We seem to be in a golden age for progressivism and social justice. The last few years have seen our world explore new ways of protest and resistance, especially with the advent of social media. This has allowed social movements to happen worldwide concurrently, and change has been affected on a larger scale than we’ve seen before, on platforms we’re creating on an almost daily basis. From hashtags such as Oscars So White, Me Too and Times Up, and Black Lives Matter, to the push for greater political awareness and participation following the election of Donald Trump and Brexit, our sociopolitical landscape is dynamic in a new and exciting way.

So it’s not really surprising that this attitude has bled through to our very own Guild elections, but unfortunately not in a good way. The obsession with appearing progressive has meant that so many actions and policies advocated by parties in the election are hollow and only meant to be good PR fodder for votes. It seems progressivism has now been demoted to how many candidates of colour are visible on broadsheets and ballots, and how many candidates can pull international voters by speaking passable (or even terrible) Mandarin phrases, sometimes to non-Chinese East Asian people that aren’t even international students.

If we’re being honest, Guild has been run by upper class rich white students for a very long time under the STAR ticket. I’m sick of pretending that rich white woman after rich white woman being Guild President is a progressive thing, even under the empty clichés of girl power. I’m sick of pretending that white women from any party can represent me in an authentic way when white feminism has done way more harm than good to me, especially on this campus. I’m sick of these candidates deciding what the markers for progressivism are.

On the other hand, I’m also sick of having to pretend that having a person of colour in a position of power is automatically a good thing – the identity politics surrounding this are getting out of hand. It’s infantilising and dehumanising to be told that you are the right person for the job just because you’re brown or black, without even analysing the experience that the person needs for these roles, or the values and attitudes that they hold. No person of colour is inherently ideologically pure nor are their personal values indicative of what is morally right in our social landscape; believing in this is what allows decisions like condemning the Dalai Lama on behalf of mainland Chinese international students to take place.

For the record, the experiences of people of colour from their homeland are always going to be different to the experiences of people of colour who have been born in or raised in Western societies. This is why a Western Chinese woman is more likely to have a problem with cultural appropriation of the Cheongsam while someone from the mainland probably won’t see it as an issue at all. Also, here’s a handy tip! People of colour are not a monolith, even if they belong to the same continent or country. Most countries have their own social hierarchies based on ethnicity, skin colour, class, caste, religion and language, and thus power dynamics work there differently. These hierarchies will create differences in political ideology, just like they do here in Australia. Just some general knowledge for you all.

But I digress. Student politics has always attracted three specific types of people – power hungry and manipulative mini politicians, genuine people who want to do good and get sucked into the stupol machine, and unsuspecting freshers and recruits who get swindled into 5am mornings and lecture bashes on policies they don’t really know all that well. I know this because I was involved with student politics last year and ultimately decided not to run (which for the record, turned out wonderfully for me, thanks for asking!). I also saw my friends involved in the election burn out terribly, to the point that they still have guilt and shame over their actions last year and have burned all bridges out of anger and frustration. I got into Guild politics because of friends and left it even more disillusioned with the Guild than before.

Of course, our tickets must be representative of the diversity of the population they seek to represent. But the desire for genuine, authentic and empathetic representation has given way to abject tokenism. It seems like people of colour are now being treated as nothing more than racialised objects that show how forward thinking a ticket is. It’s honestly insulting to have hordes of white candidates year after year essentially say, “Look how good I am to be associating with all these coloured people! I’m a good person and my association with these people backs that up!” (Also for the record, if Launch wants to show how progressive their OB ticket is, maybe next time don’t stick all the people of colour in the back! Rosa Parks kind of already talked about this.)

At the end of the day, what we really need from the Guild is simple. It doesn’t matter who is more progressive. What we need is well thought out and realistic policies written by people with lived experiences in those areas, and practical experiences in volunteering and politics. What we don’t need is some pseudo-intellectual fight over progressivism to get votes, or to be treating people of colour the way Real Housewives treat poodles in designer handbags.

Happy Guild elections I guess?

Ishita Mathur
Ishita is pleased to tell you that against all odds, Virgo season is treating her quite well! @ishitamathur7