I’ve been on a major high since being presented with the Australia Council’s Dreaming Award at the National Indigenous Arts Awards in late May. Last Friday, months of feeling seriously pumped at being acknowledged as an Aboriginal music artist came to a screeching halt – after a racist encounter with an Uber driver.
It began as benign small talk when he asked “Where are you from?” “Nowra”, I responded, not knowing it would spark a vile series of slurs which lasted from Broadway to Marrickville. “I heard there’s a big abo problem down there”. His words stung and my gut lurched. Did he really just use that word? This was his one perception of my hometown?
It didn’t stop there. His repugnant rant continued, to Narooma, where “some abo” supposedly stole his mate’s lawnmower, and progressed to Kempsey, which he said “also has an abo problem”.
I happen to be a proud Yuin man, born and raised in Nowra. It’s the place of my family and People. One of my great-grandmothers is from Bellbrook just outside of Kempsey and I have lots of family in Narooma. This ignorant Uber driver may as well have punched me in the face. God knows, I wanted to punch him. It took all I had to keep my cool. I thought maybe I could set him straight so the next Aboriginal person to get in his car doesn’t have to deal with his crap.
But his tirade persisted. To add insult to injury he went on to explain that “the abos have got it made” because the “police take it easy on them”.
“Really?” was what I wanted to say but I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. In light of all the recent international attention for #blacklivesmatter and on the cusp of NAIDOC week when the media is awash with talk about reconciliation, the picture of entrenched racism in Australia slapped me hard, just like that uninformed driver’s thoughtless words. I wanted to ask if he was even aware that Australia has racial vilification laws which I was pretty sure he had just broken.
People say Australia is not racist. That’s bulls**t. Indigenous people endure it every day. Some people just don’t seem to understand why it’s wrong, why terms like ‘abo’ are so disparaging and seem to barely conceal a disregard that broader Australia seems to be in denial about. Why can’t we talk about it?
Racism is a deep wound in the hearts of my people. When you’re on the receiving end of bigotry, it really rocks you – physically, psychologically and emotionally. It can be socially isolating. It may be hard to understand unless you have experienced it, but it can be very damaging, on so many levels. It makes me so angry and my only defence against it is my lyrics and music.
In the days since I first discussed this incident on social media, many people have approached me to share their experiences with racism. We obviously need to take a good look at ourselves. There’s still a long way to go.
At the end of the trip I asked the driver about Uber’s refund policy. He said, “There is none, why?” I told him I was an Aboriginal from Nowra and didn’t much feel like paying for a trip with a redneck driver, who had used language and derogatory comments I had found f**king disgusting. He came back with “I’m not racist, I’m Aboriginal on my wife’s side so I’m part ‘abo’ myself”.
Back at home after the trip I slumped on my lounge and wondered should I have done things differently? Should I have stopped the trip at the first mention of the word ‘abo’? Should I have taken the driver to task verbally?
I followed Uber’s protocol and rated the driver. I gave him the lowest score possible and explained why. I asked for a refund and some form of disciplinary action against the driver. Uber gave me a partial refund, but retracted it hours later. They claimed to be investigating the situation but it’s been four days and I still haven’t had any resolution or an apology. So much for their so-called rider-friendly experience. I won’t use them again until I am assured that they don’t tolerate racism from their drivers.
Last month Uber apparently dismissed a driver who hurled a torrent of homophobic abuse at a lesbian couple in Melbourne. I support that decision because people should not have to tolerate abuse or discrimination based on their sexual orientation. Why can’t they take a similarly hard line on racial abuse? People shouldn’t have to tolerate abuse or discrimination based on the colour of their skin either.
The outcome of this situation is in the hands of Uber, its up to them to make an example out of this driver to show that racial discrimination is not tolerated. Or will they simply sweep this under the rug and set the precedence for the next time this issue arises?
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