Australia Comment: Why do the media demonise African Australians?

17:31  11 july  2018
17:31  11 july  2018 Source:

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Nyadol Nyuon is a lawyer at Arnold Bloch Leibler.© supplied Nyadol Nyuon is a lawyer at Arnold Bloch Leibler.

Calling out the media for its biased reporting of crimes committed by African Australians is not about defending criminals or failing to sympathise with victims.

No African Australian I know supports criminal activity, thinks it is OK or wishes to excuse it in any way.

What we are trying to do, however, is to highlight that the media consistently reports crimes committed by black people vastly differently from the way it reports crimes committed by white people, and that such difference in reporting does serious harm to entire communities.

A particular gripe is that while media reports emphasise the race of a black offender, they generally ignore an offender’s race if they are white.

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How often do you come across a headline such as: “Caucasian man kidnapped and raped 11-year-old in Queensland"; “White man shot and killed his two children"; or "A white man raped and killed a woman"?

Would these headlines seem odd or offensive? All of these crimes were allegedly committed over the past few weeks by non-African Australians. It is telling that there was no emphasis in any of these headlines on the alleged offender’s race.

If these crimes were committed by youth of “African appearance” or “African gangs” the reporting would have been very different.

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The reality is that readers can feel the horror of a crime reported without the media needing to describe the offender’s race. All the extra layer of pointless information achieves is to cast an unfair slur on all African Australians, and to create unnecessary fear in the broader community.

So why do some media outlets insist on doing it?

I believe that focusing on the race of some groups in the community and not others is intended to make readers respond in a certain way – not only about the offender but about the offender’s community.

It is also an effective way of creating a community against that racially identifiable group because it has the effect of dividing people into groups of “us” and “them”.

Take for example Elaine French, the victim of a robbery by black youths about a year ago, who was featured on a recent Channel 7 segment on "African gangs". She said that she cannot go to a shopping centre because “if I ran into a coloured person I’d be having a panic attack again”.

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For Ms French, following her horrific experience, all coloured people are now seen as potential attackers. But it is not only Ms French who is left feeling this way.

I recall reading an ABC report recently that mentioned a survey by criminologist Rebecca Wickes. The survey found many Melburnians feel animosity towards Africans even if they have never met one.

To claim that reference to race in reporting is innocent or fair comment, and not intended to conjure up racist feelings or collective judgment, is disingenuous.

And to accuse people who point out the inconsistency as wanting to excuse or cover up criminal activity only exacerbates the problem.

It delegitimises our concern, to be treated with individual dignity, by suggesting our communities accept or even encourage criminal behaviour. We do not.

This claim puts people in a difficult place because no one wants to be seen as excusing the robbery of an innocent woman or the invasion of someone's home. No one wants to be seen as having no sympathy for victims.

Nor, like any other Australians, do we want be characterised by the behaviour of the worst people in our community simply because we share the same skin tone.

For those of us in the community, this is the difficult terrain we must navigate. How do you speak to the issue of racial vilification while giving a victim of crime the acknowledgement that what happened was sickening and completely unacceptable?

In the end, there is no excuse for crime and no excuse for racial vilification.

Nyadol Nyuon is a lawyer at Arnold Bloch Leibler.

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