A Revised Story About Racism
I’m a White Australian.
I consider myself Pro Black but I’m always learning new ways to identify racism, both my own and that of others.
I recently wrote a piece on my personal journey and experiences with racism. My regrets of having practiced racism in my early youth, my witnessing racism practiced against others, growing up in a Black community in my teens and early adulthood, the effects and threats of White Supremacy in society, my fears and regrets.
I shared what I wrote on a forum and a young Black woman pointed out, quite rightly, that my experiences are NOT comparable and that if I wish to advocate against racism then my primary focus should be on the experiences of People of Colour. I thanked her for being honest with me as being she is the one in the situation directly at risk of the effects of racism and White Supremacy, her criticism has helped me define exactly what it is I’m trying to achieve.
My intention when posting was to see if other people could identify with what I was sharing. It seems though that I was comparing my personal experience to that of others and although I did say my experience paled in comparison I agree with her in that my cultural identity poses no risk to me therefore the experience is not comparable.
My beliefs may be at odds with White Supremacy but I choose to hold and express those beliefs where as People of Colour are at risk because of WHO THEY ARE AS A HUMAN, not what they CHOOSE to believe.
I’m now sharing an edited version of what I wrote originally hoping to identify the privileges I hold in terms of the risks of racism and to identify the severity of the risks posed to others.
I’m doing this in an effort, having read advice from others, to encourage more White people to take up the responsibility of advocating for a better reality for those at risk of being racially vilified or targeted.
My first experience of racism was in Primary School in a country Victorian town in the late 80s. Sitting in the library with 2 other White boys finding my name in the dictionary to discover one of the definitions was “Black”. The boys called me Abo. I didn’t know there was anything bad about that word being there were no Aboriginal kids in my class or my immediate life but I must have known what the word meant as at lunch the boys chased my through the school yard singing out “We’re gonna get you Abo” and as I ran I ran passed an Aboriginal boy who was standing stock still as we approached. “Not you. Me” I breathed to him as I ran past him and around the corner. After a few days the boys had come up with a chant that they would sing to me in the playground, “We can’t catch you Ebony. Super Aborigine” and it wasn’t until a teacher told us that it was bad to call me Abo that the boys stopped. There was no explanation of it being racist or what racism was.
I’ve only recently started to recognize this with much regret and disbelief that I participated in such a situation.
I think now how that young boy must have felt, standing in the playground hearing “I’m gonna get you….” And how the distinctions of race and culture and identity, racism, prejudice, vilification and abuse are ingrained in us at such a young age. My experience ended there and then where as his experience was just the beginning of a life where his identity is constantly insulted by the wider community and used as a means to justify abuse. It was him that was being threatened for identity, and for that split second when we were running towards him we posed a very real threat. A threat that would have been acted on had the circumstance been different. A threat that has been acted on countless times in horrific ways and is still acted on to this day. I wonder was that boy called “Abo” on a regular basis? Did the teacher ever intervene? Was he ever chased and taunted? The shocking fact is that it is very likely he was. The even more shocking fact is that for People of Colour that fact is no longer shocking nor has it been for a very long time.
When I was 11 we moved to a coastal town in NSW. Here there was a large Koori (Aboriginal) community and it didn’t take long for me to make friends with Koori kids. This is when I first really started to witness and process what racism is. A process I might add that the majority of White people never go through due to lack of exposure. All of my experiences with racism lie directly in my interaction with the Black community. Had I never interacted its likely I never would have been able to identify racism and that’s White Privilege. A privilige not extended to People of Colour who without exception will always experience some form of prejudice directly related to their cultural identity and more often than not beginning at a very early age.
A friend of mine was chased through town by White Supremacists in a van and they broke her leg. We were in town one night and as usual the Police approached us for no reason. My friend had a plaster cast on her leg. There were about 4 of us. The Police went directly to her and grabbed her and told her she had to go with them. She resisted and I stepped in pushing the Policeman in the chest away from her. I was arrested for Hindering Police and the Police asked my parents “Why does she hang around those kids?” My dad said “Because she listens to rap” the Police offered to take me out the back and “give her a few to teach her a lesson” a request not granted my friends who were beat and chased by Police. Two of whom were able to prosecute Police for the abuse which resulted in compensation due to the severity of their injuries.
I noticed now that when I went to the shopping center with my Black friends that security would follow us, an experience that never happened with white friends. When I bought this up with my Black friends they just said it always happens. One night I noticed a security guard talking to two Koori boys from the mission in the shopping center and I approached. I asked what the problem was and the security guard said they needed to be accompanied by a parent. I pointed to various White kids unaccompanied and asked about them. The security guard dismissed me and insisted the boys needed a guardian. I took them back to my workplace where my boss let them do a few errands inturn for a toy each.
I ended up in Juvenile Dentention and upon release my parole officer got me a job. We would meet with other juvenile parolees and have outings. I knew the others as they were all Koori. Our parole officer never arranged a job for my Koori friends and this next memory is probably why.
At one point I was living on the mission, a Koori housing estate and I went for a job interview. My character was questioned specifically because of my address. “I’ve heard bad things about that place and the people that live there” I assured the employer that what he had heard was false but I still held an advantage. Where I was simply questioned about my place of residence Aboriginal people are questioned about their character based on identity, regardless of where they live. There was an assumed guilt and lack of reliability because I lived in a Black community. People of Colour are judged as untrustworthy, unreliable and lazy due to stereotypes about unemployment. The fact is that People of Colour have already gone through a selection process before they attend an interview and are dismissed as unfit before they even get the opportunity to perform the job.
I ended up moving to Queensland to be closer to my mother and I started dating a White boy and his friends were racist. They would talk about reverse racism and spout stereotypes about Aboriginal people and I would argue with them. We broke up and I started visiting my ex while he was still in prison. I had a picture of him in my lounge room and a White friend said “Who’s the boong?” I said “You can’t say that word in my house. If you wanna say that word, get outside” He apologized and I asked him would he say that word to a Black mans face? He said “No” so I told him he shouldn’t say it behind his back either. I find other White people feel free to be racist in my company where they may be ‘polite’ in the presence of People of Color. But hearing racist jokes or White people using racial slurs to describe other cultures is a very common experience. It is vital to use these situations as opportunities to not only hold people accountable for racism, no matter how uncomfortable you may feel but to drive home that racism is unacceptable and will not be tolerated anywhere.
I moved to Melbourne, Victoria, living in a rooming house and was sitting in the backyard one day listening to West Side Connection and a fellow resident and his girlfriend came out and said I had to leave then they both did Heil Hitler salutes, standing there. I was confused and went to the manager who also said I had to leave. When I first wrote this piece I was talking about the fear I felt of White Supremacists and how at times I’ve had panic attacks when confronted with racism but I would now like to point out the privilege I experienced in this situation. I’m white, my cultural identity wasn’t what provoked these people to threaten me. My name could have been Julie and I’m the exact same person and maybe I don’t listen to rap and therefore Nazis don’t see me as a target. Had it been a Black woman sitting in that yard minding her buisness being kicked out by Nazis the outcome would have quite likely resulted in physical abuse. And where I found somewhere else to stay after making a phone call there are barriers for People of Colour in terms of safe temporary accommodation both because of stigma and because shelters and rooming houses can be hotspots for racial abuse being that you do not get to choose who you share your living space with.
I started exploring things online and recognized there were whole communities talking about racism and white supremacists affects in society. I started to take notice and learn.
I was watching the news and the shooting of Philando Castile was broadcast and then I saw there was a Black Lives Matter protest in Brisbane so I went. After the protest the organizers told the crowd that there White Supremacists in the city and that we should be careful. I panicked but I was able to walk away from the protest anonymously, blending into the wider community with ease whereas every Person of Colour at that event was at a high risk of being attacked.
I have schizophrenia and ended up homeless and the hospital found me temporary accommodation. A White guy moved into the trasitional housing I was living in and we were talking one day. We said we both liked rap and he was trying to say it was ok to use the N word and I argued with him. He started telling me he used to be a Nazi and a Romper Stomper. He said he wasn’t anymore but I told him that it scared me and I didn’t want to talk to him anymore. Our other housemate was mixed Aboriginal/Asian and I told her and she said she didn’t want to come back to the house if he was there. We told staff and eventually they found him accommodation elsewhere. Staff actually said they chose to move him because we felt uncomfortable, NOT because of what he had said to me. They said “Maybe he just said that to try and scare you” I said they should tell him why so that he can use it as an opportunity to reflect on his beliefs and hopefully change for the better. If there were harsher consequences to racism in the community then maybe people would think before practicing it.
See, racism and White Supremacy are everywhere. Schools, the community, community services, the employment sector, accommodation. In order to bring an end to it or try to lessen the extent of it effects we first need to take it seriously. This begins with talking about and being open to the history of it and it’s continued practice in a multitude of areas. I’m still learning myself and hope to be mindful of others experiences and especially to advocate and propel the voices of those directly affected.
Just I had to be open to correction after sharing this in it’s original format, and see the woman who offered her opinion as a better judge of what’s relevant and beneficial to advocating against racism, so too should other White people be open to the truths expressed of those directly affected by racism. Just because you’ve never experienced or witnessed it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Just because it doesn’t affect you directly doesn’t mean it’s not a serious issue that needs to be tackled just as openly and just as avidly as it’s practiced.