A ticket to ride
Sandy and her husband, originally from Africa, had moved to Australia after living across different parts of the globe. One of Sandy’s first encounters with the constant undercurrent of racism in Australia was at a Sydney train station. As people queued at the ticket counter to pay their fares, Sandy observed the man servicing the ticketing desk being conversational and polite with the people who stood ahead of her in the queue. When it came her turn to purchase her ticket, she was taken by surprise when the man was downright rude, and went on to abuse her and her husband, saying, “You lot – we don’t need you here.”
“The person I am on the inside…”
Sandy had taken her five-year-old son, Sam, to the local public swimming pool for a dip. They happened to be the only people of colour at the pool. Another little boy at the pool kept swimming up to Sam, saying, “Don’t play here. You’re the colour of poo.” Sam ignored the harassment. Eventually, the boy dove underwater, and came up with a mouthful of water, and spat it in Sam’s face. Sam took this in his stride and talked about it with Sandy. He didn’t understand why the colour of his skin offended the other little boy so much. He said to his mum, “It’s the person I am on the inside that is important.”
“You little brown boy…”
At a local park, while Sam played on the swings, a little girl kept coming up to him and picking on him. She kept asking him to get off, and play somewhere else. Sam ignored her taunts and continued to play. When she yelled, “You little brown boy, get off the swing!”, Sam ran to his mum in tears. Everybody else at the park looked away, and the girl wasn’t confronted by anyone – not even her parents. When Sandy asked Sam what had happened, he explained to her, “I’m a BIG brown boy, not a little brown boy – that’s what she called me!”
Sandy was once told by a man at a pub that she was “very ugly”. She has encountered such blatant racism very frequently. People have made monkey sounds at them, yelling, “Go back, you’re taking our jobs.” However, Sandy has also encountered a far more insidious version of racism frequently – everyday racism. When at a consultation with her GP, she was once asked why she had chosen to live on the north shore rather than in areas where there is a larger coloured population. The doctor was probably attempting to be sympathetic to the reality of Sandy being among a minority in the area. Sandy replied, saying, “I have found my home here. We chose to come to a place where the people are different from ourselves. How does where I live make a difference? Isn’t that the assimilation that everyone talks about? Where I choose to live simply suits my needs best.”
Sandy has often been told that she goes on about racism too much – that it is a chip on her shoulder. People have remarked that being a minority, she is overprotected as well. However, Sandy’s reality has been quite different. When Sandy started work in Sydney, she found that her boss was very passive aggressive. She would justify many of the patronising things she said to Sandy with, “In Australia, we do this.” Even though there were immigrants from other nations like England and Ireland, the only one who was educated in what her boss called Australian culture, was Sandy. She would publicly undermine Sandy, interrupt her in meetings and “correct” her pronunciation constantly. Sandy developed depression and found herself helpless and unsupported. The bullying continued and Sandy was eventually fired. Sandy’s boss had once dropped a veiled threat that her husband had belonged to a gang. Fearing for herself and her family’s safety, Sandy didn’t pursue any action against her boss.
Sandy is currently working with an ombudsman currently to address other episodes of racism that she has been subject to at work. As for her son, Sam, Sandy believes that the unfortunate reality is that he will continue to encounter racism in Australia. She quips that she has learnt much from Sam in the grace and unusual maturity with which he responds to children who have harassed him. Sandy continues to equip Sam to deal with racism by having open conversations about racism, and countering it with kindness and taking pride in who he is.
Sara is a mechanical engineer, originally from Egypt, who moved to Australia over a decade ago. She has lived across various parts of Australia, and has encountered soul-crushing racism in cosmopolitan as well as regional parts of the country. Being a hijab-clad Muslim woman has made her an easy and visible target for hateful and violent behaviour.
When she had just migrated to Australia and was looking for a job, she faced several rejections despite being suitably qualified. The penny dropped when one interviewer in Melbourne confessed that he wouldn’t, or couldn’t employ her, because she wore a hijab. He added that while he was being honest, several potential employers might just brush her off with excuses, but that her headscarf was central to the rejections she received. Being unaware of anti-discrimination laws at the time, Sara let the episode pass, and shrugged it off.
She continues to face everyday racism in the form of derisive looks and comments, but a particular incident left her unable to just “move on”, as victims of racial abuse are often urged to do.
With her one-year-old daughter in her pram, Sara was walking along a street near the Westfield mall in Hornsby, Sydney. In anticipation of a council clean-up, the footpath was strewn with discarded household goods. As Sara made her way up the street, she felt her head violently yanked as a woman pulled at her hijab from behind. Caught completely off guard, Sara’s first instinct was to protect her child, and she blocked the woman’s access to her pram, screaming, “What are you doing? Are you crazy?” The woman continued to berate Sara, and picked up the handle of a discarded vacuum cleaner lying on the footpath and threatened to hurt her, saying, “I’m going to kill you.”
Hearing the commotion, a resident in a nearby block of units called the police, and came down to help Sara. As more people trickled out of their homes, the woman ran away, leaving Sara very shaken.
When the police arrived, Sara and others who had witnessed the incident made their official statements. However, despite a clear description of the woman and good leads on where she had headed, no headway was made. Not only did Sara not hear back from the police, but she also struggled with intense panic attacks and was unable to step outside her home for over a year. She has spent a lot of time looking over her shoulder, and cannot shake off the deep-seated fear that the attack instilled in her.
She insists that her hijab is very much an act of agency and choice, and she asserts that she has just as much right as anybody else to be in Australia. “I am well-accomplished, multi-lingual and a good, tax-paying citizen. Why must I leave or change? It’s time for Australians to grow up!” she says, tired of having to defend herself over her choice – to simply be herself.
Journalism and Responsibility
On Monday 22nd of February, Paul Sheehan, an Australian reporter from the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) released a double page spread about an Australian woman named Louise. She claimed to have been brutally assaulted and raped by a group of men from a specific ethnic minority group. In the article the sub-heading stated, “We’ll never know the scale of the rape epidemic in Sydney”.
Louise’s story was later shown to be fictitious.
The article was then retracted by the SMH, but the stigma associated with the ethnic minority group is likely to remain, just like the stigma has remained with refugees and asylum seekers from the “Children Overboard Scandal”. The damage created by the media is difficult to reverse.
This is because such stories conjure up horrifying images in the minds of readers and whilst reading the article, the readers believe the information that they are consuming is fact. The initial shock value of these stories has a real affect in the mind of the reader; it virtually imprints itself like an un-washable stain.
The ABC’s “Media Watch” recently investigated the SMH report and showed an Australian woman speaking at a Reclaim Australia rally at Martin Place on April 4th 2015. This was Louise telling the same story that Sheehan reported in the SMH in February 2016. To call the story “news” is debatable.
To add insult to injury in this saga, the SMH printed a small apology (of 99 words) in the bottom corner of page 2 on the following Wednesday. That’s right: the lie takes up two pages and the truth gets 99 words.
The most basic form of modern racism makes people from minority ethnic backgrounds invisible. A more sinister form of racism makes people visible through negative acts.
Even if the SMH story was true it would still be a form of racism to nominate the ethnicity of the men because it’s really not important. If the story happened to be true, then the rapists are still rapists regardless of their ethnic or cultural background.
To make any impact on achieving racial equality, journalists need to play their role: to tell real stories as they happened, and without prejudice. After all, racism stops with every single one of us.
Reports of racism on public transport are increasing, however this doesn’t mean there is an actual increase in racist incidences. Reports of incidences are increasing because more people have smartphones and it seems they are willing to use them to record evidence of fellow citizens behaving in an illegal or abusive manner. It is also due to an increase in people learning why it is important to speak up when they witness racism and appropriate ways in which to do so.
Our Director Dr Yin Paradies was interviewed by Radio National on 2 April 2013 about this most recent incident of racism on a bus in Sydney’s inner west.
All Together Now’s Managing Director, Priscilla Brice-Weller, was interviewed by The Telegraph for their breaking story MP’s son in cyber racist rant.
THE son of Labor’s [NSW] state energy spokesman has been caught posting abuse and racist tirades on his Facebook page, at one point even comparing Muslims with “dogs”.
All Together Now believes that regardless of whether your parent is an MP or is a blue collar worker; whether they have a PhD or didn’t finish highschool … there is no legitimate excuse for racism.
All Together Now also believes that racism is unwarranted regardless of whether somebody says something racist on Facebook or in any other location.
This video went viral after showing some passengers making profanely racist taunts coupled with threats of violence towards a group of French women. This incident took place on a Melbourne bus on Remembrance Day.
A Melbourne comedian who witnessed what happened has uploaded the video online because he wanted to ”make these guys to feel embarrassed”.
As more and more footage emerges of the racist tirade, Victoria Police is now actively looking for the perpetrators as all Australian states and territories have laws against racial vilification.
All Together Now firmly condemns this racial rant. This kind of incident happens much too often and if the video had not been uploaded, the perpetrators would have remained unaware of the consequences of their acts. Racism is an everyday occurrence for people with a different skin color or a different accent or a different look.
By speaking up when witnessing racial abuse, you show that you are not a part of the mob. You stand up for your values and you make Australia a better country. You can help us to spread the word by LIKING us on Facebook and by subscribing to our e-newsletters.