WRAP #22: World Cup lessons, microaggessions and 60 seconds with Rinda Modut

Well hello again,

So we’ve made it to the halfway point of 2014. Not sure how you’re feeling about it but we are BUSY.

Not that we’re complaining .. the constant work is keeping us warm.

This month we’re reflecting on what the World Cup can teach us, raising the sometimes uncomfortable topic of everyday racism (yep, we’ve all been guilty of it) and then spending 60 seconds with the dynamo that is Rinda Modut.

Until next time,

The WRAP Team

What the World Cup can teach us about teamwork

Even if you’re not keen on soccer, or sport for that matter, it’s difficult not to ignore the spectacle that is World Cup Soccer.  Try not to be swept up in the infectious beat of the official FIFA World Cup anthem ‘We are one (Ole Ola)’: “…show the world where you’re from, show the world we are one.”

The use of sport as a metaphor for teamwork is, of course, not new, but the lyrics did make us question the dynamics of coming together as one, while still maintaining a sense of ‘where we’re from’.  The work being done with and for immigrant and refugee women’s health is an excellent example how this ‘we are one’ anthem works in reality.  Women who immigrate to Australia, as with all individuals and groups, are culturally and linguistically diverse and differ from one another according to a whole range of other factors.  As an organisation that is committed to achieving health and wellbeing for and by immigrant and refugee women, the MCWH team (and this includes our partner organisations across Australia) is a representative blend of different cultures, ethnicities and life experiences. The importance of representation can never be underestimated when you are working towards improving your standing on the league ladder. If you’re from a ‘team’ that has been held back by virtue of your gender, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, age and/or ability it makes sense to have someone who is not only willing to play for you, but who can also show the world where you’re from.

Where we come from is just as important as where we’re coming from. Of course, improvements to immigrant and refugee women’s health require teamwork, but it’s very often solidarity and how everyone works towards our goals that count. In order to kick those goals, you need a game plan. Immigrant and refugee women’s health and wellbeing, in particular, needs a strategy that covers a wide field.  Health inequities are exactly that, the lack of fairness and justice in health. This lack is never simply a result of biology, but more about the lack of opportunities to prevent ill health and promote wellbeing. The plan is most likely to be most effective when immigrant and refugee women are controlling the play in the areas that impact on their health and wellbeing: affordable housing, stable employment, financial security, social inclusion, and healthy relationships. Violence prevention is a good start because for far too long it has been given the proverbial yellow card, while crisis response has continued to run the field. We need a game plan that will allow the teams of immigrant and refugee women (and men) to change the state of play and allow us to understand how violence can be prevented in the first place. This will require various players with various skills and talents, but it’s essential that immigrant and refugee women have the chance to show that they too can bend it better than Beckham.

As with soccer, not all of us can be a striker or a goal keeper, yet we each play a part in the team and we have an implicit understanding that we all need to do our bit to aim for the ultimate goal: health equity for immigrant and refugee women. Our eyes are firmly on the ball.

The black, white and invisible

Picture this: a woman is at a clothing boutique and asks the shop assistant for some help.  She can’t decide which colour shirt to buy and holds up the shirts to her face while the shop assistant brightly remarks, ‘Any of those colours would suit you, you’re so pretty for an African!’  Is this remark a compliment, insult, or racial vilification?  Here’s a clue: unless you have an aptitude for interpreting legislation, the current Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act can be a little mind boggling, which leaves you with the first two options. Actually, it’s a trick question, because we should have added the option ‘microaggression’ (the correct answer). But it did get you thinking, didn’t it?

The term ‘microaggression’ was used by Columbia professor Derald Sue to refer to ‘brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of colour.’ You can find other examples of microaggressions here or here.

People often say and do things that hurt others. Sometimes those behaviours are deliberate and sometimes they’re not. The example scenario is not straightforward because the shop assistant may not be aware that she has said something offensive and as a result, is unlikely to understand the impact it may have. However, it is intent–as opposed to impact–that plays a central role in microaggessions. A common reaction when people are called out on their actions or words is, ‘Oh, I didn’t mean it like that!’ People tend to feel guilty and defensive after they realise they have offended someone and rely on their intent to somehow justify the comment: ‘I meant it as a compliment’, ‘I’m not racist, my best friend’s African’, or ‘Wow, you’re so sensitive.’

It’s understandable why this is a common reaction. If these comments do indeed perpetuate negative or racist attitudes, then no one wants to be labelled a racist. But microaggression is less about you and more about the impact of your words on others. Impact outweighs intent, always. That’s the black and white of it. This doesn’t mean that if you’re called out on microaggression, you’re racist. But it might be a red flag that you need to step back and reflect upon the effect of your words because such everyday communications are not as ‘normal’ or harmless as you might think. This is what needs to be made visible: there is no such thing as being racially neutral because whiteness is the norm and our default way of thinking (at least in Australia). In our society, whiteness is invisible: white people are not ‘ethnic’ or non-Asian or non-black. In contrast, people of every other race are made conspicuous by their difference, by their being non-white.

Most people most of the time don’t intend to offend others. But people don’t also get to choose what other people should or shouldn’t find racist, especially when it’s coming from a privileged position.  The invisible nature of microaggressions is really what is at stake here. We need to make visible the racial power hierarchy that underpins it so that our ‘normal’, everyday interactions can be conducted on equal footing regardless of where you come from.

60 seconds with Rinda Modut


Personal Care Attendant and Multicultural Champion at Southern Cross Care Vic

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?

I’m enjoying my job caring for the elderly. Back home I used to help my grandmother. She looked after us when we became separated from our mother during the war. I really enjoyed being with her and doing things for her.

If you had a magic wand, what would you use it for?

I’d change the way the world looks at women.

If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?

The Minister for Health in South Sudan, there are lots of things happening there at the moment.

What would you work for instead of money?


If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australian culture, what would it be?

To look for others in the community who can support you.

What’s your favourite word in the English language? Why?

‘Power’ because it means a lot: you can do a lot of things, you can stand up for yourself, you can raise your voice, build yourself up with it and make a lot of changes if you have it.

When was the last time you laughed out loud?

I often laugh out loud with my seven year old daughter – children are always doing and saying funny things and sometimes they don’t even have to say anything.  The other day she took out a clean pair of underwear out of the drawer thinking it was hers, but it turned out to be mine.  The expression on her face made me laugh out loud!  

Your most cherished memory?

Back home we used to visit a place regularly during my childhood and I always return to that place and the other children I used to play with and I wonder where they are now.  It’s a time and place that keeps coming back to me.   

Tell me about an amazing woman you know.

My grandmother who had twelve children and taught me lot about life. At dinner time, she would always tell us stories about her life and the changes that have happened in the country especially because of the war.   

What are you reading right now? (e.g. blogs, books, magazines, or anything else!)

I’m reading a lot of women’s health information for a bilingual education course I’m completing.  

Do you have a song/music that inspires and motivates you?

It’s a song from South Sudan that roughly translates as ‘The peace has come and the sun has risen’  

Is there a favourite cultural tradition that you like to follow?

Sharing a joint bank account with my husband. I don’t know if it’s an Australian tradition, but my husband and I share our finances and we work together on saving.  Back home, it’s men who often control the money.

What does multiculturalism mean to you?

It means we’re all in this country together.


Bilingual education about palliative care is opening doors to better health

MCWH has played a key role in raising awareness across Victoria about the benefits of Palliative Care, through the Culturally Responsive Palliative Care Community Education project, in partnership with Palliative Care Victoria and the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria. For the past few months Bilingual Health Educators have been visiting community groups to deliver information in Turkish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Maltese, Italian and Vietnamese and we’ve had a wonderful response.

Mr. Danh Duc Tran, the Chair of the Vietnamese Senior Citizens Group of Hume, took the time to send our Health Education Team feedback from participants who:

… talked very highly about your way of delivering the topic: culturally correct and appropriate when addressing the audience (being elderly Vietnamese); self-confident, showing mastery of the topic, excellent communication skills, and good emphasises on important points. They do wish you all the best, and send you a big thank you.

Having learned about Palliative Care, the Vietnamese Senior Citizens Group of Hume have now booked MCWH for an additional 6 information sessions covering a new health topic each month. Mr. Tran said:

Educational seminars on health topics such as what you are providing are desperately needed by our members … most of the 70+ of our group’s members are aged over 65, and they have been encountering a multitude of health issues, which due to their language deficiencies, they could not discuss properly or in detail with their family doctors or health services providers. Now they do have a chance to understand their health problems, the preventative measures they are to take, and where they could get help or treatment: all thanks to you and your organisation. What else can they ask for?

If you belong to a community group that would like to learn more about health and Australian health services in a language other than English,  you can arrange for MCWH Bilingual Health Educators to visit you or request free information about health topics in over 70 languages by contacting MCWH.