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Prachi Beniwal

Equality – why our movements aren’t enough

By Prachi Beniwal, Nossal High School


Bra burning, man hating, feminazi, curry muncher, brownie, towelhead and so many more that I can’t say for civility’s sake.

For a society that collectively agrees that equality is an urgent goal, we’re not actually very good at representation or equality in general. It's so evident, not just in the statistics, but in our language, you’d be hard-pressed to find a minority that hasn’t heard their fair share of slurs or women that haven’t been catcalled. You’d also struggle to find a word in the English language that is female in its normative form, that is, words that are transformed from female to male, rather than the other way around, there’s only really only two, widow and bride, which become widower and bridegroom. Others either denote an association to men, like daughter or are simply male to begin with and transformed to be female, like actor to actress. Our plain English intrinsically shows that women are adjuncts to others. The message from all of this is tragic but simpl:, discrimination is ingrained, in our behaviour, language, mindset.

And despite the fact that in a 2019 survey by the Australian Human Rights Commission, over 85 percent of people reported they believe in ‘equality for women’, women of colour only make up 17% of entry-level management roles, and the numbers only get bleaker as we rise in rank, they only make up a mere 4% of C-suite management positions according to Forbes.

We march with women and pride yearly, we say racism ends with us, we hashtag metoo, we believe survivors. We reclaim the night, we pin the old faithful purple, white and green ribbon on our lapel every 8th of March and we shout that black lives matter. So why then according to an ANU study in 2018, do 40% of primary school students of colour still report experiencing racial discrimination by their peers? Why was I told as a five-year-old that science says boys are always smarter than girls, and according to Forbes, why do 70% of young boys believe this to be true? Why aren’t our marches and tweets and likes and movements making an impact?

I'd like to take a moment here for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and David Dungay. Among the names that we should not have known today, but names that we should never forget.

The recent protests, 50 states, 19 nations, people from every race, culture and creed coming together, for justice. But that’s the problem. It wasn’t for change. It wasn’t a radical attempt at equality. It was what we needed to do for justice, something that George Floyd should have gotten without a world of protest. The discrimination runs rampant through our systems, because of years of built-up implicit bias, the bias that leads everything from the shooting of the innocent to a resume with an ethnic name having half the chance of a call back compared to a Western name.

This protest ensured justice for one man; we are nowhere near the end. These protests were incredibly necessary, but we must ask ourselves why it ever came to this.

Close to 20% of students from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background reported experiences of racial discrimination from their teachers, according to the same study from ANU. We’re raising children that truly believe that they are inferior, children that when criticised, can’t distinguish why, and so, like anybody would, blame themselves. We’re crafting the mindset that enables a sickening cycle of inequality.

Racism today, in our multicultural society, takes a much more insidious shape than what we would expect. It isn’t simply harassment and violence, though that is still well and truly alive, but it is constant dismissal, denied opportunities. It’s what benefits the majority, what holds down the minority.

Now we often attribute this to apparent implicit biases, but how do we know implicit biases exist? In a number of Stanford’s classic studies, research subjects are asked to complete a seemingly simple task, such as watching words pop up on a screen and quickly categorising those words as either positive, like ‘happy’, or negative, like ‘fear’. But right before the word appears, a face, either black or white, flashes on the screen. What they repeatedly found ‘is that if a black person’s face was shown really quickly, then people are quicker at categorizing negative words than positive words that follow it. Versus if a white face was shown quickly, people are usually quicker to categorize the positive words, compared with the negative words.’

These types of biases are quite prevalent. According to a research summary by Stanford University’s Recruitment to Expand Diversity and Excellence program, ‘about 75% of people demonstrated an implicit bias in favour of Caucasian people compared to POC’. Unfortunately, similar unconscious biases have been documented in people’s views of those of different genders, the elderly, and other minorities.

These biases are developed because, in a fast-paced world, we are reliant on our capacity to categorise people and things, a skill we build especially as children.

But we know this, we know our biases are the reason for discrimination and most adults actively try to fight these biases and aspire for equality. We try as hard as we can so, what are we getting wrong?

The first time I heard the word ‘racism’ was in 2013, at the age of 12, in Year 5. I still remember it, in the wake of Adam Goodes being called a racial slur by a 13-year-old. We did acrostic poems about racism, but really it was too little too late, that much is evident by the fact that this behaviour was from another child.

You see, the part of the brain responsible for these unconscious biases and decisions, the amygdala, is almost completely matured by age 15, and wholly done by 18. At which stage it’s essentially impossible to change the biases we’ve spent a few years often unknowingly building. But once again we aren’t at the root of the problem.

And though we have justice for George. We don’t have justice for children experiencing discrimination in their homes and at school. The protests have not made it any safer for the average Black man on the street and no immediate chance can fix that.

The clearest answer is the youth, those that still can change. Those that are in every sense of the word, the future of our nation. And though we try to raise them in absence of these biases, that isn’t working either. We have this belief that by preventing exposure to stereotypes and discrimination, we’ll be raising children free of these biases but take a look, we still have plenty to fight. Whether we want to or not, we expose children to discrimination daily, through stereotype TV characters to the behaviour of an aunt, uncle or even someone on the street. We’ve tried shelter; it doesn’t show the change we desperately need. The real answer is hard: exposure. We have to force the future of our nation to not only be aware of issues such as racism, sexism and homophobia, but to also be aware of the ways they manifest and the impact they have. The answer is a state-wide education program that educated our youth on discrimination in a safe, educational space, so that we may raise a generation of capable, educated Australians.

The closest we have to this is the newly introduced respectful relationships, a state-wide education program focused on biases, gender and, primarily, domestic violence. The issue here is that it still shelters students from the horrific reality of racism in their formative years when we truly have the capacity to mould those that will lead to a better future for us all. It’s easy to argue that they shouldn’t be exposed to this at a young age, that it is a traumatic experience, but even this neglects the fact that the luxury of this willing ignorance isn’t afforded to all. For children of minorities, this is an unfortunate, unrelenting reality.

The system at the moment is failing us all and if we want to ever see a change, we have to make one first. For George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor, for the 432 recorded Indigenous individuals that have died in custody. The adults of today started the movements that have brought us into an age of awareness; the youth can take us into an age of equality.