At Urban List, we believe it is important to recognize pioneers who align their values with their actions, which is why we have partnered with Bank Australia share the inspiring stories of Australians who joined the clean money movement and aligned their bank with their values.
Taking positive action to help make the world a better place takes courage, strength and tenacity. But encouraging and helping others to do the same, well … it’s worth celebrating.
CAN YOU tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Tim, I recently turned 27 and I am the founder and national director of Democracy in color. I was born and raised in Brisbane, my mother is Chinese and my father is Italian … so your quintessential story of Australian multiculturalism.
I studied law and have always been very interested in political advocacy and social change. I have always been interested in aligning my work with my values and helping to build the type of company that I think most people want all over the world. One who is fair, equitable and sustainable.
What inspired you to create Democracy In Color?
I grew up listening to the stories my parents told about the racism they experienced growing up. When my father was growing up, it was all the rage to intimidate Italians. He was bullied for the type of food he brought to school and because his parents did not speak English. I saw my mother regularly racist abuse in public when I was young, and then when I entered high school I began to suffer it myself. My name changed to “Chink” and “Go back to where you came from” has become the weekly playground mantra. My house was swollen, fruit was thrown at me as I passed cars – there was a whole litany of experiences that showed me early on that people were willing to treat me differently because of the color of my skin. I just thought we as a society could do a lot better than that.
As I got older I began to hear other stories from other friends and family members and I also began to engage more deeply in the history of this country with the First Nations people. Seeing the atrocities, both historic and current, that this country has and continues to perpetuate against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people made me think … We have a real record and a real challenge with structural racism. in this country. I wanted to do something about it and so that was the motivation behind launching Democracy In Color.
The other part of starting Democracy In Color was that we saw some key gaps in the anti-racist space. Social change is an ecosystem and a critical role that was missing in this space was political advocacy work. We wanted to create an organization that challenges power over issues that matter to the communities we are part of and work with. The second flaw was that we wanted to be an organization that was actually run by people who suffered racial injustice. Democracy In Color is a racial and economic justice organization run by people of color who experience racial injustice. The third gap was that we wanted to fight racism from a structural point of view, which is why we are also an economic justice organization that works on issues of economic equity. Structural racism manifests itself in our broken inequality system which causes a lot of pain to many people.
Tell us about the organization; How it works?
Democracy In Color is a racial and economic justice organization run by people of color. We carry out three main types of work. First, we run campaigns around economic equity and anti-racism that seek to bring about material change for the community we work with, based on what is important to them, their lives and their families.
The second is to help communities that are impacted by the issues we are working on to try to strengthen their political power and connect them more strongly with decision-makers in the political and social space. This helps to ensure that their voices and leadership are heard by these people and reflected in the political agenda of this country.
Finally, we offer numerous training courses designed to strengthen the political voice and leadership of communities of color. We run many training programs on how you can become a change agent and effective activist in this country. How does our political process work? How can you get involved? All those kinds of questions.
What kind of change do you hope to see in society with the help of this platform?
I think our driving passion is to build a society that honors the inherent dignity and humanity of all, and that is really what it all comes down to. Build a society that sees people with dignity and humanity, without depending on anything else.
What makes “democracy in color” so important?
The urgency of the problem we are working on. This country incarcerates the most indigenous people on the planet. This country is currently grappling with a custody crisis. It has been thirty years since we had a royal commission on aboriginal people in custody and it has been thirty years of inaction without any of the main recommendations being implemented. Thirty years later, there have been over 407 Indigenous deaths in custody without conviction — so no one has helped explain that over 407 people have been killed in our justice system. It’s a big problem.
Aboriginal people have a life expectancy ten years shorter than that of non-Aboriginal people. We have a stolen second generation right now — aboriginal children are ten times more likely to be taken into care out of the home than non-aboriginal children. Then, of course, we see sacred sites that have been sacred to First Nations communities for tens of thousands of years, destroyed by mining companies. Australia is the only Commonwealth of Nations that does not have a treaty with its First Nations.
Next, COVID is a prime example of some of the everyday racism people of color face with an increase in anti-Asian racial abuse due to the racialized nature of the coronavirus. We’ve seen many communities we work with get spat on, racially and physically abused in public – a clear correlation with the narrative around COVID-19. There is a whole litany of examples I can give you of the state of racial injustice in this country. This is why organizations like Democracy in Color are focused on building a society that offers equal opportunities for everyone. I think that’s what makes them so important.
What are your goals for the future of the organization?
To continue to grow. We want it to act on a scale proportional to the magnitude of the challenges we face and we are far from it because the scale we face is enormous. We must increase our resources to meet this challenge. We are currently experiencing multiple, overlapping crises – we are facing the worst humanitarian crisis since WWII, the worst refugee crisis since WWII, we are tearing our planet apart rushing towards climate catastrophe, and of course we are in the midst of this unique global public health crisis in a generation that threatens decades of humanitarian progress.
This is the time for bold ideas, daring initiatives and daring because we don’t have time to play small or tinker around the edges. We’re trying to bring that thinking to Democracy In Color and really scale the organization to a size that meets the challenges we face. We are only about three years old, so we are also trying to develop sustainable and mature processes.
How can everyone help to do their part to work on the justice and equality councils for all Australians?
Well, I think nothing precedes the goal. So the first question we all need to grapple with is “what is our goal in getting involved in diversity, justice and equality?” If our purpose in doing this work is because we feel socially obligated to do it or because this is what we are supposed to say or do, then it is just going to result in cosmetic actions. This will result in saying the right things at the right time but actually doing nothing.
If your purpose in doing this is because you genuinely believe that some aspect of your identity is at a structural disadvantage in this country – that you have some relative privilege in this country and want to use and benefit from that privilege. to break systems of structural inequality – then it will force you to do the hard work.
It’s having tough conversations with friends at dinner parties and family gatherings when there’s no one there to congratulate you. It is using your position and your privileges at work to combat any structural racism that might occur. He shows up at gatherings when there isn’t a big time – when not showing on your TV or newspapers – but shows up anyway. It is doing this difficult work and sometimes this invisible work. I think it starts with a deep soul-searching around why you want to do this in the first place and making sure it’s grounded in a purpose around impact. Impact on the world and construction of a society that honors the intrinsic humanity of all. It’s not about trying to validate an identity you might have of yourself.