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I’ve stood up against racists most of my life

“Just ignore them” our white foster family advised, as my 8 year old sister stood crying, “just ignore them and they will go away”.

(Warning this article contains racist language)

Taking a legal stance against racism in a country town is not an easy choice. In my home town of Warrnambool I decided to do so publicly for all to see.

The thought of a 52 year old Indigenous woman, seeking to charge a young white male with racial vilification under Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001, may for some feel a little offensive or going a bit too far.

Most Australians are used to the white adults being the purveyors of bigoted and nuanced diatribe.  It’s basically an Australian past time, as seen most recently in the viral iPhone footage of racist rants against Indigenous Artist, Robby Wirramanda outside his home in Mildura.

I deliberately chose not to film my incident for safety reasons, as I was alone and outnumbered. The territory of a near empty bistro lounge on a Sunday afternoon, was no place for heroics of any kind.  A young white teenager, aggrieved by the recent closure of Uluru to climbers, was loudly stating in racists terms his grievances akin to the all too familiar tones of Pauline Hanson.

Some people glow with a forgiving sentiment ‘only from the mouth of babes,’ inferring that youthfulness somehow negates any responsibility of behaviour – but when a teenage boy pitches racist slurs, there is no mistake. It was not done in isolation either, racism rarely is, as he smirked and scoffed at my discomfort along with his adult brother, mother, and her adult friends.

I’ve stood up against racists most of my life. In Primary School, I did chin ups and push-ups in an effort to make myself physically strong enough to take a stand against the gang of boys whose chants of ‘Abo…Abo…you’re dirty Abo’s’, followed me and my sister through morning recess, lunch, and again in the afternoon.

“Just ignore them” our white foster family advised, as my 8 year old sister stood  crying, “just ignore them and they will go away”.

The foster family oblivious to seeing the first struck wound, as she swallowed her tears. They were to water a seed of life-long self-loathing, as her pain turned inward.

For this is where it began; the psychological harm.

 

Later, I would find her pouring bleach into her bath in a desperate attempt to make herself white, ‘acceptable’, and not ‘a dirty Abo’.

Racism is in the very structures that surround and define our society. Imported within the colonial agenda, it’s been a crushing yolk that generations of Indigenous Australians have had to live under. It’s a legacy of proprietary rights over our land, and, by extension, every part of our lives.  Escaping out from under it is near impossible, and we should not have to. It needs to be removed, dismantled, once and for all.

To assert any power in response to racism is to be called angry, to ‘bring it upon yourself’ by raising the stakes.  As seen in the howled responses to Indigenous footballer Adam Goodes that dismissed his experience, called him ‘too sensitive’, ‘weak’, told him to ‘just get over it’. The justification for the outcry and sustained booing was allegedly due to the age of his racist protagonist.  How dare he, an adult, pick on such a young girl. All the while the critics were amplifying their racists tropes. None of them seemed outraged that a young girl was so comfortable to shout a racist slur in public.

Many white Australians think that all racists look like some Neo Nazi skinhead, but they’re not the only ones. It’s the kid riding past you on his bike, or the hipster who scowls at you with disgust, and it’s a young teenage boy in a bistro. Well-groomed and even polite, with his older brother and mother who look middle class.  No, our racists are a multitude of faces that look like them. They could be anyone, anywhere, anytime, in any professional or social setting.

Young white Australians showing a taste for racism is not a new thing but it feels much louder and pervasive. The social discourse tells them so, as do the parents, right-wing pundits and politicians whose dog whistle ‘It’s ok to be white’ is a poorly veiled message, that it’s ok to be a white racist. And it is working.

The fact that its authors are becoming more emboldened and younger should alarm us. Go to any Youtube video, Twitter feed or Facebook account which posts positive and educational narratives on Indigenous Australians and the racist rants bleed off the screen. It’s one of the most densely populated spaces where most young people’s voices are expressed and heard.

Racism is an apparatus of warfare, it’s a weapon that put my sister on the brink of immersing herself in a bleach bath, led to laws that disproportionality incarcerate Indigenous youth, contributes to the despair and hopelessness surrounding Indigenous suicides. It’s the callous indifference to the plight of an Indigenous man being ‘cooked to death’ in the back of a prison van while being transported or the ignored pleas “I can’t breathe” of an Indigenous man crushed and strangled to death by prison guards while in custody  These words and behaviours have consequences, whether wielded by a teenage boy or an adult, they still hold a power to laud or ridicule, to cleave the soul and hound the humanity out of Indigenous Australians.

So sit in our place for a few moments and be a little uncomfortable, for its nothing compared to our life long exposure to its utterly corrosive effects.

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