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.