Speak out against racism and mobilise against discrimination and injustice during Harmony Week

Today, 21 March, is the start of what the Australian Government calls “Harmony Week”.  This designated week is scheduled for the purpose of celebrating cultural diversity, with a focus on inclusiveness, respect and a sense of belonging for everyone in our communities. But by putting a positive spin on the true intent of March 21, could we actually be covering up the true reality of racism in Australia and hampering genuine efforts to achieve its elimination?

In the United Nations’ calendar, March 21 is the United Nations (UN) International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and takes its date from the Sharpeville massacre that took place during a civil rights event in apartheid South Africa in 1960. Since 1966, the world has observed this date as being the day that freedom from racial discrimination should be recognised as being a human right. Globally it’s marked as a day of mourning and according to the UN website the date opens “a week of solidarity with the peoples struggling against racism and racial discrimination”.

Andrew Jakubowicz, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at University of Technology Sydney, believes “the re-branding of ‘end racism day’ into ‘Harmony Day’ has been detrimental, as Australia has avoided developing institutional research into racism and discrimination, and failed to hold societal conversations to combat these” (Is Harmony Day Muzzling the Uncomfortable Discord of Racism in Australia). He also says that “We’ve lost a generation of capacity to engage with racism and do something about it in a systematic and serious way.”

Federation has long held strong policies around anti-racism and multicultural education. That’s because education is the key to eradicating racism and embedding the principles of diversity and inclusivity into our communities.

Schools should celebrate and share cultural heritage, practices, beliefs, identities, and languages. By leading our communities in the appreciation of difference and respect for each other, we can promote peace, inclusiveness and build strength in belonging.

If by celebrating Harmony Week, people are encouraged to use their voice to speak out against racism and to mobilise against all manifestations of discrimination and injustice, then you are advocating for the principles of the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The 2023 United Nations theme for 21 March focuses on the “urgency of combatting racism and racial discrimination, 75 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)”. It was 75 years ago that a set of common values was agreed upon by the international community and it was acknowledged that rights are inherent to every single human being and not granted by the State. These rights are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a blueprint for international human rights norms.

Therefore, if, as educators, we stand up, educate for anti-racism, equity and inclusion within our schools and the wider community, and at the same time, wear orange to symbolise that everyone belongs, then we are both celebrating and embedding very important messaging that Australia is a vibrant, multicultural land; its diversity ranging from the oldest culture of our First Nations people to the cultures of our newest arrivals from many different countries all over the world. As individuals, we should be proud of our own identity and as a community, we should celebrate this and work together to promote the message of harmony.

On 21 March, the United Nations General Assembly reiterates that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and have the potential to contribute constructively to the development and well-being of their societies”. Only education about the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and action against all forms of discrimination will truly achieve the Harmony Week message that Everyone Belongs!