Calling my fellow white people: It’s up to us to get rid of racism. And it’s going to be uncomfortable.
But it’s not as uncomfortable as living a life impacted every day by racism. A little discomfort in our lives is nothing compared to the lived experience of our fellow humans.
It’s easy to sit back and say nothing in the face of little racist jabs – either because it’s awkward, or because you don’t want to centre yourself. Listen, I’ve overstepped this boundary before (and every day I think about the way I hurt someone once by overstepping). It sucks. But I learnt more about not centring myself, and I still maintain that doing nothing means you condone the racist behaviour. From that one small incident, I have learnt to take a breath before responding. It’s not about me. I can achieve more by boosting and listening to marginalised voices. (I’m so sorry to the person I hurt, and I hate that my apology is never going to be enough to patch that up).
Why am I thinking about this? Well, there was the recent St Kilda Nazi protest in Melbourne, and there have been two cases in my personal life where the chance to stand up has been granted.
One of my sons plays in a representative cricket team. This means his team plays against teams across the wider Sydney basin. A few weeks ago, his fairly diverse* team played against a team representing Sydney’s north shore. *diverse: 11 kids, 1 autistic, 1 biracial (Chinese/white), 2 Nepalese, 3 with Indian parents, and the rest white. The mix of the team isn’t really relevant to the team – they are who they are, and they are in the team because of their cricket ability. With each other, their race is irrelevant (and it’s lovely to watch). However, when we came to play the North Shore team, who were all white, it mattered. In cricket, one parent from each team keeps the scores, and this means both teams must agree on the score after each over. My partner was scoring with one of the North Shore parents, when a ball was hit by a NS player almost for four. It stopped just before the boundary and our fielder threw it in, signalling that it hadn’t crossed the boundary. The umpire walked over to clarify with the player what had happened, and the NS parent said, “there is no point in asking him, he probably doesn’t speak English.”
My partner gasped for a second, then said, “why would you say that? He speaks three languages, including English better than you.”
There was much huffing from the NS parent with a range of wild excuses. Note: this is a tactic employed to be socially awkward, so that his racism will be dismissed. My partner held his ground, and continued to score the game. There was no acknowledgement from the NS parent that he’d been racist. In my opinion, it’s still important to call out his comment and make him squirm. Hopefully, he’ll think twice before making a similar comment again.
The other incident came yesterday while driving to the local shopping mall. I had a few visitors in my car, and ended up in one of those tiny moments in the carpark, where myself and another car had to navigate around each other. We were going in opposite directions and both took the corner slightly wide, and had to adjust to get past each other. A completely innocuous moment that was both our faults. Nothing at all needed to be said about it.
“Chinese drivers in their fancy cars just can’t drive,” said my visitor.
“She looked white to me, and I don’t see what race has to do with it,” I responded. Look – this might not be the best answer, but I wasn’t going to let that statement slide by. It would have been so easy to ignore it. My response created a lot of drama – but this is why it’s important that we call out this rubbish from our fellow white people.
“Well, I assumed because we have so many drivers like that where I live,” my visitor said. Drivers like what? I wondered.
“I still don’t see what race has to do with it.”
Insert many more excuses and attempts at rationalizations that only made this visitor sound way more racist. My visitor really dug deep on their stereotyped racist assumption. Every time, I replied with the same statement. “Race has nothing to do with it.” The “discussion” went on until I found a carpark and leapt out of the car. The whole drama was totally ridiculous – race aside – because the initial incident was both our faults anyway, and so much of a nothing moment that it required zero commentary. Neither car touched each other. Neither driver reacted, aside from getting out of each other’s way. It literally wouldn’t have been noticed or remembered if it wasn’t for the utterly unnecessary racist jab.
And for the record, the driver of the other car was neither white nor Chinese. She was an Arabic woman wearing a headscarf. Not that it matters at all – it only serves to show how pointless and racist the initial comment was.
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