A few days after the Nice truck attack, Britain’s Channel 4 News presenter, Fatima Manji, went on air to do her rostered shift wearing what she normally wears – a hijab.
So enraged was Kelvin MacKenzie, a former editor of The Sun, he fired off a column for the paper moaning that is was wrong for Channel 4 News to allow a Muslim journalist to present coverage of the terrorist attack.
“Was it appropriate for her to be on camera when there had been yet another shocking slaughter by a Muslim?” he asked. “Was it done to stick one in the eye of the ordinary viewer who looks at the hijab as a sign of the slavery of Muslim women by a male-dominated and clearly violent religion?”
Complaints flew in all directions. In the end Britain’s communications regulator, Ofcom, rejected the 17 complaints it received arguing that what Channel 4 had done was inappropriate. Manji hit back with a column of her own in the Liverpool Echo, ending with the line: “I pissed on Kelvin MacKenzie’s apparent ambitions to force anyone who looks a little different off our screen, and I’ll keep doing it.”
A storm like this would never happen in Australia, simply because there are no hijab-wearing news presenters here. In fact, there are barely any news presenters who deviate from the standard issue requirement of white, straight and able-bodied.
SBS TV is the exception because its mandate is to reflect diversity. The ABC too has non-European news presenters but not enough to claim that it properly reflects the diversity of the Australian population. And the commercial channels? Forget it.
Boring as it may seem, Australia deems authoritative delivery of news to be the domain of first, white men and then white women. And if it must be a woman she should preferably be blonde (and be prepared to be judged on the way she looks).
Representations of Australian diversity will not be found in newsrooms, be they TV or mainstream newspapers. Nor will diversity be reflected in Australian TV drama. Screen Australia’s recent report Seeing Ourselves found only people from Anglo-Celtic and Indigenous backgrounds could claim to be properly represented in TV drama.
And nor will you find Australia’s diversity fairly represented in Australian boardrooms, parliaments or universities.
Among CEOs in ASX 200 companies about five per cent are from non-European backgrounds compared with 77 per cent from Anglo-Celtic backgrounds. Among MPs and senators in Federal parliament, non-Europeans make up 3.5 per cent, compared with 79 per cent Anglo-Celtic, according to the Australian Human Rights Commission report Leading for Change released last month.
And it’s all downhill from there: among senior leaders in the federal and state public service two per cent have non-European backgrounds while 82 per cent are Anglo-Celtic.
And to top it all there are absolutely no university vice-chancellors or federal ministers in Australia who have a non-European background. In both these areas a whopping 85 per cent are Anglo-Celtic.
So, how straight can we keep our faces when we proudly declare Australia is a multiracial, multicultural country? It’s nauseatingly hypocritical, surely, to celebrate multiculturalism with such gusto, yet quietly keep non-Europeans out of the top jobs.
When we know diversity at senior decision-making levels correlates with better financial performance, there’s no excuse not to embrace it.
Bias and discrimination, be they overt or unconscious, are holding the nation back from reflecting, in its most important institutions, the true diversity of its people. Or as the report puts it: “We found a bleak story for multicultural Australia”
Latent racism is embedded. No workplace is formally required to measure cultural diversity, and when leaders are picked there are assumptions built into the decision-making process that privilege those from Anglo-Celtic backgrounds.
When we know diversity at senior decision-making levels correlates with better financial performance, there’s no excuse not to embrace it. But it’s not just about money. There are sufficient studies that show improved diversity in senior ranks leads to better decision-making, greater learning from each other, improved confidence and better performance all round.
Australia is a cultural mish-mash. About 28 per cent of the population was born overseas. Another 20 per cent have a mum or dad who was born in another country. People here are drawn from more than 300 ancestries. But it means nothing it we don’t make diversity work for us as a nation.
Instead, Australia is content to leverage off its hollow multicultural boast. There is an endless parade of people constantly braying about Australia’s marvelous multiculturalism. Anyone from a non-European background might find this sticks in their craw somewhat.
Sushi Das is a journalist and author. Follow her on Twitter: sushidas1