A refugee justice rally was held at South Australia's Parliament house on Saturday, December 3rd, organized by the University of Adelaide's Students Against Racism group. Rev. Rob MacPherson, Minister of the Unitarian Church of South Australia, was asked to speak at that rally and offered the following words, reprinted here with permission, originally appearing on Rev. MacPherson's blog.
"I'm aware that the yankee accent you hear me speaking in does not exactly do me any favours in denouncing racism and xenophobia in forums such as this.
However, despite my Nth. American accent, I am an Australian. I've been here for 17 years: I became a citizen in 2007. So I'm an Australian BY CHOICE, rather than by an accident of birth. I too am an immigrant, and boy was it easy to get in here...for me. My credentials: European descent, educated, white (all of which were the result, not of personal achievement, but of privilege).
These personal characteristics made it easy for me to get in here because they seem to indicate I would pose no threat to Australia's cultural integrity. How wrong they were...
For, like you all, I am here today (and over the years my church has been steadfast its attendance at all such rallies) to mobilize our bodies and raise our voices against the racism and xenophobia that drive our refugee policies, a human rights disgrace the whole world condemns us for. And it is important we do so, for we are aware too that the race hate and fear of strangers that fuel these policies is on the rise--a real vote-winner everywhere it seems. Witness the recent surge in nationalism and xenophobia in the UK and the USA. Witness the return of the execrable One Nation party as Senate power brokers in our current federal parliament.
And yes, it is good to come out in public, regularly and in numbers. To feel that we are not alone but are many, that we are not powerless, and that it's not US who are going crazy, feeling (as we do) so at odds with the prevailing discourse.
BUT: if we are only here at these rallies to make ourselves feel better, safer, more empowered, to get the frustration we feel 'off our chests', like some sort of personal self-help practice or pressure valve, we will fail to evolve a more humane discourse around refugees in the wider community. In fact, we ARE failing.
We are failing not just because we're talking mainly to ourselves, not just because of the 'bubble effect' that has become the new norm in the social media landscape, nor is it because of the general indifference of consumer culture to activism (I mean, look around you--what are most people concerned about here and now? Commerce.)
We are failing because the fellow Australians we take to be racists and xenophobes also feel powerless and threatened themselves, and we will not convert a single one of them by hating on them.
Think about it: when did screaming 'Racist!' at a racist ever stop them having racist thoughts? On the contrary, hating on them only confirms their sense of threat, isolation, and self-righteousness. Labelling 'Racist' can not be the end of the conversation, but the start. And this is where our task gets harder than turning up on a Saturday for an hour or so.
Yes of course we need to protest as we are today to fortify and motivate ourselves, but we also need to become smarter and stronger and better skilled at engaging hearts and minds who are terrified of change, of difference, who want to stand athwart globalisation yelling "STOP!"
Yes, fire up your commitment today, but keep your cool tomorrow, I beseech you. Try to understand their fears. (Of course they're irrational fears, but irrational fears feel the same mas rational ones.) Try to see what buttons the authorities are pushing to make them comfortable with hating.
Yeah, I know, I'm a minister and it's kind of my job to sell the idea that there's a better way than fear and hate. But don't you believe that too? That a life not enslaved to these emotional states is simply a better life?
Of course you do, so don't just protest...become a teacher, say. Teach people to think about their thinking. Or if not, actively support the many refugee organisations you see represented here today. Or learn to take what capital you may have away from companies and businesses that support and profit from hate rhetoric and human misery. Educate yourself beyond this bubble of like minds.
In your personal networks, commit to engage day after day with those who do not think and feel as you do. Listen to them. Be patient. Create opportunities for them to engage with people who are different from them and they will see (must see) that they're not so different.
Most importantly, engage them in a spirit of loving kindness, for in truth, "they know not what they do."
I'm sorry: this is a hard message to hear. But it is so easy to become the thing you hate. But if we hate haters for hating, how are we any different? Where is our moral advantage? Yes, it's hard to exercise self-control, but the alternative is what we have--polar division, cultural warfare, take-no-prisoners smackdowns. You want to be truly radical? Make peace instead.
When I moved here, decades ago, what I loved about this place was that you could walk down the street and hear Greek, Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indigenous languages, Polish...even Canadian, eh. The country I fell in love with speaks Spanish and Arabic and Thai and Urdu and Farsi and North American English, It wears a hijab and a yarmulke and a turban and a baseball cap and eats everything from halal kangaroo to vegan hamburgers.
Australia was at one time the shining multicultural success story of the world: incorrigibly plural, generous, imaginative in social policy. That default mode still lives in us and can never be lost, so let's make it so again. With generous hearts, imaginative minds and a commitment to making our country safe for everyone born, no matter where they were born.