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Issue #1719      February 17, 2016

Taunts and threats in online racist incidents

The spectre of racism in Australia raised its ugly head again last week after a string of incidents targeting Aboriginal people, particularly on social media, with racist taunts including death threats, vitriolic comments and incidents of black face.

Northern Territory senator Nova Peris posted on Facebook pictures of racist and violent threats that she had received through the mail, including a picture that had been doctored to have a rifle sight aimed at her forehead. And when Oxfam Australia employee Sissy Austin, a Gunditjmara woman, called out two young white men from Ballarat for mocking Aboriginal culture by painting themselves black and pretending to perform a smoking ceremony, she was abused, bullied and targeted online.

“I confronted the individual who casually uploaded this photo after an ‘Aussie Icon’ themed party last night,” Ms Austin posted. “After stating that this was pure racism the individual and a group of this person’s friends all stood up and argued that this is not racism and that ‘Aboriginal people have it easier than everyone else in this country ...

“I thank those who have stuck up for the publisher of this photo and those who are in it. You have shown me that I have a lot of work to do in this country and I will fight through the battles, tears and emotions until it is time for the next generation to take over.

“We must not be blinded to the racism in this country, and remember, observers are equally as disgusting as the offenders themselves.”

Aboriginal musicians Briggs and Thelma Plum supported Ms Austin and then they, too, were racially abused. Critics of Briggs referred to him as a “petrol sniffer” and threatened to refer Briggs’ tweets to his employer, to which Briggs quipped, “Be sure to send them to my employer, me.”

Briggs and Ms Plum were told to kill themselves and received dozens of violent threats – but also a lot of support. After days of weathering the storm, Ms Plum posted a picture of herself and her pet rabbit Dolly.

“I’ve been pretty sad the last couple of days due to the amount of uneducated a$$holes here in this country,” she wrote. “I just wanna say a reeeeally huge thank you to everyone for having my back and for fighting the good fight with me. We have started the conversation and now we need to continue it.

“Unfortunately for some reason Australia doesn’t have any laws regarding blackface unlike so many other places in the world. So until then it’s our job to pull the racist gronks up and hold them accountable for their actions.

“Maybe next time people will think before acting so careless and cruel. It is neither a joke nor your right to appropriate a culture that is not yours. Whether your intentions were genuinely to pay respect to an ‘Aboriginal Icon’, now that I and many other mob have said we do not like this, you should accept that without any argument or defence.”

Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane told the Koori Mail that victims of online abuse should consider making a complaint to the Human Rights Commission or, if there is anything that involves criminal threats or conduct, people should consider reporting it to police.

“Public acts of racial vilification are unlawful under the Racial Discrimination Act,” he said. “That includes acts made through social media, which offend, insult, intimidate or humiliate people because of their race.

“A substantial number of complaints about racial vilification that the commission investigates involves conduct on social media. It should be noted that the commission cannot prosecute matters, as the Act provides only a civil protection against racial discrimination and vilification.

“Public acts of racial vilification, including those done online, can be held accountable under the Act. But the way the Act works is it requires someone to make a complaint to the Commission. Social media can unfortunately provide a platform for racial hate speech, but it is by no means immune from the law.”

A spokesperson for federal Attorney-General George Brandis said it is an offence under the Criminal Code to use a carriage service (including the internet, social media services or a telephone) in a way that reasonable persons would regard as being menacing, harassing or offensive.

“The prohibitions on racial discrimination and vilification under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 and the cybercrime offences under the Criminal Code Act 1995 apply to new and social media organisations in the same way that they apply to traditional media outlets,” the spokesperson said.

There have been no instances of prosecution by the federal government under the Racial Discrimination Act. The Attorney-General’s Department said that as well as complaining to the Human Rights Commission, people who are facing online harassment or cyber-bullying are able to report threatening behaviour through the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner or the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN).

Australia’s approach to racism hit international headlines during last month’s Australian Open after publishing the image of tennis fans dressed as world number-one Serena Williams, complete with black paint and the sign “Keep calm and be Serena”. The Daily Mail in Britain condemned the tennis fans as “disgraceful” and reported that American sports commentators were horrified.

Wiradjuri writer Anita Heiss was also racially targeted last week, with fran@bunghin716 posting to her Twitter account: “His speech was nothing but a litany of banal platitudes. The radical truth is that Aborigines have low mean IQ, small brains.”

Dr Heiss, however, had the last word: ‘”The radical truth is that I have a PhD. You?”

Oxfam has started a petition calling out racism.

Koori Mail

Next article – Timor-Leste – End Australia’s “shameful policy”

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