#footscraysowhite

Or, how not to do regional promotion.

Footscray is famously one of Melbourne’s most diverse suburbs. As Alice Pung wrote in the New York Times (and we linked just recently):

Refugees had always moved to Footscray to start anew: Eastern Europeans in the 1950s and ’60s, Southeast Asians in the ’70s and ’80s, Africans in the ’90s and the new century.

Why has Footers always attracted recent immigrants? It’s close. To the city, to the docks, to various centres of industry. There was work, the sort of jobs that don’t require perfect spoken or written English.

And now, of course, it’s gentrifying. For lots of reasons — I’m in the area because it’s as close to the CBD as my carless self can afford. There are university students, Asian expats, investors looking to make a few bucks on a cute little bungalow or a freshly built apartment.

There are also, still, recent immigrants and refugees. Footscray is the home of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, and that’s not even the only local charity dedicated to asylum seekers. My downstairs neighbours are refugees from Sri Lanka.

I don’t know much about urban planning, but I’ve read — and it makes sense — that the ideal suburb contains a mixture of wealth and poverty, and a mixture of businesses and services that cater to both. The cute cafe selling smashed avo for $27 is only a problem if it’s replacing an essential, economically accessible business. So far, my particular corner of the inner west is doing okay in this respect — at least, the new cute cafe was set up in the space occupied by an old cute cafe, their smashed avo is only $9, and the charity store and cheap fish and chippery on the same block are still going strong.

But that’s just one corner of the region. And it’s hard to promote Footscray as a vibrant, exciting place for middle class people to visit and spend money without participating in a narrative of gentrification. Some of that’s just essential to the nature of marketing — and on the one hand, I’m like, it would be cool to have people talk about Footscray without making jokes about heroin and muggings.

On the other hand, you don’t have to promote Footers like this.

(Why is it so hard to embed Facebook videos into WordPress? Is it because they’re both terrible?)

If you’re thinking, “Wow, that sure seems like a lot of white people, considering this is a video set in a famously diverse suburb,” you’re quite right!

But don’t worry, we see people of colour at 9, 14 and 18 seconds in — as a person was kind enough to point out when I mentioned this curious omission. And “not to mention wide variety of culture including markets, noodles and temple … for a super short clip this is actually pretty diverse.”

A pair of Facebook comments directed at Liz, one suggesting that she is looking for offence, the other suggesting that the clip is "incredibly diverse" because it features three people of colour, and noodle dishes and so forth.Silly me, I thought that non-white faces had been elided from this narrative, replaced by white people consuming the trappings of other cultures without dealing with the actual people! Except for the few we permit to serve us, of course.

And, if you look around Footscray for 30 seconds, you’ll definitely only see three non-white faces. No Muslim families, no African-Australian teenage girls walking arm in arm and laughing, no groups of dapper African-Australian men watching the passers-by, no tiny Chinese women pushing their reluctant grandchildren into church with a promise that they’ll visit the library after the service.

There are a lot of white people in Footscray –and one of the magic powers of white people is that we’re invisible to each other, which is how you get claims like “There are no white people in [place that only has a 70% majority of white folk].”

But this video has gone out of its way to erase Footscray’s people of colour, leaving just bowls of pho and the Queen of Heaven Temple where once there were communities. I’m deeply unhappy that my local council has chosen to represent Footscray this way, and I said so on their Facebook page. And, I guess, the good news is that the people agreeing with me outnumbered the people accusing me of looking for things to be offended by.

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