How are Young Africans Affected by the Media?

Interview with Afadang Akuey by Denisse Sandoval

In this current climate of fear mongering and election cycles, the Justice Cluster is looking at ways we can better support people in our culturally and linguistically diverse communities. We have campaigned on issues relating to diversity and inclusion in the past and will continue to do so. Part of this effort also includes listening to people’s stories and learning from them how we can best help.

Afadang is a young South Sudanese woman who has lived in Australia for more than 10 years. She occasionally attends Uniting Church worship with her community and works at the Twich Women’s Sewing Collective, which was established by a small group of women from the Twich community of South Sudan to support inter-cultural communication, cooperation, and establish opportunities for education and employment. Afadang is also completing her studies to become a nurse.

She met Bradon French, the Intergenerational Ministry Youth worker, through Somers Camp, where she’s been a leader for 6 years. Afadang describes herself as a social justice warrior, so was happy to be interviewed for this edition of the JustAct.

Born in Khartoum, Sudan, she and her family moved to Egypt when she was 4 years old due to the war in her home country. The family arrived in Australia in 2004 when she was just 7 years old. She remembers being on a ship and arriving in Egypt, and the racism the Sudanese community faced there. Afadang recalls walking down the street and hearing children yelling out “chocolate chocolate”, while older people in the community could not find jobs and had things thrown at them.

“Arriving in Australia was very different and weird, how people greeted each other, even learning English was difficult. Fitting in was difficult” says Afadang.

She went to an English language centre before going to primary school, but didn’t understand jokes that kids would make even after she learned English.

Many of her family members are still in South Sudan and Kenya, as the family here in Australia work hard to help them. 

“It’s very difficult because you are always worrying about them, and there is a sense of privilege because we are lucky to be here, we have to work and try to help our families back home. Mum has applied to have the rest of the family brought over here and it has been rejected several times” she states.

Afadang wants people in Australia to get to know the South Sudanese people for who they truly are.

I asked her how the current racist rhetoric against African young people has affected her and her community. She replied: “There are a lot of kids lashing out and feeling attacked by the media. They feel like they don’t really belong in this country even though they were born here. They are told they don’t belong and are not welcome here. Negativity towards young Africans on social media has an emotional impact on kids and yet they are expected to have the emotional maturity to deal with this.”

“They can’t just be expected to not react or not be affected by this” explains Afadang.

“I take public transport a lot and have noticed in the last six months, as a black young person, you get more people staring at you. I can feel people looking at me and they move their bags away from me. I have seen a Sudanese guy sit next to a white guy on the train and the white guy just got up and moved. There are more bold racists attacks and politicians make it seem like it’s ok to act that way and yell racial slurs. The media portrayal of young Africans as gang members does have an everyday impact” she says.

When asked about her community’s mental wellbeing, Afadang was concerned about her younger siblings and friends.

“We have all been impacted, I don’t feel safe going out anymore. On a train I feel anxiety over a possible racist attack. I constantly worry about my younger siblings. For example my younger brother, who is very tall, could be seen as threatening despite him being so peaceful.”

Afadang has noticed that the media focus on the African gang issue has resurfaced after being dormant for a while. “People don’t see this. It was quiet for months and then the African gang problem came back right before the election.”

When asked what she would say to a Victorian who is afraid of gangs, she said “We don’t even know where these gangs are! All this talk about African gangs from  Sudan, and we as a community are very tightly knit, and we don’t see these gangs.”

Finally I asked Afadang what we can do as a church and social justice advocates to support young African people facing these issues. Her answer was a clear list of practical steps  everyone can take part in: “Keep listening to the South Sudanese community who are telling you they are affected by the media’s constant belittling and vilifying. Listen to them and stand up for them. Be supportive; call people out when they are being racists; talk to your friends; and correct people when they say there is a gang problem.”

This year’s social justice convention will include a focus on the issue of violence in communities and how marginalised groups are affected by it. If you would like to attend please follow this link to register for the social justice convention.