The constant negative reporting of African Australians has been corrosive to the community’s sense of identity, says the director and co-founder of Africa Media Australia Clyde Sharady.
“We construct our identity from what has been reflected back on us…the media reflects the society,” he says.
Sharady says a negative headline can have “devastating consequences”, demoralising the African Australian community.
He also noted how misreporting of the so-called Apex gang as solely comprising Sudanese youth had affected opportunities for youth of African background.
Associate Professor of Marketing/Public Relations at Swinburne University, Kwamena Kwansah-Aidoo, says an African Australian perspective is often missing from such articles.
“They never go and interview people who actually experience those things,” says Kwansah-Aidoo. “They always talk to politicians or some people who have no idea what it is like to experience racism.”
Kwansah-Aidoo says poor reporting of African Australians mirrors society’s institutionalised views.
“To a larger extent I think it’s a reflection of Australia as a society, because they report within certain structures,” he says. “The people that do the reporting didn’t just get there by chance. They’ve grown up and been taught and learnt things within a system that largely supports that kind of thinking, directly or indirectly.”
Zione Walker-Nthenda, president of Incubate Foundation, says communities must engage in dialogue as a first step to challenging fears and stereotypes of African Australians.
“Proximity is power. If you want to understand people, be close to them,” she says.
Incubate, which focuses on mentoring young African Australians to reach their potential through workshops and programs, has been a positive force in the African Australian community amid media representations that, according to Walker-Nthenda, seek to either portray African Australians as “victims or villains”.
Walker Nthenda says African Australians want to be seen as individuals rather than as stereotypes.
For Mariam Issa, who migrated to Australia from Somalia over a decade ago, such feelings of cultural isolation are familiar.
Reflecting on her arrival in Australia, Issa says: “I used to say we came with a cultural currency that was inflated, so we could not buy anything with it.”
Now living in Brighton, a largely white community, Issa knows first-hand that integrating into a new society is not easy.
“Everything they knew about themselves was being disintegrated in this new culture,” she says.
Aware that some sections of the media will never change, Sharady believes the negative reporting is intertwined with the political views of reporters.
“The right-wing media will continue to be what they are, because there is a bit of a spectrum where there’s the anti-migrant section of the media,” he says. “These people on the right think Australia should not accept more people from outside.”
Sharady co-founded Africa Media Australia in 2013 to provide a platform for African Australians to tell their own stories. He hopes that further reporting of African Australians will come from within their own communities.
*This article was written as part of a Swinburne journalism training program to help final year students more accurately and sensitively report the views of diverse communities, including those of different ethnic or religious background. The training is provided as part of the new third year Specialist Reporting course.