You want a voice?

Gingerbreak man (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

When issues like the representation of cultural diversity on Oz TV, racist comments against Asian Australian soldiers, or anti-Asian pollies hit the news, my Twitter and Facebook streams start humming with responses and opinions.

It’s great to know about what everyone’s thinking and how they view the various engagements with the controversies.

I tap into quite a few Asian Australian community pockets through my AASRN, Peril, and (now defunct) asian-australian_discuss connections. I’d be the first to admit that not many of my Asian Australian connections are those within badged ethnic community groups (e.g. Chinese societies or Malaysian associations). This is somewhat deliberate. I’ve never had the patience (or stubbornness) to fight the good fight from within one of those organisations, and am cynical about the reasons why many people seek to be leaders in them.

Inevitably, however, when issues like these emerge, I start hearing pleas (sometimes, they feel more like demands) for a representative body or voice for Asian Australians.

Some start saying things to me like: ‘Where is our voice?’ ‘Who speaks for us?’ ‘Why aren’t our opinions getting out there?’

When I’m not feeling cynical and cranky, I commiserate and agree that it’s very difficult to be heard sometimes. That it would be great to have better representation and champions out there in media-land. That, sometimes, there does need to be an organisation who will rise up and smite those who seek to stereotype, dismiss or devalue.

When I am feeling cynical and cranky (which seems to be with increasing frequency), I may still say some of those things outwardly. But, inwardly, I am annoyed. Sometimes fuming. Occasionally furious.

What I’d love to say, but usually never do, is: If you’re that worked up about an issue, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

Don’t whinge to me about not having your voice heard if you’ve never tried to put it out there.

Have you submitted op.eds to the major newspapers or current affairs blogs? Written Letters to the Editor? Responded to the issue on email, Facebook or Twitter? Blogged furiously about it (ahem)? Rallied people to make a stand, or bent the ears of the powers-that-be?

There’s nothing that lights my wick faster than people who complain about situations and never do anything about them (except people who complain about situations, never do anything about them, but demand that I do something about them).

These days, anyone with access to a computer or other media channel has the means to get their voice out there. Whether that voice gets heard is another thing, but don’t bellyache about it until you’ve at least tried.

There are a gazillion social justice and consciousness-raising groups out there, many of whom could (and do) address stuff you’d like to get out there: responding to anti-Asian rhetoric, stopping the vilification of refugees, bringing more balance into discussions about ‘problematic’ international students, the ‘white-washing’ of Asian Australian stories, etc. Might it be worth joining forces with them? Working/volunteering with them? Having a chat, at least…? Or start your own, if you find that no organisation fits with your vision.

In addition, there are fantastic organisations like Our Community that provide resources, training, and general know-how about building community organisations and their profiles. I’d say that much of this information also works for individuals and groups who are looking to raise awareness of various issues or just gather a bunch of like-minded people.

In ranting about this, I totally agree that there should be more Asian Australian voices and opinions circulating out in the public sphere. My ideal is having so many examples of what “Asian Australian” can mean that it becomes very difficult to stereotype or raise up cliched examples because that example will necessarily be riddled with high-profile exceptions.

I know I’ll think of a 100 caveats to add to this post after it goes live, but a red-hot rant has its own value, too. So, I’ll leave it there.

Except for this one point: Do not assume that I am talking about you or anything you’ve said or done. I’ve been doing ‘Asian Australian stuff’ since 1994, when I started my research Masters degree. That’s a helluva long time to be collecting irritating experiences, you know.

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