Prize sheds light on Australia's ugly racism

World | 31 Oct 2017 4:25 pm

The awarding of the Sydney Peace Prize to the Black Lives Matter movement for its work highlighting American race issues is being hailed by local activists as a progressive step, but is also shining a spotlight on Australia’s own struggles with race relations.

The Sydney Peace Foundation, a body within the University of Sydney that has previously bestowed its prize on individuals such as South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu, will deliver its award to the group this week. It’s the first time in the award’s 20-year history that an organization will receive the honor. (Pictured, in January this year, Aboriginal activists stage an Australia Day protest in Adelaide, Australia).

The group has been at the forefront of U.S. activism against police brutality, mass incarceration and racial inequality.

The social media hashtag with which it shares its name began after neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2013. It gained traction when a police officer fatally shot another unarmed black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri the following year, sparking protests.

Black Lives Matter is being awarded "for building a powerful movement for racial equality, courageously reigniting a global conversation around state violence and racism,” the Sydney Peace Foundation said in a statement.

Patrisse Cullors, one of the group’s co-founders, welcomed the award "in solidarity with the organizations and organizers of Australia who had and still have faced oppression.”

Australian activists say the government and society at large need to do more to address that country’s own racial issues, particularly inequality faced by the country’s aboriginal people, but also its treatment of asylum seekers controversially sent for detention on Pacific Ocean islands.

Some say Australia as a whole needs to adjust its moral compass.

"Would I say Australia has lost its heart? Put it this way: Australia — both the government and the people — is very selective about where its heart is placed,” said Mark McKenna, a University of Sydney history professor who has worked extensively on Australian social issues.

"There’s been a failure of politicians to seriously advance a reform agenda across a number of areas of policy. The indigenous issue is the most glaring example,” he said.

Australia remains the only former British colony to have never signed a treaty with its indigenous people, which critics say has led to a damaging history of policies being forced on them from the government rather than allowing them greater self-determination.-AP

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