“Curse of Australia’s silent pervasive racism” by Waleed Aly: A response

It is rare for me to enter the public sphere and comment on anything other than light-hearted, trivial matters. Prophetic octopuses, magical sloths and gratuitous nut-shots are my usual fodder.There’s nothing riding on that stuff, no pressure or expectation.For a journalism graduate, I don’t come close to engaging enough with news and current affairs. I’ll scan the odd newspaper and occasionally surf a news website. The sports pages are where most of my time is spent. Mick Malthouse. Badly behaved swimmers. In-fighting among wearers of the baggy green.Fortunately, my mother — ever a beacon of wisdom and good sense — directed me towards Waleed Aly’s opinion piece, ‘Curse of Australia’s silent pervasive racism’ (The Age, 5/4/13).As usual, it sat on the table I call my desk for a few weeks before I got around to reading it. Thank goodness I did.Aly contends that the deeply rooted, often unacknowledged racism that exists in Australian society is more damaging than the overt slurs that generate headlines. I’m with him.As a straight, white, semi-athletic Australian male, it probably won’t come as a shock that the closest I’ve come to being the target of social bigotry is a blonde joke. In almost all respects, this makes me one hell of a lucky person. It also makes it difficult to mount a case against racism that doesn’t sound condescending, ignorant or offensively vague. This paranoia makes me reluctant to speak out against the racism bubbling underneath the surface in Australia. What would I know about being “Othered”? Honestly, not a lot. This is true of many Australians who value social justice. I’m anti-racism, but lack a directly personal experience to illustrate why.The result is a collective strained silence that can come across as pretending nothing is wrong with race relations in the country we love. What can be done? Make sure your friends and family know how you feel about the issue. If you see or hear something that you find offensive, note the context and take an appropriate course of action. This does not mean pulling up a stranger and risking an altercation. It could mean doing something as simple as reporting an incident, be it in the workplace, on a sports field or in a public space. You could write a blog post or just tell a mate. I remember the first time I was overtly racist. Admittedly, I was seven years old at the time and had no clue how wrong it is to label someone based on his or her ethnicity (let alone sexuality, gender or other factors). It hasn’t happened since.I had just finished devouring a delicious dinner prepared by a friend’s mother, a Sri Lankan migrant, and was on the way home with Mum in the car. I can’t remember the exact circumstances, but I referred to my friend’s mother as a “brownie”. Mum hit the roof. She laid down the Harvey family law then and there, establishing what would become a key aspect of my personal ethics. Perhaps irrationally, I still feel a bit guilty about it.Why do I still feel guilty? Maybe it’s not guilt, but relief. Had Mum not pulled me up and made me apologise to my friend’s mother face-to-face, I can’t guarantee I wouldn’t have said something like that again. Even sharing that story is difficult, but I think it’s how the issue of racism in this country can be addressed—by talking about it. I know it’s not an original thought, but I reckon it’s bloody effective. Add your voice. It doesn’t matter if you’re not an influential public figure like Waleed Aly. You’re someone’s friend, relative, acquaintance or bus driver. Don’t let racism be ignored.This article originally featured in Candid & Rogue, a blog by Kit Harvey, and has been republished here with permission from the author.Image: Kit Harvey

May 13th 2013
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