Painting of the Sharpeville Massacre - (Godfrey Rubens, painter)
There are calls for Labor to restore ‘Harmony Day’, held annually on March 21, to its original name the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, over claims it undermines efforts to identify and address the harm experienced by communities because of racism.
First observed in 1979, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination focuses on the urgency of combatting racism, xenophobia, and related discrimination, while also commemorating the victims of the Sharpeville Massacre.
On March 21, 1960, police in Sharpeville, South Africa, opened fire at a peaceful demonstration against apartheid pass laws, killing 69 black people and wounding 180 others, including children and people attempting to flee.
However, in Australia in 1999, the Liberal Howard government introduced ‘Harmony Day/Week’, as a way of celebrating multiculturalism, respect, and diversity under the notion of ‘Australian-ness’, altering the true meaning of the day.
Greens Deputy Leader and Anti-Racism spokesperson Senator Mehreen Faruqi says ‘Harmony Day’ is a superficial celebration of diversity which ignores the entire point of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – acknowledging and eliminating racism.
Faruqi says, “restoring March 21 to its original name and purpose is an important step in moving towards becoming an anti-racist country.”
“We are far from eliminating racism in Australia. Too many people in Australia feel the sear of racism everyday whether it’s in workplaces, schools, sports, media, public places or parliaments.”
In the Australian Human Rights Commission’s fact sheet on how ‘harmony’ hides structural and systemic racism, it states while the idea of ‘harmony’ can be a positive message, one of the problems with this approach is it may discourage people from speaking up about racism because it can be seen as opposing a harmonious Australian society.
You can read the Human Rights Commission’s Fact Sheet on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination here: