Saturday, 5 November 2011

Striving Towards Equality

It has struck me that there are a lot of similarities between how some sectors of the US are treating Barack Obama, and how some sectors of Australia are treating Julia Gillard. Both heads of state are what we currently call 'minorities' - an African-American and a woman. They also both challenge the previous dominance of Caucasian males in the foremost position of leadership in their nations, making them recipients of thinly veiled discrimination from the conservative elements in society.

In the US, Morgan Freeman recently said on CNN that the Tea Party movement is racist. From the way I've seen John Boehner and most of the Republicans acting, I believe that racism is a widespread problem in the GOP as well. While Republicans would be quick to deny accusations of racism, their actions speak louder than words: their efforts to undermine Barack Obama's leadership have been so extreme, that I'm surprised that more people aren't heralding Morgan Freeman as an innovator of public opinion. But then, racism is under-acknowledged as a problem in American society, something we must be aware of if we seek to change the world.

In Australia, Julia Gillard has been criticised from the beginning for being an atheist who isn't married to her partner and has no children. These delineations have been used to attack her political agency, and de-emphasise positive and progressive actions taken. Murdoch's News Limited has run stories like this to muster up as much antipathy towards her as possible, as well as continually overemphasising misogynistic Opposition leader Tony Abbott's aggressive anti-Gillard criticism. The pronouncement of Australian misogyny is now becoming public, though, like US racism is under-acknowledged. 

What is the bigger picture here? We are at an important place where old, established norms about who has power and who is creating policy for everyone else, are being challenged and subverted. In Aus & US, the jilted former status quo will do everything it can to resist the opening up of the political sphere to as many types of people as possible. They are used to calling the shots, and for all the lip service to fostering equality and celebrating diversity, now that we have seen these societies demonstrate a more inclusive approach, the limitations of these discourses, and the fears and prejudices that circulate among and even underneath them, have been brought to the surface.

As unfortunate as it is that good people have to suffer for histories of discrimination, the election of these leaders and their ability to cope under pressure and continuation to fight for some important progressive goals is a good sign. It shows that American and Australian people are slowly but surely re-imagining what authoritative leadership means. Their perception of powerful people is expanding. It may be that these new leaders are suffering from a full spectrum of deeply ingrained prejudice, but this is the beginning of the long march towards equality that will improve all aspects of these societies. It already is, as young disadvantaged black males are seeing a brighter future for themselves and refraining from crime in the US, and as young Australian females are inspired to aim and achieve even higher, now that they have a new role model.


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