Many in the Australian refugee advocacy movement would have read or heard of an article in the Monthly about “Why Australia hates asylum seekers” by Christos Tsiolkas. Yet very little has been said regarding the editor of this same publication, John Van Tiggelen writing an article about taking his children to a Dutch Community Christmas Party in Carnegie, a suburb in Melbourne, Australia that included Zwarte Piete (http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/stomping-through-the-tulips-20131125-2y4l4.html). In this article, John Van Tiggelen criticises this racist Dutch tradition but ends the piece by saying he will continue to take his children to such events.
Zwarte Piete is a racist representation of Christmas – i.e. he is a Dutch character with black-face; a legacy of the era of slavery and still part of Dutch tradition. Even the UN has warned the Netherlands that this representation “could be racist” (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/10/22/black-pete-racist_n_4140871.html)
Is it surprising that such ingrained racism in Dutch Society came to the surface just over a fortnight ago, when many including a left wing Dutch politician and a major Dutch Newspaper made Zwarte Piete “jokes” when Nelson Mandela died? (http://divinevarod.com/2013/12/13/dutch-politician-likens-nelson-mandela-to-black-pete-while-a-picture-making-him-look-like-the-blackface-character-goes-viral/,http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1066548)
Getting back to The Monthly’s editor, John Van Tiggelan…as a POC Melbourne media commentator aptly says…his article is a classic
‘…that attempts to self-interrogate but really is just a dude who is clearly uncomfortable with this racist element of his culture but won’t actually let go of it.
I’d like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that when your cultural artefact is so racist you say “You wouldn’t want to be black, I figured,” it’s time to let go.”….’
Do we need to say more to convince people that John Van Tiggelan has to be called out on his nonchalance regarding this racist tradition? Australia’s “invisible” power structures are a legacy of racist, colonial Eurocentric-White Australia that largely excludes “visible” people of colour crossing borders as well as the original inhabitants of this land who do not merge “invisibly” with the white colonisers. John Van Tiggelan has a significant role in these power structures as is evident in a direct quote from an interview with him where the interviewer (not John Van Tiggelan) states:
“…There are about 320.000 people of Dutch origin in Australia (Australian Bureau of Statistics). They all contribute to the Australian community. Many do this quietly and unobtrusively and as a group we are therefore often referred to as the ”invisible migrants”. Some, including those who write for the media, have however more influence on society than others…”
Our message therefore is simply this: To effectively address refugee issues, Human rights and refugee advocates cannot avoid addressing such issues of *structural racism and inequity that is part of the fabric of society, particularly in the media. Australia needs to confront the reality that the public who “hate refugees” are presented with information through the lens of mostly privileged white Australian media commentators and other white dominated institutions. If advocates ignore such issues and avoid actively working for structural changes then they are just using their privilege to take up space and pay lip-service to the refugee issue and are complicit in perpetuating the racist legacy of white-Australia.
*Footnote: More on structural racism here-Scott Nakagawa, The Blueprint of Structural Inequality, September 12 2013, available at: http://mediadiversified.org/2013/09/12/the-blueprint-of-structural-inequality/, [accessed 30 December 2013]