend] considers racist. The friend considers any mention of a watermelon racist; and complains a lot about 'white privilege.' This means that discrimination is considered something 'whites' don't face because of 'white privilege.' In any discussion between 'blacks' and 'whites', 'white privilege' issue comes up!