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If only you understood

What follows illustrates the nature of the racism Nathan Sheldon-Anderson has faced, based on first hand experience. Here, Sheldon-Anderson courageously challenges racism on behalf of a majority of Indigenous Australians and for people of colour at large. Indigenous Honi invites you to immerse yourself in his world…

Image: Jay Ng Image: Jay Ng

Many people would argue that racism doesn’t exist in the modern world, but from my experience, it still has an ugly presence. I’ve been accused of “not being Aboriginal enough”, whilst simultaneously being inundated with questions about being Aboriginal. Have some integrity in your bigotry and be consistent! If you’re going to put me down based on my identity, can you at least just decide what exactly you think I am? If I wanted hypocrisy, I would talk to a Liberal MP.

* * *

You’re woken up by a phone call. Bloody hell.

You sluggishly turn on your lamp, temporarily blinded as you grope for your phone. The name Cynthia flashes in time with the vibrations of your ringing phone. Why the fuck is she calling at 2am? You answer the call.

“Hey, wha-”

Sobbing. “I need to talk! Carter and I just had a huge fight.” More sobbing. “He stormed out. We were just talking and -” She cries some more.

“Cynthia, are you okay? Nothing violent happened?”

“No, we were j-”

“Okay, that’s good,” you say. “So why are you telling me this?”

“What do you mean?” She’s perplexed. “You’re my friend.”

“Cynthia, we’re not friends,” you tell her. “You treat me like shit. You disrespect me not on a daily basis … you constantly insult me. You only ever contribute to group discussion by making an insulting remark about my being Aboriginal – or not Aboriginal, whatever you’re feeling at the time. If you want to call me a friend, treat me like one and cut the bullshit.”

Silence.

“I’ll give you some friendly advice,” you tell her, now frustrated. “Go and call someone who gives a damn.” With that, you end the ‘conversation’.

But it doesn’t really end there, does it? No. Cynthia’s taunts are running through your head on loop.

“Where’s your goon sack? … Careful, guys, this Abo will get their cousins onto you… Don’t forget to bring your water bottle to the servo for petrol refills! … I’m sorry, but I don’t think of you as a real Aboriginal…” Whitewash, rinse, repeat.

* * *

If you do make casual racist jokes amongst close friends, they should be kept low-key. Whenever I’ve been involved in this, there was always a mutual understanding beneath the punch line founded on actual respect for my heritage. Simply put, you don’t really make new friends by coming out with racist remarks. That was a mistake Cynthia didn’t care if she made.

I think the majority of folks can agree that racism is bad, but people don’t always realise what they’re saying is racist. It’s common not to receive an apology from the perpetrator, but from bystanders who pick up on racist undertones. Racism can be heavily disguised and unconsciously embedded. There’s nothing worse than being comforted by someone who remains racist while seeming to be supportive, though. Those are the people who say, “It’s okay, you’re one of the ‘good ones’.”

Racism insidiously reveals itself like those arcade games where you beat one animal down and another pops up, peppered throughout the community. Having abuse hurled at you like a target in a game is destructive, whether the person believes what they said to you, whether they claim to be ‘joking’, or even if they don’t even realise they’re being racist. It all has the same effect.

So, what do my experiences say about racism? Firstly, don’t catch yourself thinking racism is dead. It may not be as visible as it once was, with the ‘Whites only’ pools, and ‘We don’t serve blacks’ signs, but it still affects our society. And it affects us.

Now, I honestly do believe that people should not be racist, but we can’t force people into reasonableness, it seems. You might have heard that you have the right to be a bigot. The thing is, you can be a bigot, and you can be a misogynist, racist, jingoist anti-Semite. You can live with your parents until retirement and you can go around head-butting kittens. But none of this represents what educated students should do.

There’s a reason we as humans tend to idealise something to strive towards. You might not be able to reach it, but you can give it a shot. It’s about being a decent human being to those around you, even if you don’t like them for whatever (valid or invalid) reason. You learned it as a child: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

If being a decent human being and treating people nicely doesn’t appeal to you, just remember this: if you say something offensive to someone, that person might publish it in a student paper years later. Ain’t karma a bitch?

Vice Chancellor Michael Spence.

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