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
Taking Personal Responsibility for your own Racism
Everyone has the capacity to be racist, and unfortunately, sometimes we don’t realise that our behaviour is racist. Given the choice between reinforcing or disrupting racism, most of us would choose the latter. Read on to learn how to recognise and potentially change some common, covert, acts of bigotry.
Remember the news reports of those four Somalian high school boys who went to an Apple store, were stalked by the manager, searched and accused of ill intent and, finally, were escorted from the store?
If not click here.
What do think was going through the manager’s mind when he “reacted” to their presence in the store?
It was probably; I’m not racist but…
Have you ever crossed the street, intentionally ignored or avoided eye contact with someone because of his or her skin colour or clothing? Do you realise that you’re doing it for those reasons?
While you read this, think of those screens that threaten to fly up at the bank if you lean in too far. This is what aversion activates – the screen flies up! When we allow the screens to activate, we create an “Us” and a “Them”, a “Me” and an “Other”. We place a wall between one another.
This is an unconscious form of racism. It is not intentional but that doesn’t make it any less hurtful to the person on the receiving end.
How do we change this?
We use our ability to signal positive or neutral conscious awareness of each other. But how often do we think about this during such interactions?
Our acknowledgment of another person deepens when we engage in eye contact and display positive facial expressions. Aversive Racism, or putting up “screens”, means that this most basic interaction between humans is prevented and with it the possibility of recognition of our shared humanity is gone. Most of the time we don’t think about this, we just react to situations presented to us.
Have you ever driven through certain “ethnic” suburbs and checked if your doors are locked and wound your windows up?
When we encounter certain bodies in everyday circumstances, we always react to them, even at the level of no reaction; ignoring someone.
Certain groups and physical types experience these aversive reactions routinely. These experiences create a range of negative outcomes in the people who absorb our reactions because these experiences shape their existence. They change the way that people see both themselves and others. Then their emotions take over, which has implications for future interactions. These experiences mediate their validity as a human being and their self worth pays the price.
Now just pause for a minute and think about how the boys in the Apple store might have felt…
And that’s just one instance, out of how many? Probably hundreds. Daily!
Eventually oppressed minorities get into a habit of seeing themselves through other people’s eyes.
Now imagine adopting a view about yourself, which is based on other people’s negative opinions.
Oppressed minorities “experience nervousness or avoidance from others, even from those whose discursive consciousness aims to treat them with respect as equals” (Young: 1990:142). In other words, people who have acknowledged that, somewhere along the line, they have developed a racist element within their personality have to work pretty hard to change the behaviour and underlying assumptions on which their prejudice is based.
Do you know why Dick Cheney supports same-sex marriage?
Because his daughter is a lesbian!
Often, all it takes is to know someone. Aversion stops us from getting to know the “Other”. Aversion creates the “Other”.
What are some ways that we can overcome this?
Repetitive representations of ethnicities and oppressed minorities shape how we see them in reality. Think of what an asylum seeker looks like. What image first comes to mind? Is it a person in a boat, a person drowning, a person starving?
Most people like to think that they’re above this or smart enough to be able to differentiate between propaganda and reality, but this type of thinking only weakens our defences against propaganda.
It’s not the victim’s responsibility to reform the oppressor.
When we shift the focus back onto ourselves, we make it our personal responsibility to change and by doing so, we can proudly declare; I am racist but… I’m working on it.
Young, M., I., (1990) Justice and the Politics of Difference, Princeton: Princeton University Press
Kylie O’Reilly is the Managing Director of the Agency Division for Australian Associated Press (AAP), the national news agency of Australia. Kylie has over 15 years’ experience in the media industry and holds an MBA from the University of Technology Sydney.
Kylie has been the Chairperson of All Together Now for some years, helping to lead the organisation through to some great achievements.
We now interview her about her role in the organisation, her passions and goals before she heads off to run in the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival, this Sunday 20th September, 2015.
All Together Now: You can be a role model of modern woman. Many girls in Australia can take you as an example, how to be successful in life. Can you tell me what story is hidden behind your decision to refocus from Managing Director at AD AAP to the role of a chairperson in not-for-profit organization? Why did you choose anti-racism focus?
Kylie O’Reilly: Firstly, the reason, why I chose to contribute my time as a chairperson to All Together Now, was because I want to do something to make a difference. So, for me was important to be sure, that I can contribute my skills into their work, make a difference into the community. But the most important driver was an ability to participate. My previous experience was very much commercial and corporate, and it’s great, it’s nice to help businesses to make money and to employ people. But, when it gets down to having children and to be a part of a family and a community, I realized that I want to see my children living in a better place. That’s why I chose All Together Now. And I thought, that one of these topics (racism) would be committed to, because it is a hard work, [and] it is not an easy thing to be part of it. It’s not one of the topics, which everyone would easily contribute to, such as animals’ rights, cancer or children, – it is much tougher. As for me, I like challenges and being able to contribute to the good.
ATN: Kylie, if you could compare from the perspective of racial discrimination Australia of your childhood and Australia today, what differences can you list?
Kylie O’Reilly: I think, nowadays we are much more aware. There are two major things. First of all, when I grew up it was a very white Australia, where I was. Australia wasn’t so multicultural. I spent my childhood on the Northern beaches of Sydney and it was a very Anglo-Saxon place. Now, when we are near the beaches it is much more multicultural. I can see that children integrate much more in classes. They ask questions about different religions, different customs and many other things. As a child, I didn’t have any of that. So, I see differences in all of these things that were changed since the time of 30 years ago till now.
I would say that modern Australia is much more integrated. People are more aware now about dangers of racial discrimination. I don’t think that 30 years ago we did understand the impact of racial discrimination, how is it felt like to be an excluded outsider to someone new to the country. Nowadays we are totally aware how harmful that is. So, I think, Australia became very different in that sense.
ATN: As a mother, how do you explain and will explain multicultural differences and diversity to your children? Is it possible to erase racism from Australian society in future, educating a new generation today?
Kylie O’Reilly: Yes, I believe so. I have always believed that it’s possible, because I believe in the strength of acceptance and love. So, for me, why would not I accept everybody’s differences, we are all similar human beings with a heart and a brain…You know, it’s just because you look differently and speak differently to me, it doesn’t mean that we are that different from each other. All these differences are things which need to be celebrated. So, as for me, I will teach my children about it: differences make us unique, there are many things that we should celebrate and be curious about, [and] learn more about. All these things make the world so interesting, [like] when we are travelling, doesn’t it? We get to learn about different cultures and different places, we can learn different things and taste different food and we can immerse ourselves [in] something completely unknown.
ATN: Apart from being a chairperson of All Together Now how do you oppose racism in everyday life?
Kylie O’Reilly: I would say that the first level of racism, that I would see, is joke. People are making jokes. What they think is a joke in the reality is a statement. Basically, it is framing of our culture into a joke. So, for me, I would say that joke is a way of framing the culture. I don’t think that it is much more diverse in that. In everyday living we can frequently hear jokes about Asian drivers or…you know, when people say those kinds of things. To me that is a crazy talk, because I am not my one culture, you are not your one culture. Same as it doesn’t mean that I am a great driver or a bad driver, just because I am a female. For me this is much more complicated now. So, in everyday life racism usually appears in those kinds of comments and inappropriate jokes. Me as a person would stand up and say something about that. And I would try to educate people, why that’s not appropriate.
ATN: It is great to hear you are so active Kylie. Thank you for having this attitude. .
Kylie O’Reilly: It’s the way to be, isn’t it?
ATN: This shows the strength of your character. Not everyone is brave enough to speak up and be opposite to racism.
Kylie O’Reilly: I think, what you can do is to deliver your thoughts through the humor. It doesn’t have to be controversial. It doesn’t have to become confrontational. If I’ll deliver it with actual curiosity and humor, when I say to you: “Why do you say that”? It is not threatening, isn’t it? So, if I can deliver it in non-threatening way, sometimes it can be educational. I think this is what people struggle with sometimes: how to communicate to another person if anything is inappropriate.
ATN: How do you see Australia in 20 years?
Kylie O’Reilly: My vision for Australia in 20 years would be that it’s much more embracing and has different cultural identities. It gets down to a couple of values instead of identities. I would like to think that my children will have multiple kinds of friends of different color, different races and different backgrounds and that’s generally accepted as we become more global. So, that’s what I would like to see in the future. I don’t want to see an Australia where everything is only Anglo and white. In this case we would be very limited and especially in terms of Australian values. So, for me diversity is the way to go.
ATN: Could you, please, share your plans for the future? What projects do you want to realize?
Kylie O’Reilly: Well, my job as a chairperson is to help forming a strategy together with the managing director and a board. Talking on behalf of the board, we are very committed to educating and standing up against racism through education. So, I am very excited about the projects that are useful for children and for teachers. I can comment that they are really great projects to be involved in, because putting yourself in the shoes of somebody else can educate you more as it is like to be a victim of racism. And once you have some empathy to that situation, it helps you to understand more, you are even able to curiously challenge people on their views. So, as for me, I love that project.
I also like how we are associated with sport. It is important, because there is a lot of racism in sport. Sport is a one avenue where people can really embrace each other and come together with the common goal of going to their teams. And I think that to be a part of this and to generate an awareness of All Together Now is really important.
So, our projects are connected with everything that can be put on a plate for educating and helping people to stand up against racism. As an example, we created educational mobile application. And on the other side we would like to associate with sport.
Episode #5: You get nervous around Muslims/Hindus on airplanes.
The fifth episode in our individualized “10 signs you might be casually racist” really targets an ‘elephant in the room’ point about the rising attitudes towards the Muslims within Australian society. There has been a large rise in anti-Islamic sentiments within Australia, with 25% (Scanlon Report 2014) of people feeling negatively towards the Muslim population. Hindus and Sikhs often suffer the same discrimination, as the perpetrator of the racism assumes, based on visual appearance alone, that the person they have targeted is Muslim; they, then, receive the same taunts and abuse.
If you see anyone being racially attacked you can speak up, take evidence and assist the victim by going with them to report it, and providing your evidence as proof of the incident. Any incidents have are also being reported to the Islamophobia Register Australia.