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.
The Sydney Morning Herald recently published an article about 7-Eleven workers of Indian descent continuing to being exploited, despite the outcry back when the exploitation was originally exposed in September 2015.
These immigrant workers were being paid as little as $16 to $0.43 per hour, and well below the minimum rate.
You have to congratulate the Australian Press for and not discussing the broader issue at hand i.e. racism.
Why is racism such a taboo topic to us? Australia is still marred by its own history, the period of colonisation and assimilation, which upended the First Australians and many migrants.
Much has been said and talked about the past, including former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd saying “Sorry” to the Stolen Generations of Aboriginal people. However, there is a sense of hubris here in the analogy here that once an apology to Aboriginal people, forever no more racism in Australia altogether.
The reality is very different.
Today the country now has over 40 different ethnic racial groups living inside our borders and roughly 1 in 5 Australians have experienced racism in their lives.
Enter Malcolm Turnbull, the Prime Minister who claims to be right-progressive. For the incumbent PM I have one of my own policies: vouch for a multicultural (and intercultural) Australia.
Alongside the $1bn Innovation boom and the $1bn Clean Energy Innovation Fund, put aside some money to a government initiative: Cultural Diversity Future Fund.
The aforementioned Cultural Diversity Future Fund will be two-pronged: Firstly research into contemporary ethnic and racial issues for 22nd century Australia. And secondly, commercialising these ideas through the creation of a multicultural, intercultural Australia, which defines people based on talent, or contribution to the economy, instead of ethnicity.
A culturally diverse 22nd century Australia.
Australia’s acknowledgement of racism has grown considerably, since Adam Goodes was Australian of the Year (2014). This could be largely due to the fact that his cause was anti-racism. The Racism. It Stops With Me. campaign was launched soon after. Over 250 organisations joined the anti-racism campaign, which promoted racial equality (including All Together Now). It seemed that Australia was finally ready to kick racism out of the country once and for all. However, it seemed in 2015, Australia once again took a step back as it questioned incidents of racism as actually being racist or not. The questioning of an incident being racist or not was seen most prominently during the booing bullying of AFL player Adam Goodes. People in the media questioned the validity of the incessant and constant targeted bullying, of this particular player, as being racist or not. It was undoubtedly fueled by racism, as the ‘issue’ that had people begin the booing of Goodes occurred after he displayed (during the Indigenous Round of AFL) an Indigenous symbol to the crowd as a victory showcase after scoring a goal. Idiotic though it may seem, racism is often just so.
We’d like to take the time to add to the discussion on Goodes, that being ‘politically correct’ is giving respect. It is the correct way to act. Denying respect includes denying racism. Or, as Marlon James put it, “most of us are non-racists” and are content to be so: “I won’t, I don’t, I’ve never” are not statements that change those individuals, groups or institutions that are prejudice, bigoted and racist. This ‘non-racism’ occurs when you know something is racist but by doing nothing it does not stop it from occurring. The question the comes to: How do we make active people trying to end racism?
We make active people trying to end racism by giving them knowledge of how it acts, interacts and attacks society and individuals ability to succeed, be unified and progress.
Non-racism along with racism denial are two important factors in the continuing of racism in Australia and internationally. So, here is a reminder of what racism denial looks like:
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.