Saturday, August 11, 2018

Australian Leadership and the Experiences of South Sudanese in Australia

Photo: News Nation
Every human society has its bad and good people. And every society knows what teenagers behavioral disposition can be and the consequences of their rebellious period as they start to discover who they are as people and in relation to their identities [racial, cultural and individual]. Common sense would dictate that South Sudanese in Australia would be regarded in the same realistic lenses by the Australian public. But this is not the case. Apparently, all South Sudanese are 'gangs' and 'criminals.'

It is undeniable that there are young South Sudanese between the ages of ten and twenty, whose rebellious teenage discovery and lack of cultural anchorage, make them engage in antisocial practices such as shoplifting, car-jacking, petty thefts, among others.

Any responsible society would just look at the root causes and the reason why these teenagers act in this antisocial manner and come up with remedial or preventative social programs. Australia, being one of the most progressive, democratic and [ideally] inclusive country, would easily devise feasible strategies to make sure that these socially and culturally lost young Australians are reformed into responsible adults.

However, the Australian leadership and the right-wing Australian media have decided to treat South Sudanese as a special cause: a collectively bad racial group. They've whipped up racial emotionalism and selective use of 'evidence.'

Instead of treating the issue as a solvable social problem of young South Sudanese Australians, the public, especially the right-wingers and the Turnbull government, have decided to denigrate the whole community and turn the Australian public against a community that sought refuge in Australia because of tribal and racial denigration.

Prime Minister Turnbull, without realizing the impact and the power of his words as the top leader in Australia, said in July that "You have to be honest, there are Sudanese gangs in Melbourne." This is coming from the Prime Minister of Australia. JUST THINK ABOUT THAT FOR A MOMENT! Could that be any more irresponsible?  

I just can't imagine the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau or the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, uttering such a statement without compunction. Is Australia regressing to the years of 'Australia for whites only?" I doubt this is the case. Because, after Dutton remarks, the Australian public responded with #Melbournbitesback to mock Minister Dutton. The Majority of Australians are welcoming and inclusive as I have been to Australia more than 8 times.

The community also fought back with the hashtag #Africagangs by showcasing their successes and their ordinary Australian lives with friends and family. Prominent leaders and professionals like Nyadol Nyuon, Maker Mayek, among others, have stood up for the community to show the actual face of the South Sudanese community. Obviously, they have faced a backlash. 

However, the effect of the PM's remarks on South Sudanese, both physically and psychologically, is becoming worrying (Watch this VICE video) and read this The Guardian report.

Worryingly, Turnbull's remarks followed Minister Dutton's remarks in January that 'We just need to call it for what it is. Of course it's African gang violence."  

These politicians argue as such even when, in Melbourne, the police reject the claim of 'African Gang'  presence and argue that what they have in Melbourne is a group of 'repeat offenders.' 

These irresponsible remarks were used by right-wing Australians and media houses to target South Sudanese and generalize not just South Sudanese but 'people of color.'  As one Elaine French, whose store was vandalized by the supposed 'African gangs', argued, If I "ran into a coloured person I’d be having a panic attack again." This reflects the whole racial group as a societal menace, a dangerous sensationalism.

In their media release, Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission said that the hate-related incidences increased by 76 percent.  "This sudden jump in race-related discrimination reports should be a wake-up call for politicians who have made racially divisive statements,' said Commissioner Hilton. 

While South Sudanese in Melbourne will not deny the existence of young people, who are involved in criminal activities, it is grotesquely irresponsible of top national leaders like Dutton and Turnbull to stoop this low and emotionalize Australia against an already vulnerable population. 

One can understand the mindset of the ring-wingers that regard discretion and simple human decency as stifling of their freedom of speech, terming it 'political correctness.' However, leaders need to do better. Maybe I'm expecting too much from conservative Australia than they are naturally willing to offer. Most far-right groups regard 'non-whites' with "I don't care about them and what happens to them." 

But there are a number of issues Australians need to understand. Some of these young people were either born in Australia or came when they were very young so their general cultural mindset is Australian. They see themselves as Australians and they act like any Australians. Their cultural and psychological makeup is Australian. 

However, one wonders why leaders of one of the supposedly progressive nations on the planets would see the problem as 'African Gang' problem rather than as an Australian problem that needs a formidable Australian solution? When South Sudanese succeed, they are Australians; but when they fail, they are South Sudanese. 

The western consciousness is historically a generalizing and stigmatizing one so PM Turnbull should be very careful what he says. Ultra-conservatives, whether in North America or in Europe, see human progress as their regress--as power slipping away from them. They rather hitlerize the consciousness of 'their' people against people whose appearances and cultures are different. What they don't like isn't the badness of such appearances and cultures but the mere fact that there is an observable difference.

For many South Sudanese and liberal Australia, this is merely politics, an irresponsible one. However, it is politics with dangerous and long-term destructive effects. It is okay to hustle for votes; however, it is immoral to gamble with the safety of a whole community for the sake of votes.  Turnbull and Dutton were accused of "stoking racism to win election."

Recently Vice featured a group of young South Sudanese talking about their experiences after the PM's remarks. According to these law-abiding youngsters, most of whom students, they are regarded as gangs by the public. No matter where they go, they are regarded with suspicion and they don't feel they are Australians enough. 

Besides, there is nothing quintessentially 'African' about crime. These young people, some of whom have never seen South Sudan and don't know what South Sudan is like, are an Australian problem and they learned crime in Australia. They didn't export crime to Australia. Their South Sudan-ness is largely nominal rather than practical.

While liberals can be at time hypocritical, it is sad that conservatives confuse simple human decency with freedom of speech. Every community on earth can be criticized; however, it is just the way it is done that is crucial. Decency isn't political correctness. To conservatives, it is political correctness if it is against their ideological sensibilities but necessary if it supports their ideological sensibilities. 

When the Prime Minister of Australia and a minister in a national cabinet target a single community, then you have to question the MORALITY OF SUCH LEADERS and their humanity. While this can be considered mere politics, Australians should note that South Sudanese thought that Australia was different in terms of discriminatory practices and false generalization they [South Sudan ] experienced in Sudan. 

While Australia cannot be compared with Sudan in terms of the standard of living and relative freedom, the psychological effects of discrimination, denigration and the creation a false racial image of the people through uncritical generalization, is the same immorality from which they escaped Sudan. Without mental freedom, physcal freedom suffers. South Sudanese now don't feel safe.

Statistically speaking, for example, according to The Conversation, "in the ACT [Australia's Capital Territory]...42% of the 72 South Sudanese participants had tertiary qualifications, 96% of this participant group were seeking employment – with many unemployed or underemployed, despite their qualifications."

The report added that "Nearly all (89%) of the participants experienced racism in the process of looking for a job. Many had applied for more than 1,000 jobs. Their experiences included being discriminated against on the basis of race, skin colour, accent, having an African background and not having a Caucasian name."

This is a problem that South Sudanese expierence across Australia and more so, in schools where students are treated differently, punished differently, and also picked out to be the problem. This is how they are set up for failure and antisocial behaviors. 

It's time PM Turnbull, if he wins the election, learns decency from his counterparts in the UK or Canada.

NB: South Sudan in Melbourne commit only  1% of the crime when the Australians commit more than 71% of the crime. The problem is only relative to their population size, which is about .016%

Kuir ë Garang is a South Sudanese  Canadian author, poet and political commentator

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