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
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.
Do you know that school is the main location for racism to occur among children?
As an educator you have the power to change it with the Kids Together Now app.
The most common form of racism in schools is students telling other students they don’t belong, manifesting through being called names / teased, being left out or being pushed or hit. Unfortunately, roughly one in five classroom teachers have never taken any professional learning in the area of multiculturalism, which hampered them to react in an appropriate manner.
Kids Together Now app has been created for you to use in the classroom. Education helps prevent racism by raising awareness of peoples’ actions and encouraging behavior change.
We know your time and resources are limited, that is why Kids Together Now has been created to fit the constraints of your job.
Kids Together Now is designed to teach students from Year 2 through to Year 4 how to identify and challenge non race-based and race-based exclusion over one school term. Students can play though one storyline each week in class over a period of 8 weeks. By providing a framework of scenarios, the app addresses prejudice and stereotypes during a critical period for children’s personal development.
All Together Now volunteers are always coming up with new ideas on how to educate more people about racial equality. One idea we’ve come up with recently is a Monthly Mystery Book Box (or MMBB for short), which is a spin on our monthly book club.
According to the University of Western Sydney’s Challenging racism project national survey, 76% of people expressed a commitment to personally challenge racism. If you’re one of these people, this MMBB is for you. Every month, we’ll send you a mystery book about the experiences of migration, racism, belonging, and related topics. Most books will be written within the past three years by Aboriginal people and people of colour based in Australia.
Please let us know your opinion about this Monthly Mystery Book Box idea. Do you love it or hate it? Would you subscribe? Do you have your own ideas that build on this concept? Please let us know at [email protected] – we’d love to hear from you!
In order to encourage people to share their own experience, their own thoughts about racism, All Together Now proposes book clubs across Australia. If you are interested in fighting racism, and all kind of discrimination, and also in reading, this Club is made for you.
Every month, we will propose you a new Australian book with new questions to deal with the problem of racism in depth.
Our first book club will be held in Sydney on March 1st at 6pm. For those who are not in Sydney, do not worry, book clubs are planned in Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne. Join the Racial Equality Book Club on MeetUp for updates on meeting dates, times, locations and of course books!
Our first book for the year is the award-winning Populate and Perish, written by George Haddad. The author is Sydney-based and so has volunteered to come to the Sydney book club. The book is under 100 pages, so you still have time to read it and join us!
“Nick is treading water. No boyfriend. No career. Living in a granny flat in Fitzroy North. On a whim he decides to travel with his twin sister, Amira, to Lebanon in search of their estranged father. Their mother, who passed away a couple of years earlier, only ever referred to him as the kalb – the dog. In Beirut Nick and Amira find family, a sense of belonging and surprising answers to questions they hadn’t known to ask.“