Charlie Pickering: “I know nothing about racism in Australia.”

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And unless you’ve experienced it, neither do you.

“I’m just calling to talk about this whole Adam Goodes thing… I just wanted to say that I don’t think racism is that bad in Australia. I just think it’s not such a big deal.”

– Jan from Hawthorn, white, first time caller, long time listener.

I know nothing about racism in Australia.

I cried with pride when an Australian Prime Minister finally apologised to the stolen generation on behalf of the Australian government.

I remember clearly the day that Nicky Winmar lifted his shirt to show how proud he was of his black skin. And I know why, for a significant and important part of our national community, January 26 is not a day of celebration.

Charlie Pickering racism in Australia

But I know nothing about racism in Australia.

I know that until the 1967 referendum altered our constitution to include all Australians as enfranchised citizens, our first peoples were regulated by the Flora & Fauna Act. I know that this classification of Indigenous Australians as animals wasn’t just offensive on face value, but enabled the brutalisation and murder of countless human beings in a long, dark period of our history that should be remembered with shame.

I know that attitudes of white racial superiority weren’t just attitudes, they were structural planks of our legal framework. Prejudice wasn’t just a kind of bigoted ignorance, it was the law. For decades upon decades upon decades upon decades, Indigenous Australians lived in a land, their land, where in the eyes of the law they were literally classed as animals.  And I know that goes some way to explaining why calling someone an ape is more than just a bit of juvenile name calling.

I know that we never had an Emancipation Proclamation. We never had half of our white population mobilise in Civil War in the defence of the liberty of black Australians.

We never had a leader risking their position, their entire nation and ultimately their life on the very principle that all were created equal, regardless of the colour of their skin.

I know that our history is by and large missing the landmark moments of genuine national importance which stand as reminders that, as a nation, we believe race should not determine your place, your prospects or your standing in society.

And I know that when, after nearly 200 years of white settlement, our constitution was finally rewritten to make amends for the past, the power of that decision lay entirely in the hands of the white population. It happened when white Australia was ready.

charlie pickering racism in australia

But I know nothing about racism in Australia.

I know that if I was born Aboriginal, I could quite confidently expect to receive less education, earn less money, have worse health and die younger than if I had been born white. I would be significantly less likely to achieve minimum standards of literacy and numeracy and significantly more likely to be unemployed, incarcerated or a victim of domestic violence. And I also know that I’ve never really had to worry about that once in my life.

I know that as an Essendon supporter, I have, for a long time, been a huge fan of Indigenous footballers. But I also know that football has been one of the only places that Indigenous Australians have reached places of genuine prominence and renown in the broader Australian community.

I know that while Michael Long, Deborah Mailman and Jimmy Little are household names, Marcia Langton is not a household name. And I know that she should be. She is one of Australia’s leading scholars whose remarkable academic ability has seen her become one of this country’s leading intellectuals. She is one of the most fascinating people I have ever seen speak, though her story is rare.

But I know nothing about racism in Australia.

charlie pickering racism in australia

I do know that this week I heard a whole lot of white people calling radio stations to say that because I’m not racist and most people I know aren’t racist and because “Australia has come a long way” that racism “isn’t as big a problem as everyone’s making out”.

I heard a lot of people say that while they did get why ape wasn’t “a good thing to call someone”, it “wasn’t that offensive” and in fact “maybe it’s not racist at all”.

I heard a lot of white Australians (and one highly visible one in particular) say how conscious they were of never letting racism take a foothold. But while their sentiment is welcome and important, it shouldn’t be an exception. And while their hearts are without doubt in the right place, I know that none of them were ever refused a ride in a cab because of the colour of their skin.

In the past week, we have been offered a view of racism from a broad spectrum of white voices on mainstream media. Media which, after all, are pretty much white media. For most of the last week we have been listening to a white echo chamber trying to reassure itself that everything is okay.

And I know that every time I shut up long enough to listen to an Indigenous voice, I learned something. And, as is often the way, the more I learned the more I realised how little I knew.

What do you think about the way Adam Goodes is currently being treated?

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Ed’s note: This post was originally published in 2013. In light of the recent media coverage surrounding Adam Goodes – who is currently taking a break from the Sydney Swans following abuse from AFL fans – we thought it was worth republishing. 

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