Racism is a virus – there’s an antidote

Public education is often quoted as being “the cornerstone of society”. It has a proud history of equity and inclusiveness, accepting and valuing all who walk through its doors. Our school communities reflect our wider society; showing that we are a diverse nation of many cultures, beliefs and histories. Our educators face the challenge of teaching in this multicultural society, not only working to meet student academic need but also endeavouring to remove any barriers that result in racism or racist outcomes.

With the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Wuhan, China, Australia’s attention has been captured by sensationalist news reports of quarantined people being tended by medical personnel in full protective gear. Although every effort is being made to contain the virus a notable rise in fear, mistrust and even overt racism towards those of Chinese or other Asian backgrounds has been reported in our communities.

Federation rejects racism.

As a union of educators, all Federation members have the responsibility to organise, oppose, act and educate against racism in all its forms. We must call out racism in all forms — words, gestures or actions — and demand that our school communities stand up to prejudice.

It is important that schools take the opportunity to show leadership at this time. Principals and teachers must warn against racist responses and support our students, teachers and parents to treat all in our community with dignity and respect. We must ensure only factual information is given to our communities and shut down misinformation or prejudice as soon as it arises.

So what can we do to help combat this surge in racism and bigotry?

Schools can implement educational programs designed to reduce religious, racial and cultural intolerance. School newsletters can reinforce the message that language and behaviour, or any other form of racism, is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in our communities. Every single one of us can promote the message that everyone belongs, so that students will be able to learn in a safe environment, free from fear or harm.

Teachers can visit the Federation website, which includes a dedicated section on anti-racism and multicultural education. Here you will find copies of Federation’s Anti-Racism policy, the Anti-Racism Charter, education resources, posters and information about racism, case studies and professional readings. Go to www.nswtf.org.au/anti-racism-policy.

The website also contains a number of other resources to assist members to address racism in their classrooms and workplaces, as well as in their wider community.

Resources include the Human Rights Commission’s campaign “Racism. It Stops With Me”, of which Federation has been a proud supporter since 2015. You can also search for United Nations and Australian Government resources on racial discrimination.

Schools can also contact Mandy Wells, Federation’s Multicultural Officer/ Organiser on [email protected] for further advice. Federation members are also urged to support International Harmony Day on 21 March and the Palm Sunday Peace Rally for Refugees on 5 April.

Embrace diversity, support community and advocate for inclusivity.