Last year, Australia appointed a new Race Discrimination Commissioner, 30-year-old Dr. Tim Soutphommasane who grew up in south-west Sydney, to tackle what he describes as casual bigotry and cyber racism. Soutphommasane who is a first generation Australian of Chinese and Lao heritage says he’s all to familiar with experiencing racial slurs and wants to shed light on the cyber-racism taking place in Australia.
During a recent speech at the University of Western Australia, Soutphommasane spoke about the “very marked increase” in cyber-racism complaints. He said between 2012-13, complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission citing racial hatred rose 59 per cent. He also stated that cyber racism accounted for 41 per cent of the racial hatred complaints, up from 17 per cent the previous year.
“These are all reminders we cannot be complacent about racism. While over the long run we have done very well and we have been an open and generous country, we cannot take this for granted. We see a lot of racism now being aired on Facebook or through YouTube. This adds a new dimension to the challenge of fighting racism. There was a very marked increase in cyber-racism complains in the past year. It’s still too early to know whether it’s a definitive trend … but there’s enough there to suggest we have to take care and monitor it,” Dr. Soutphommasane said.
Racism against Aboriginals and other ethnic minorities in Australia has been an uphill battle. Just last year, a Facebook page that was once shut down for its racist depictions of Aboriginal people, caused anti-discrimination organizations to confront Facebook about their policies. It wasn’t until yesterday that the Aboriginal Memes 2014 was finally shut down.
Dr. Soutphommasane said Australia should not forget it had “been a tremendous success as a multicultural society”.