'Harmony Day' embeds racism
Updated: Mar 29
On this day in 1960, South African police opened fire on a crowd of 7,000 anti-apartheid protestors killing 69 of them and injuring 180 more. Six years later, the United Nations proclaimed 21 March as International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination #IDERD.
But racism hasn’t gone away. It never will. It always needs challenging. That’s why the rest of the world commemorates #IDERD each year. Australia is the only country that has a ‘celebration’. A deliberate political move by the Howard government in 1999, which also did away with the policy of multiculturalism, replaced #IDERD with ‘Harmony Day’.
Harmony Day is an example of how language can be used to avoid problems and promote societal cognitive dissonance. Harmony hides today’s true meaning. According to the Human Rights Commission which upholds our human rights, Harmony Day glosses over and obscures structural and systemic racism which still exists in Australia. Harmony Day is also an example of how sneaky small target incrementalism can wreck our nation. Australians could be forgiven for not caring about something as seemingly inconsequential as positive rebranding on anti-racism. But this week fascist men marched down the streets of Melbourne making Nazi salutes. Australia is not harmonious. And Harmony Day is embedding planned ignoring of racism and other forms of discrimination.
By glossing over #IDERD’s honest and serious acknowledgement of racism and its impacts, harmony discourages people from speaking out. Doing so can be seen as rocking the boat. Indeed, it can be seen as creating disharmony. Harmony Day is thus allowing systemic racial discrimination in Australia to be swept under the rug. It is contributing to denial and passive acceptance of racism.
Harmony harms Australia’s collective anti-racism journey and achievements. We’ve come a long way since I was teased and bullied at school in the 1970s and 80s for being a “Abo”. But there will always be a road to go. And if we want an Australia that is truly fair and equal for everyone, and which recognises our fundamental human rights and freedoms, we need to acknowledge racism honestly. We need to stop whitewashing racism with Harmony Day and commemorate #IDERD actively and seriously. Racism, #ItStopsWithMe.
OK, the photo is from 23 years ago. But I like the T-shirt.