March 13, 2014

Reconfiguring Racism: Conference Review #3

This is part three of a three part series by Elena Meredith about Reconfiguring Anti-racism; Tolerance, Harmony, Inclusion or Justice– an international conference hosted by the Centre for citizenship and globalisation  at Deakin University, Melbourne December 2013. Post one summarised her views on the conversation around conference themes ‘Tolerance’ and ‘Harmony’. Part two discussed her experience of the conference discourse around ‘Inclusion’ and ‘Justice’. We close with part three, a conclusion of her thoughts and experiences and her take home learnings.

Professor Ratnesh Nagda suggested in his plenary paper on “Intergroup dialogue” that anti-racism uses all of the lenses suggested in the conference themes:

Tolerance to enable mutually engaging relationships
Harmony which results only from constructive conflict engagement
Inclusion with its critical analysis of power and a focus on resources as much as identity
Justice which equalizes power to enable the fundamental changes to be determined and resourced across identities.


One of the interesting warnings sounded by Peter Husek and Katerina Tvrdà was to anti-racism groups and activists who in our “anti-racism strategies” can ourselves:

  • adopt paternalistic positions
  • use images which perpetuate stereotypes with no consultation of how “others” want to be represented and recognised
  • use the same discursive weapons of “bad other” and “good other”
  • seek to control racist stories leading to a focus on the stories rather than on developing understanding through statistics and facts
  • compete with each other for credibility and resources detracting from the real issues of the outcomes of racism

I would have to accept that this conference did provide the opportunities for “debate” promised in the welcome from the chair. However, little attention was given on how to “walk the talk”. For me, the most meaningful conversations were in the breaks with indigenous artists, Australian activists and educators who described how alive and thriving racism is in their communities. It was salutary to be reminded again how true this still is too in the systems of Aotearoa. We were told that Nelson Mandela’s cell number 46664 has become a call to collective activism and were reminded of his commitment during his “trial” that “…these are ideals I hope to live for and achieve but if necessary I am prepared to die for”.

We are privileged indeed that we do not usually have to ponder this possibility. However, there is still much to do as an activist educator. Even if the conference itself did not go as far ahead as I had anticipated, I take seriously my responsibility to re-examine my own “blindfold” as a white educator; support our students to recognise and remove theirs and in an election year to ensure that we do indeed follow Heather’s reminder to make anti-racism a collective election issue.

To read parts one or two of this series, click on the ‘Reviews’ category or the ‘Elena Meredith’ tag.

Elena Meredith

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