Karen Middleton is a Canberran of many talents – award-winning journalist, board member, writer, who has been described as ‘smart-ish’ and ‘not a bad singer’.
Karen is a familiar name and face to many of us, whether through her many years reporting Federal politics for SBS news, radio appearances, writing for major newspapers or as a regular guest on the ABC’s Insiders program.
Karen has a long history of providing practical support to refugees and others who have recently arrived in Australia. When she was a child, her parents volunteered to provide settlement support to a Vietnamese refugee family. During the 1990s Yugoslavian conflict, Karen supported a Bosnian family that had recently arrived in Canberra.
Although born in Canada, to Australia parents, Karen identifies as ‘pretty straight up and down Anglo-Australian.’
"I’ve got a bit of Scottish back there and a little bit of English."
Despite holding dual Canadian-Australian citizenship, she identifies primarily as Australian.
"I feel like my cultural identity is in this country. That includes the diversity we have, and the multicultural nature of our country, and our Indigenous heritage, which I reckon should be celebrated a lot more than it is."
Karen has not been subject to racial vilification in Australia, but has sadly witnessed it many times.
"I’ve seen other people treated poorly. My Indigenous friends in particular, who continue to get rubbishing and worse in their own country. I always find it hurtful when I see that."
Karen recently joined the board of local non-government organisation, Companion House, which works with people who have sought refuge in Australia from persecution, torture and war related trauma. She is particularly conscious of the discrimination faced by others in the community.
"I’m very fortunate to be in a cultural majority where I haven’t had to deal with that as much.’
She did however suffer discrimination while visiting New York.
"I went into a restaurant in Harlem and was show upstairs and out the back to a room that wasn’t in the front…Suddenly I realised this must be what it feels like to feel like you don’t really belong or they’re not that keen to show off that you’re there."
Karen however understood why the African-American proprietors made that decision.
"Fair enough. They’ve been living with that their whole lives."
While conscious that she her perspective may not be the same as those from cultural minorities, Karen feels Canberra is generally a tolerant and diverse community.
"I think as cities go, this is a pretty good one."
Karen suggests things could be improved not only by organisations hiring a diverse workforce, but ensuring they are supporting those employees.
"You need to stand with them. I think you need to be very conscious, right down on the ground about how all the people within that organisation feel and how you present to the world."
She has identified attitudinal change as critical to promoting diversity in our community.
"I think it is really important that we focus more on trying to change attitudes and stamp out some of the discrimination and prejudice that still exists in this country."