The presentations and the ensuing discussions explored contemporary issues relating to the experience of Somali-Australians. The two speakers, Dr. Yusuf Omar and Hussein Mahmud (PhD candidate) tackled issues relating to identity and the challenges faced by the community.
As a precursor to the discussion, forum participants completed a survey asking two questions:
Dr. Omar presented extracts from his dissertation and provided forum participants with an exploratory comparison between Somali-American and Somali-Australian experiences in the diaspora. He discussed how these two communities relate to their respected adopted countries with regards to culture, employment opportunities and general experiences of living in a new country. The following are a few of the findings from Dr. Omar’s study:
Somali-American youth are more likely to develop a stronger affinity to their adopted country than Somali Australian youth.
Somali youth in America tend to believe in the ‘American Dream’.
Most Somali youth don’t have a strong affinity with their clan identity.
Somali-Americans are more politically engaged with the American political system than Somali-Australians.
Somali-American youth have more visible role models such as Somali- American politicians, principals, lawyers and business people. Such role models aren’t as prevalent in Australia meaning that Somali-Australian youth don’t have identifiable, renowned role models in the public sphere that they can aspire to be like.
There exists intergenerational conflict between Somali-Australian youth and their parents. Whilst this conflict is evident across various issues, it is most obvious on those relating to decision making. Somali-Australian youth, unlike their parents, favour a more consultative approach to decision making.
Hussein Mahmud the second of the panel speakers examined the Somali-Australian experience through a political lens whilst also drawing on his area of study. He highlighted the issue of racism faced by African communities in Australia, and the implications this has on the Somali-Australian identity. He presented statistics and examples of how racism affects the everyday lives of community members, particularly with regards to employment and their sense of belonging. The following are a few of the points made by Hussein:
Constant ‘culture talk’ from the media and wider Australian population acts to create a single negative narrative of the Somali- Australians, eg. ‘lazy’, ‘problematic’ ,‘pirates’, ‘radical’.
The Somali-Australian community needs to be proactive rather than reactive to negative media and government stereotyping. It is imperative that the discussions go beyond the simplistic analyses that often take place within the community itself. For this reason, forums like this are vital to the community growth.
The problem of racism from the wider community is not one for the Somali community to combat but an Australian problem.
Somali-Australian success stories should not be presented as anomalies and such individuals should not be portrayed as those who have won against the ‘struggle’. This description creates a sense of exception and an unnecessary need for acceptance.
One can feel both Australian and Somali, but should remain critical and question what being Australian actually means/entails.
The event was well received with much discussion and learning. SAAG plans to facilitate more forums relating to issues of concern for the Somali-Australian community. Representatives from SAAG have subsequently been invited as guest speakers of the National Somali Youth Leaders Summit, hosted by the Somali Podcast Project.
To accessed Yusuf’s PhD thesis on Somali youth and social integration click here or the link below