In the wake of the United States, where more than half of states are discussing plans to curb racial debate in the classroom, Australia has seen the issue gain traction in its legislature. Last month, the nation’s Senate approved, by a 30-28 vote, a motion calling on the federal government to “throw critical race theory onto the national agenda.”
This measure comes as the country revises the content of the school curriculum, which establishes the knowledge and skills to be taught to all students in basic education.
Carried out every six years, the review is coordinated by an independent body, the Program Evaluation Authority (Acara), which develops the document alongside professors and experts, but also goes through two other fundamental stages: a consultation public, which ended on July 8, and the approval of education ministers at the federal, state and municipal levels.
The main point of debate is how the revised program hears about British colonization on Australian territory – from the second half of the 18th century – and the consequences of this process for indigenous peoples.
The new document puts more emphasis on excerpts that approach colonization from the perspective of indigenous peoples, particularly in the History Review. It’s passages like the one that says to investigate ‘the destruction of lifestyles and cultures, border wars, genocide and how the impacts of colonization are viewed as an invasion from the perspective of many Australians. native “.
There are also topics that explore the unfolding of this violence in the country’s institutions, such as studying the ‘context and causes of Indigenous Australians’ struggle for rights and freedom, such as discriminatory legislation and policies. “.
Another excerpt also says that we must study the dispute over the January 26 leave. Nationally, the date is celebrated as Australia Day, an allusion to the day the first British fleets landed in the country in 1788. Indigenous peoples have questioned this title and, since 1938, the ‘called the Day of Mourning – a reference to the massacres committed by the colonizers.
This kind of thinking has troubled the far right in Australia. The motion passed in a close vote on June 21 was moved by Senator Pauline Hanson of One Nation, a legend known for advocating xenophobic and anti-immigration policies.
The proposed new curriculum makes no literal reference to the critical race theory raised in the motion. Established in the mid-1980s in the United States, it is a school of legal thought founded by black and Latino professors to study how racism permeates the logic of institutions and becomes structural, intruding into the lives of citizens even when ‘there is no act of discrimination.
Hanson used social media to speak out against the racial debate in schools. In a Facebook post on June 15, he wrote: “It is because of critical race theory that we have terms like ‘systematic racism’ and ‘white privilege’. It was because of her that Australian children were publicly humiliated for being oppressive white people.
She has also been invited to speak on television shows on the subject. On June 16, in an interview with Sky News, Hanson said his priority was to ban critical race theory in schools. He added that the United States is serving as an example and also has the support of the show’s host Alan Jones. When the Senator said: “People don’t think it is worrying, but it is,” Jones added: “Of course it is.”
For Alana Lentin, professor at the University of Western Sydney and former president of the Australian Association for the Critical Studies of Race and Whiteness, the scope of the motion may lie in critical theory, but the real goal is to oppose any symbol of the anti-racist movement. . “It’s something symbolic, with the goal of joining the global movement against critical race theory,” he says. “And Pauline Hanson wants to position herself as one of the greatest articulators of the far right.
It is not known if the government will take action to limit racial debates. Senators from the conservative coalition that governs the country, however, strongly supported the motion.
In the session that voted on the text, Senator Jonathon Duniam of the Liberal Party of Australia – the acronym for Prime Minister Scott Morrison – said the government would veto any part of the new program based on it. what does critical race theory say? “This theory is based on the belief that the laws and institutions of our country are inherently racist,” he said.
Green Party Senator Mehreen Faruqi – who opposed the agenda, alongside Labor – said what was being talked about was not critical race theory and that Australian media such as Fox News and Sky News had contributed to this disinformation. “We are not going to stop fighting against systematic racism and people who are marginalized and discriminated against,” he added.
In addition to the support of the governing coalition, other nods of the head are to be noted. In April, when the first version of the new curriculum was released, Education Minister Alan Tudge, also of the Liberal Party, expressed concern. “I think we should honor Indian history and teach it, but it should not come at the expense of shaming our western heritage which made us the liberal democracy we are today,” a- he said in an interview with Sky News. The Minister has also indicated that he will seek to make changes on these points.
Alana Lentin, of the University of West Sydney, says the new curriculum advances not by including Indigenous history, but by addressing how educators should teach it. “The way the document presents itself today is up to the professor, and many teach the history of colonization only from the point of view of the colonizers.”
“Students of indigenous peoples are often taught with a savage and primitive image, not to mention border wars, massacres or even indigenous laws, customs and policies,” he says. “None of this is taught unless you are lucky enough to have a teacher who thinks it matters.
Today, Australia has around 798,400 indigenous people, or 3.3% of the population, according to data from the national statistics agency. They are divided between the Aboriginal people, who live in mainland Australia, and the people of the Torres Strait Islands, an archipelago that is part of the state of Queensland in the northeast of the country.
In a process similar to what happened to the indigenous Brazilian peoples during Portuguese colonization, in Australia there were also massacres of indigenous populations, which are gradually being recorded in history. A map compiled by researchers at Newcastle University and updated periodically shows that from 1788 to 1930 the country experienced 302 massacres – the deliberate killing of six or more defenseless people in a single operation, depending on the methodology adopted – involving land conflicts. At least 7,952 natives were murdered there by settlers.
Professor Lentin believes that critics’ breathtaking breath of the racial debate in the classroom came, in part, in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which staged protests around the world after George Floyd’s assassination in the United States. , in May 2020 But he notes that there is a historical background in Australia.
It refers to the dispute over the different interpretations of the country’s history. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, after the Indigenous Australian organization gained weight, conservative academics coined the phrase ‘history of the black armband’. version of a past marked by massacres and violence aims to make Australians feel guilty and tarnish their success story.
A petition initiated by Lentin and other professors brought together 530 people, mostly academics, against the motion passed in the Senate. Among other things, the text of the document specifies that this type of attack by public figures “has the effect of legitimizing racism in a colonial society and seeks to undermine the principle of academic freedom”.
In the midst of the open discussion in the Australian Senate, the analysis of the new program is advancing. But there are still a few months before the country’s education ministers give the green light. The idea is for the document to be effectively implemented in schools by 2022.
States will have the autonomy to decide whether to accept the material in its entirety or to adapt it. Queensland, for example, is adopting the curriculum as drafted nationally. The State of New South Wales is making adaptations to meet local demands.