So we’re still debating section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act; despite it having recently proved effective against snide racism and daily proven ineffective against blatant racism? Okay, if that’s what the government (and media) I’m paying for considers vital to this troubled nation, the least I can do is give it some of my time, too.
I was an adolescent when I first met someone born in another country. The first wave of asylum seekers from the Vietnam War had found homes in Australia; one extended family in my home town. Dad took us to meet our newest neighbours. My parents were welcomed by the adults, and the children played host to my brothers and I. Without adult intervention, these kids turned off the Saturday morning cartoons and engaged us in admittedly limited conversation, offering us drinks and snacks. This makes them the most polite children I have encountered anywhere in the world, and no doubt shaped my feelings on this issue, so I am in their debt.
When my daughter, then quite young, asked me about this concept, I struggled to put racism in terms a child can understand; finally settling for explaining that some people would think her best friend is somehow less, even bad, because she has inherited her Sri Lankan born father’s brown skin. She laughed and declared it a “silly” notion. My talent with words is insufficient to express my pride at this reaction, nor my helplessness when she thought about it for a while and asked, “Why?”
During one of my rare visits to my GP, we were discussing the need for vaccinations when travelling and he said that he recommends them, but personally relies only on caution when visiting his country of origin. Keen, as always, to learn more about the world, I asked where he’s from. He was momentarily taken aback, then smiled and said, “Africa.” It wasn’t until later that I understood his confusion; he looks just like the Kalahari bushmen I’ve seen on TV. I guess he’s used to people assuming that means he is one.
It’s taken quite a few years, but my colleagues will now apologize to me before telling a racist joke. I’m proud of that, but saddened that they tell the joke anyway. My point is, I’m unlikely to ever be prosecuted under Section 18C. As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve never understood racism. But I’ve never quite been brave enough to claim I’m not racist, because I’ve made a conscious choice to live as honestly as possible, and that tiny voice inside my head (you know, the one we’re good at ignoring) wouldn’t let me make that claim. So I’ve given this some serious thought and…I’m a racist. And I’m going to tell you how I know you are, too:
If you think (or print) that having light skin should preclude someone from demanding the same rights as other indigenous Australians, you are a racist.
If you are justifiably proud of being an indigenous Australian, despite your light/white skin, but deny (perhaps understandably) the genes that determined that skin colour, you are a racist.
If you’ve ever said, or even thought, “I don’t mind if they come here, so long as they don’t bring their religion,” you might be fooling yourself, but you’re not fooling anyone else; you are a racist.
Similarly, if you’ve ever seen an Australian wearing a turban or burka and wished they wouldn’t wear them, you are a racist.
If you’ve ever said, or thought “Why do these people have to form insular communities, instead of integrating,” you are a racist.
If you didn’t feel indignation at me using “they” and “them” in this context, you are a racist…”those/these people” is also a warning sign.
If you’re reading this and thought “Great; another white Australian who thinks they know what racism is,” then you, my gloriously-hued friend, are a racist.
If you’ve ever said/thought “They’re Asian [or any similar description], but quite nice, actually,” then you are a racist…and possibly my Mum.
If you’ve ever said/thought “They don’t even have the decency to look me in the eye,” then you are a racist…and probably need to think about that one for a while.
If you’ve fallen for the propaganda that “asylum seeker” and “illegal immigrant” is the same thing, you are a racist.
If you voted for any of the varied political parties who advocated breaking and/or bending international law to deny aid to asylum seekers, then you are a racist. And, if you think I’m stupid enough to believe the hype about “border security”, “not enough land” or “not enough money”, you are also insulting my intelligence, and wasting your time. But give it a go, anyway. You’ve no idea how much I long to be proven wrong about this.
If you’ve ever witnessed any of these crimes (yes, crimes; why do you think they write this stuff down?) and not opposed them long and loud, then you are a racist…as am I, to my eternal shame.
So, now that we’ve established that every, single Australian is a racist, can we remember for a moment that a man who came to us seeking help (as is his legal right, under international law) was denied that right, imprisoned without trial, kept in barely adequate conditions for several months and, when he tried to break out to seek help, was beaten to death…murdered. We did that; us racist Australians. We can’t take that back, and I will live with that shame for the rest of my life. I could have done more than vote against this barbarism. The only hope for redemption is to never let this happen again. Reza Berati’s fellow asylum seekers are still imprisoned without trial, still recovering from injuries sustained at the hands of their guards, and (a new development) denied legal representation to plead their case.
Finally, in case you’re still relying on media that has confirmed it’s prejudice, check out the situation in Burma; the Rohingya people are enduring a living hell that only refugees can fully comprehend. If something isn’t done to stop this apparent genocide, they’ll be here soon. I sincerely hope that, by then, we will no longer imprison, beat and even murder those who may have already endured such atrocities from people who should help them, not harm them.