African refugee communities and the imaginary threat of Black male youth

We have the honour of opening the Voice section of the ACRAWSA Blog with Atem Atem and Hafsa Hersi’s respective responses to the media frenzy recently unleashed by Federal and State politicians on the threat alleged ‘African gangs’ pose to the security of the Australian nation. As race scholars/racialised Australians would expect, the debate which accompanied the seeming outburst of youth violence has been immediately tainted with the seed of partition: us law abiding (white) citizens versus them, law breakers (non-white) aliens.

The adjective un-Australian quickly followed any mention of youth violence, the projection of which in the Australian public sphere immediately resonated with the country’s representation of non-white masculinity: unruly, aggressive and ultimately dangerous. As the first contributor, Atem Atem highlights, surveillance and punishment were in fact immediately advanced as the most effective measures for dealing with the problem, and by implication, all African youth inhabiting the national space.

The refugee status of most in the South-Sudanese community further compounded the colour line. Whereas the nation’s benevolence is expected to be returned in the form of gratitude, any other response to the actual conditions of such ‘generous’ acts of inclusion is normally dubbed as the failure to ‘integrate.’ As the second contributor, Hafsa Hersi, acutely observes, not by chance, media reports have turned instances of South Sudanese youth violence into those of a ‘problem group’ – that is, an inherent proneness to commit crime across the whole spectrum.

The pathologisation of the entire community has made its appearance as the awkward relative coming to visit from the other side of the Pacific. As both contributors note, parallels with Black and white America have been both implicit and explicit. For Atem, like with the Black family in the United States, the blaming of allegedly ‘absent fathers’ for the violent behavior of young men instantly obscures the more nuanced interplay of factors such as rebellion against patriarchal figures and the conspicuous alienation experienced by Black youth in Australian schools, welfare agencies and on the streets. For Hersi, the rendering of instances of violent crime into the problem of a group living ‘parallel lives’ mirrors the systematic racial profiling and criminalisation faced by African-American youth.

Besides reminding us how the alleged outbreak of violence is an Australian problem, both contributors point to a more relational and productive framework than the current media induced panic: communities’ refusal to be pitted against each other for Atem and cosmopolitan interconnectedness for Hersi. We hope the reader finds in these contributions an insightful intervention into the current debate to accompany the refreshing approach adopted by the #AfricanGangs Twitter campaign.


See also:

The other side of the story



Dr Maria Elena Indelicato is a Lecturer in Media Studies at the Ningbo Institute of Technology, Zhejiang University, China. She received her Ph.D. from the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies, University of Sydney, Australia. In her recently published monograph Australia’s New Migrants, she examines the intersections of race and emotions in Australian public discourses regarding ‘Asian’ international students while approaching the latter as subjects of the Australian border. Her work has been also published in feminist, race and cultural studies journals such as Outskirts: Feminisms along the Edge, Critical Race and Whiteness Studies, Chinese Cinemas, and Inter-Asia Cultural Studies.

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