Children making political statements should be applauded, not punished

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

A nine-year-old Brisbane girl has found herself at the centre of a fiery race debate after refusing to stand for the national anthem at her primary school assembly and I wholeheartedly support her.

Harper Nielsen decided to protest her beliefs by remaining seated, as she strongly believed that Advance Australia Fair was not inclusive of indigenous Australians.

I applaud her because at age nine it is a truly wonderful trait to question the world around you and take a stand (or in her case, remain seated).

Not standing would have been a scary thing for her to do and while not everyone supports her decision it should be a quality to be admired and encouraged, not chastised.

Instead, her school gave her lunchtime detention and threatened suspension for her peaceful protest. Rather than allowing her the chance to start a conversation about the anthem and its place in modern Australia, she has been penalised for having a strong opinion.

Now, this young girl is embroiled in a national race debate and adults are talking so badly about her they should be ashamed. She is nine – don't forget that, but also don't underestimate her power

Kids are great agitators for change. There are many examples of children who have taken risks to protest inequity, like Malala Yousafzai (girls' education activist and youngest Nobel Prize laureate) and Naomi Wadler (gun control activist). These young women put their lives on the line for what they feel strongly about.

Harper simply didn't stand up in a room of her classmates, but her seemingly small gesture has got the whole country talking. And that is something to be admired.

Her message has now resonated across Australia and, thanks to social media, across the world, at a time this country is being called out for its attitude to race, mainly due to a racist and gender insensitive cartoon featuring tennis players Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka.

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This country does have systemic racism and she is right for calling it out. Our track record and continued mistreatment of indigenous Australians is shameful.

And while the angry trolls are out in force and shouting into talkback radio microphones, she needs to know she is not alone in her thinking.

I, for one, have not sung the words to Australia's national anthem since I was a teenager. I refuse to.

The words of our national anthem do not represent my love for this country, nor does it adequately represent the first peoples of this country. I do stand, but mainly because I am afraid not to and I am ashamed for not being braver. Harper has more conviction than me, and I'm 45-years-old.

My decision not to sing the words does not make me less patriotic, nor does it mean I hate where I live, quite the opposite. It is just my way to feel comfortable in my own skin and take my own stand, in own small way.

My children stand and sing the anthem at assembly, it is not something I've discouraged or encouraged. It is their decision to make.

But if they ever come to me and say they no longer want to sing the words or stand up when the anthem is played, then I will support them. If they want to make a political statement in other areas that matter to them, I will support them.

I do not want our future generations to be apathetic. We should be raising a generation of critical thinkers, not robots.

I want children to ask the big questions of the world around them and be supported to stand up for what they believe in without fear of punishment or vitriol.

I want nine-year-old children to be able to sit during the national anthem if the words don't represent their ideology.

And to Harper I say – well done for caring enough about the world in which you live. One person can make a difference – you are living proof.