Image by Aurélia Durand
Howra Al Timimy
When I began my political journey, aged 17 and patterned with excitement and ambition, I found comfort in a movement advertised to me as a space that strives to empower marginalised voices. Yet, as I naively navigated the nooks and corners of the ALP, trying to figure out how things worked, I was acutely and amusingly aware at how often I'd turn up to events and sometimes be the only woman of colour in a room. I couldn't see myself reflected anywhere and began to feel out of place.
Yet, I proudly carried my membership card everywhere, casually flashing that red strip of plastic every time my wallet opened. This is a party that I belonged to, and I wanted people to know.
Slowly I became self conscious, and stopped wanting to carry it around anymore. There would be a feeling of unease that would follow me around as I shared my suburb in Sydney’s south west with refugees, survivors of wars and my migrant parents. I know fundamentally that there is an ongoing part of Labor’s history, platform and governance on immigration and foreign politics that hurts to talk about.
We watched in 1994 as Labor legislated the policy of mandatory detention under the Keating government. As our families, desperate and vulnerable, escaped war and persecution by leaving their homes, to a country of safety where they were welcomed with “It's alright if you fly in on a tourist visa into our main airports... We won't demonise you for that, but if you arrive in a leaky boat, we will.” We watched this as it was echoed by a future Labor Prime Minister in 2012 as Julia Gillard’s government brought back mandatory offshore detention centers.
We also watched as our most recent Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stated "As of today, asylum seekers who come here by boat without a visa will never be settled in Australia."
When racism and racial gaslighting started to make me feel like a foreigner in my own party, I never again questioned how those policies could have been propelled so far by the ALP.
There is a type of racism that is easy to call out; the slurs, the comments, the overt discrimination. When it is subtle, covert and ambiguous, however, calling it out becomes a distinct challenge. We are expected to both make our case and prove the harm, as a controversial discourse frolics on whether or not these subtle behaviours are socially acceptable. We know how we felt and we know how this had impacted us, yet we are faced with the emotional toll of being made to second guess, feel invalidated, and that we may be making a big deal out of nothing.
All too often we see denials of racism overpowering any attempt at constructing meaningful conversations on dismantling the prejudices inherent within political spaces. All too often these are pushed by people who benefit greatly from their white privilege. And all too often when this privilege is not directly challenged, we begin to see the black squares, hashtags and creative placards.
It is the type of behaviour that rests under the guise of racial equality only as long as it is comfortable, only as long it expands political capital, and only as long as it looks progressive.
So what does white allyship actually look like in the Australian Labor Party? Allyship can mean lots of things, and taking the steps to become a better white ally plays pushes us a step further in dismantling the systemic prejudices that hold us back.
This means preselecting and voting for people who have actively made sure the most marginalised among us are listened to, and not forgotten. It means using platforms of influence to call out racist actions and policies.
It means supporting people of colour into political positions, not to tokenize, but to uplift the voices and experiences that are often ignored.
It means consulting with marginalised communities when drafting policy. White allyship means not relying on the emotional labor of people of colour to educate you about internalised and institutional racism.
It means making sure anti-racism campaigns are part of the discussion, whether it be in your branch caucuses or your SRC meetings. It also means calling out our own politicians for their racial biases and actions.
Finally, racism impacts us all. It shouldn't be something that matters only to those who are mistreated or experience injustice.
Howra is a member of the Fairfield branch and the Education Officer at UNSW's Students’ Representative Council.