Ben* has lived across Australia for nearly a decade now. He has called Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne home, yet he has faced overt as well as subtle instances of racial discrimination and harassment across all three cities.
Sydney was in some ways, the most brutal where Ben felt a near-constant undercurrent of resentment. He believes that the rise of populist nationalism around the world certainly seemed to have a direct impact on the sentiments on the streets about “outsiders”, here in Australia as well. The harshest incidents of abuse Ben faced were in the wake of Trump rising to power and the terrorist attack in France. Something as seemingly simple as sporting facial hair turned him into an easy target for harassment. Ironically, while a beard on an Anglo Australian man is considered trendy, the same beard on Ben made him the subject of name calling and abuse.
Ben was commuting by bus to work one morning. He was listening to music on his headphones and reading a book. He noticed that a man who had been sitting up front moved to sit in the seat right in front of Ben when it became available. Soon, just before this man’s stop arrived, he turned to Ben and asked him if he was South American. When Ben said no, he snarled “get out this f****** country” and got off the bus. Nobody else on the bus said anything – either to comfort and support Ben or to the man.
Another time, when Ben was travelling by train, in a similar vein, another man, walked up to Ben, spat on his face and said, “Get out of this country, you terrorist!” Determined that he ought to do everything in his power to help prevent such incidents from happening, this time, Ben decided to lodge an official complaint. He went to the police station, requesting that the cops look at the CCTV footage from the train cameras and provided them with specific details around the time of the incident and which train he was on. The police, however, refused to register a complaint, and treated him with indifference. Ben struggled with a sense of shame after this incident, and grappled with the validity of his choice to be in Australia, for a while.
He continues to live and work in Australia, and hopes that someday, people of colour won’t have to work so hard to survive and thrive here.
*name changed to protect privacy