Exceeding Stereotypes with Tasneem Chopra

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Exceeding Stereotypes with Tasneem Chopra

‘Don’t believe the hype – exceed it,’ is the title of Tasneem Chopra’s TEDxMelbourne talk she was invited to speak at back in 2013. Whilst discussing the war against stereotypes, Chopra talks about her long coveted desire to ride a Harley-Davidson Motorcycle and how surely a Hijabi on a motorcycle must exceed a stereotype. Since then, “I’ve sat on a Harley,” she says, “but it wasn’t moving.”

“I think that’s as close as it’s going to get for me. In my defence I was wearing high heels at the time, so it really wasn’t going to happen!”

Being invited to speak at a TEDx event is a pretty big deal, but for Chopra it’s just another thing to add to her resume. The 2013 Australian Woman of the Year for the AMAA (Australian Muslim Achievement Awards) is regularly sought out for discussion on social justice issues for programs like Q&A, the Project and The Today Show, just to name a few.

Now returning to her hometown for the Bendigo Writer’s Festival, Chopra will be discussing social justice and media influence, in which can only be considered perfect timing as the city has been embroiled in a nation-wide controversy around the implementation of a local Mosque.

“I did write a piece about it in the Guardian a few years back… It’s not the reason why I want to be visiting Bendigo, but I guess my experience from them being so positive has meant that my response and tone on this issue has been a positive thing.

“I think it’s important to remember that the vast majority of the opposition to the Mosque for example was actually getting traction from outside the region, and that speaks volumes about the nature of the ‘Bendigo-ian’ people who aren’t by definition those kind of agitators. They’re not.”

Chopra’s job title of curator, cross cultural consultant, author and prominent activist means that she’s well educated on the roots of systemic racism and its impacts on today’s culture and society.

“Where it comes from is big, big, structural racism and the way that operates… From language and policy of the Government, to the way the media convey that particular policy.”

When it comes to what is deemed a ‘true Aussie’, Chopra who had an Australian upbringing, but is of African birth and fifth generation Indian heritage says, “post the Indigenous people, we’re all migrants. That’s not a truth that sits comfortably with some people, the sense of entitlement that they feel is unanswerable and they don’t want to negotiate that entitlement and they certainly don’t want to be questioned about it.”

It raises an interesting question about the relationship between the pockets of Australian society who protest immigration and the Australian Government, who currently imprisons 1800 refugees in offshore detention centres.

“A lot of it is the belief that… on one hand they’re going to take your jobs, but on the other hand they’re going to take your benefits. I mean, make up your mind about why you’re frightened of these people! It’s basically fear mongering and you make people fearful about an entity who they don’t know and they don’t understand, and they don’t want to understand them. So it’s a very clever manoeuvre on the part of those responsible – to whip up a frenzy of fear and anxiety about an imaginative evil because for the most part, migrants all over the country, all over Australia are coming for a better life,” she says.

“That’s their sole reason for migration, particularly those who are affected by war – and they wouldn’t leave their home if war hadn’t displaced them, to which, in some extent Australia has been culpable for in creating – these people wouldn’t leave their homes. But to then go and question their integrity and their character, to me is un-Australian… What ever happened to a fair go?”

Written by Caitlin Haddad

Tasneem will discuss such topics when she appears at the Bendigo Writers Festival, which runs from August 12-14. She talks about how people are reflected in the media alongside Bendigo Advertiser editor Nicole Ferrie at 4.45pm on Saturday, August 13. On 10am Sunday, August 14, she speaks with Ken Marchingo alongside Frank Brennan and Samuel Wagan Watson about social justice in writing.
For more panels, workshops and to purchase tickets, visit the website: bendigowritersfestival.com.au.